MASON COUNTY — So far, the Mason County Commission’s bill to house prisoners in the regional jail system is already growing 30 percent faster than what was budgeted for the year, and it’s not even the end of February, yet.
When the Mason County Commission recently meet with staff from Congressman Nick J. Rahall’s office, County Administrator John Gerlach reported the county budgeted $500,000 for the year to pay for regional jail services. It appears that number is now on track to grow to $700,000 by the end of 2013, if the current trend continues.
Gerlach said even with programs like day report and home confinement to help curb recidivism and jail costs, the county currently pays around $60,000 a month to house prisoners in the regional jail system — the majority of whom are transported and housed at the Western Regional Jail.
John Machir, of Mountain State Healthy Families, who was also sitting in at the meeting, said out of 42 people currently in the Mason County Day Report program, 41 are there for drug-related issues. Despite organizations such as the Mason County Anti-Drug Coalition and other grassroots organizations like the Rural Appalachian Sobriety Project, Inc. and Loved Ones Support Group, the drug epidemic continues to grow in Mason County. Machir said it appears a drug treatment facility located in the county is also needed to rehabilitate addicts as part of the drug prevention program in the area.
“Law enforcement cannot arrest our way out of this,” Machir said, telling the commissioners and Rahall reps, a huge portion of the cases that go through Mason County Circuit Court are now drug-related.
In fact, in September of last year, out of 19 people indicted by a Mason County grand jury, nine indictments were for alleged meth-making activities. The grand jury which met in January handed down a total of 20 indictments, 10 of which contained meth-making charges.
Mason County is not alone in dealing with staggering jail bills, with many officials and experts pointing to the escalation in drug use and the secondary crime (burglaries, thefts, assaults, etc.) associated with it, as a reason for the increase in simply paying to lock people up in the regional jail system.