OPINION ISSUED NOVEMBER 21, 1990
COUNTY COMMISSION OF MINERAL COUNTY
DIVISION OF CORRECTIONS
Lynn A. Nelson, Attorney at Law, for claimant.
Lowell D. Greenwood, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent.
Claimant, County Commission of Mineral County, provides and maintains a facility for the
incarceration of prisoners who have committed crimes in Mineral County. Some of the prisoners
held in the facility are guilty of crimes which require the sentencing of prisoners to facilities provided
and maintained by the respondent, Division of Corrections. Claimant brought this action to recover
medical payments and the costs of housing for prisoners who have been sentenced to a State penal
institution, but due to circumstances beyond the control of the county, these prisoners have had to
remain in the county prison facility for periods of time beyond the date of sentencing order. Claimant
contends respondent is liable for these additional expenses not normally incurred by a county.
Respondent contends that the law of custom and usage applies to this claim; that the respondent
should not be required to make retroactive payments where respondent did not have prior notice that
changes would be incurred; and, that respondent does not have a moral obligation to pay all or any
part of this claim.
The claimant herein brought this action in the West Virginia Court of Claims as this Court has
jurisdiction conferred upon it by the Legislature as the body created to hear claims against the State
or agencies thereof. See West Virginia Code Chapter 14, Article 2, Sections 1-29. This Court has
entertained two previous claims against respondent involving the issue of prisoners whose housing
and/or medical expenses were incurred by county or by a regional jail. See Kanawha County
Comm'n. v. Dept. of Corrections, Claim Nos. CC-87-489 and CC-87-724, Unpublished Opinion
issued Nov. 28, 1989, and Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority v. Dept. of Corrections,
CC-89-382, Unpublished Opinion issued Jan. 19, 1990. The Court made awards in those claims and
appropriations were forthcoming from the West Virginia Legislature to satisfy the awards. Thus, the
Court of Claims is the only forum afforded the claimant for the matters in controversy in this claim.
A review of the back ground for this claim is essential. It has been the custom that prisoners
indicated for crimes and tried in circuit courts are housed in county prison facilities until the
conclusion of the trial, and further, until the sentencing order is entered. The language for the
sentencing order, also known as commitment paper, is provided in W. Va. Code 62-7-10. It states,
in part, as follows:
....It is adjudged that the defendant is hereby committed to the custody of the Warden of the West
Virginia Penitentiary (Superintendent of the West Virginia State Prison for Women) or his (her)
authorized representative for imprisonment for a period of....
Effective Sentence Date:
It is adjudged that ...............
It is ordered that the clerk forthwith transmit this record, duly certified, of the judgement and
commitment to the Warden of the West Virginia Penitentiary (Superintendent of the West Virginia
State Prison for Women) and that this record serve as ...........County,
Claimant herein had a policy of informing the State penal institutions (normally Huttonsville
Correctional Center) that it was bringing a prisoner to the facility and, in fact, transported the
prisoner to the facility a short time after the sentencing order was entered. This was the custom until
an Order was issued by the Randolph County Circuit Court in Nobles v. White, Civil Action No.
83-C-249. That Order, entered on August 17, 1987, provided a specific "ceiling" for the number of
inmates assigned to Huttonsville Correctional Center at 500 inmates. An Amended Order entered
on October 9, 1987, provided a ceiling of 550 inmates and stated that "any deviation from this ceiling
of 550 can only be by specific written order of the Court." A slight deviation was permitted by the
Court on April 9, 1988, to 553 inmates, but the limit of 550 inmates is in effect as of this date.
The direct result of this Order was to increase prison populations at the county level as those inmates
sentenced to State institutions could not be transported by the counties nor the Division of
Corrections to Huttonsville Correctional Center, the facility where inmates are transferred for
evaluation prior to being placed in other State facilities.
The Court is very concerned with the situation facing the counties and the respondent. The counties
are incurring expenses on a daily basis for housing inmates who are actually wards of the respondent,
Division of Corrections. The failure of the Executive and Legislative branches of government to
construct new prison facilities created a situation which has ultimately fallen upon the shoulders of
the county commissions. The county commissions have no means or authority for coming up with
the additional funds needed to provide for housing these inmates. The taxpayers in the counties have
been bearing a burden which was certainly unanticipated. This has undoubtedly affected the financial
status of some counties more than others. The Executive and Legislative branches of government
ultimately created an agency known as the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority. This
agency has the authority to institute a bond program for the construction of new prison facilities. See
W.Va. Code Chapter 31, Article 20, Sections 1-26. This new agency is now in the process of
constructing new prison facilities to resolve the overcrowded conditions which were addressed by
the Nobels v. White Order. However, the county commissions have incurred and will continue to
incur expenses for housing these inmates until the new prison facilities are completed.
This Court may make retroactive awards only. It does not have statutory authority to make
prospective awards. The Court is of the opinion that county commissions are incurring additional
expenses for the housing of inmates who would normally be transported to a State facility after the
sentencing orders are entered. Claimant herein has held inmates from five days to 339 days beyond the sentencing order date. The average number of additional inmate days is approximately 146 days.
The respondent has had the benefit of using claimant's facility and resources for inmates who are by
law its responsibility. The Court is of the opinion that this constitutes an unanticipated and
significant expense to claimant. These expenses were not contemplated, and claimant did not have
the opportunity to provide for these expenses in this budget. It appears to the Court that there is a
moral obligation on the part of the State to ease the burden which claimant and the other counties
have incurred in order to afford protection to the citizens of the State of West Virginia. For these
reasons, the Court is of the opinion that claimant is entitled to a reasonable award for the additional
expenses which it has incurred for housing inmates sentenced to a State penal institution.
A determination of the amount of the award is an issue in and of itself. Respondent contends that the
amount expended by claimant for the additional inmate days is negligible while claimant contends
the award should be based upon its actual expenses of $25.00 per inmate day. For this Court to
review every item of expense for each inmate or attempt to calculate the "actual" expense for each
additional inmate day would be a most difficult undertaking. The Court, therefore, has determined
that, absent a showing that additional personnel were employed for the jail, or that overtime had to
be paid to existing personnel, or that there were other extraordinary expenses incurred as a direct
result of the State prisoners, a daily rate of $15.00 for each inmate is fair and reasonable to both
claimant and respondent at this time. Further, the Court is of the opinion that a two week holding
period in a county jail beyond the date of a sentencing order for inmates is also fair and reasonable
to both parties. The Court directs the parties herein to calculate a dollar figure based upon the time
frame and daily inmate rate established by the Court hereinabove, excluding, however, all days
wherein inmates remained in the county as the result of a stay pending appeal or at the request of
county officials, and submit the amount to the Court in a written stipulation. The stipulation shall
be filed by the parties on or before December 12, 1990.
As to the issue of medical expenses incurred by claimant, the parties are in agreement that claimant
is entitled to an award of $5,181.46. The Court therefore makes a partial award in the amount of
$5,181.46 to the claimant.
Partial award: $5,181.46.