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Seek jail solution

We know that criminal activity comes with a high cost, but for one local community, it is literally costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of extra dollars.

For years, Belmont County has been forced to house jail inmates at facilities outside the county. That is because the jail – constructed in the 1990s west of St. Clairsville – is filled beyond its capacity.

“We’re averaging around 185, 190 prisoners, which is over the number of maximum allotment that the jail holds, which is 144,” Belmont County Commissioner Josh Meyer said.

To accommodate the overflow, deputies transport inmates to other jails, most notably in Jefferson County. The inmates are held there for days or weeks on end while awaiting court appearances or serving out terms if they are convicted.

All of that comes at a cost. In addition to paying the salaries of deputies who spend hours on the road outside the county, the sheriff’s department also must cover the cost of fuel for those transports. And, there is a daily cost for housing inmates at other jails.

Last week, Belmont County commissioners signed agreements that will allow the county to house inmates in the Jefferson and Monroe county jails. The rates for these contracts are $65 per day per inmate.

Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton said the total expense for housing inmates outside the county in 2019 was about $460,000. But in 2020, the county will pay $10 more per inmate per day to Jefferson County.

“The increase, just based on that $10 per day, is going to be an additional $100,000 … unfortunately,” Meyer said. “That’s an additional expenditure we’ll be having to absorb this year.”

Absorbing that cost likely will mean cuts to other areas of the county budget, since no significant new sources of revenue have been secured. Although we are confident department heads will make the most of the funds they have, it also may mean cuts to services.

It appears, then, that it is time for commissioners to make a serious effort to find a better solution. Expansion of the existing jail or construction of a new facility may be necessary. We don’t have all the answers, but we urge county leaders to keep looking for them.

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