Home confinement saves county big bucks

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BUCKHANNON ­— Upshur County’s home confinement and community corrections programs saved the county a combined $1.8 million on its regional jail bill last year, local officials said Thursday.

Cpl. Rodney Rolenson, home confinement supervisor, and Cheyenne Walters, program director for the community corrections program, each delivered their annual 2017 reports at Thursday’s weekly meeting.

“As you can see for the 2017 year, the home confinement program saved the county $855,906.79 in regional jail fees,” Rolenson said. “The program collected $107,443, of which we had to pay the SCRAM units (alcohol-monitoring devices) $27,900 with the total profit of about $79,540.50 for the year.”

Rolenson presented a comparison of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 calendar years, saying in 2017, the program collected $30,000 less than it did in 2016.

“But we are down in the number of people that we had last year,” Rolenson added.

In 2017, the number of individuals on the home confinement program was 73, down from 101 in 2016 and 89 in 2015. 

“We violated 32 people this year,” Rolenson said. “These are mainly going to be drug screening violations. We’re doing a lot more testing. Of course, in the community you can see we’re having a lot more issues with drugs.”

While some individuals receive a second chance to comply with home confinement rules, others are immediately sent to jail, he said.

“Some, maybe they slip up, and you give them another chance, but with others, you’ve just got to lock them up,” Rolenson said.

Rolenson also told the commission that law enforcement officials have been encountering a wider variety of drugs.

“We’ve got a lot of different drugs here, too — heroin, methamphetamine… marijuana is a thing of the past, pretty much,” he said. “And then we’ve seen another drug coming in the last few weeks, which is the flakka. If you get a chance to look at that, then you’re going to get a chance to see what the law enforcement is going to be dealing with.

“It’s a synthetic drug, but they call it the ‘zombie drug,’ and what that is, if you watch some YouTube videos, you’ll see [individuals using flakka] just walking around literally like zombies and they’ll dive head first into your car as you’re driving down the road.”

Often, a flakka user’s body temperature skyrockets and they commonly remove their clothing, Rolenson and Walters said. 

Walters, the program director for community corrections, said the program saved Upshur County $984,879 in regional fees.

“That’s based off of an average eight-month sentence,” she explained. “We have some longer, we have some for a year, two years, typical is eight months for our people.”

Walters said the community corrections program is beneficial to the county in multiple ways, including reducing regional jail fees, decreasing recidivism rates and ensuring community service projects are completed.

In 2017, Walters said the program — which encompasses both Lewis and Upshur counties as part of the 26th judicial circuit — received 206 referrals from both counties.

“This is huge savings between the two counties of $2,415,298.50 in regional jail fees, based off the eight-month average,” Walters said.

In 2017, the program brought in $278,193.09 in fees, which comes from reimbursements and offenders, Walters said.

“The supervision fees has a total profit — and this is all profit, the supervision fees are — of $28,869.16 is what we brought in from our offenders,” she said. “Our drug screening fees [were] $25,795, but now part of that does go back to paying for the cups and things like that.”

Walters said when she compared fees collected in 2015, 2016 and 2017, she saw an upward trend.

“It really shows that we’re doing a lot better in collecting fees and reimbursements,” Walters pointed out. “In 2015, we had $152,514, in 2016 it was $155,000 and then this past year it was $278,000, so we’re doing a lot better with getting our money back.”

Holding participants accountable for paying their fees has contributed to the increase, she said.

“One thing that has helped a lot is, if you don’t pay fees, you don’t complete program,” Walters said. In 2017, of the 206 community corrections participants, 35 individuals successfully completed the program, while 46 were revoked — or removed — from the program and 103 remain current participants.

Walters said 22 absconded in 2017.

“It keeps going up, that number,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on with it right now. Now, revoked means they’ve failed to comply with their rules multiple times. In 2017, we can see that our completion rate has gone up. Our revocation rate has also gone up, but we’ve had more people.”

Walters also noted that the program’s “typical” participant is male.

Commission president Sam Nolte congratulated Walters on her work, especially the uptick in fees for services collected.

“You’re doing a great job,” Nolte said.

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