Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 10, 2013

Commission delays action on home confinement transitional center

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Members of the Mercer County Commission are once again being asked to support a proposed new home confinement transitional center for non-violent offenders.

Wanda Lee, a resident of Princeton and a member of a group that is advocating the development of the project, presented the commissioners Tuesday a copy of a letter of support she received for the home-confinement center from Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash. Lee said the group also has received a letter of support from Bill Jessee, director of the Mercer County Day Report Center.

The letter from Ash said such a release center could economically provide a community-based location for people to serve home confinement. Lee said she is seeking additional letters of support for the project from the county’s magistrate and circuit court judges. She said the project would help the commissioners save money on their monthly regional jail bill.

“I propose to the commission members that we house our own low-risk offenders right here in the county,” Lee said.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second time she had presented the proposal to the commission.

However, commissioners Mike Vinciguerra and Gene Buckner said the commission is limited in what it can do to help the project since it is a private business.

Buckner, who spoke to the Daily Telegraph after Tuesday’s meeting, said the commission hasn’t been presented any specific project plans for the proposed home confinement center. He said the project appeared to be a private business.

“We can’t fund a private business,” Buckner said. “She would have to solicit business from the court (system).”

Commission president Mike Vinciguerra, who also spoke to the Daily Telegraph after the meeting, said he too viewed the development as a private business. Vinciguerra said the commission would have limited authority or ability to approve or fund such a project.

“It would be up to the judges,” Vinciguerra said. “They sentence them (the offenders) to home confinement.”

Vinciguerra said the existing Mercer Day Report Center is also providing home confinement services for non-violent offenders.

In his letter to Lee, Ash said the proposed transitional center would serve persons who are currently incarcerated prior to trial.

“The Mercer County courts give great weight to community safety when setting bond and imposing bond restrictions,” Ash said in the letter. “More and more often, bond is contingent upon the defendant having a suitable place for home confinement where home confinement officers can electronically assure the defendants whereabouts. An educated guess is that there are usually about two people in jail at any given time awaiting trial who could be supervised in the community, but for a suitable residence. Many of those people are homeless and many more have homes that would bring them into contact with victims, more potential victims or bad influences, which would be irresistible (i.e., drugs, alcohol). It is with this population that a release center might be useful.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com