by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
POCAHONTAS, Va. —
A new era of a two-state cooperation has emerged that will have a positive impact on local prison costs in Virginia and improve the bottom line of a West Virginia hospital thanks to a new law that gives Virginia corrections officers legal custody over their prisoners while they are in West Virginia.
The change in West Virginia law that brought about the change came from a casual conversation between two friends — Dr. Phil Peterson and S.K. “Stan” Young, warden of the Pocahontas State Correctional Center in Pocahontas.
“Stan (Young) was telling me that he was having to send inmates who needed in-patient medical services all the way to Richlands, Va., for medical care,” Peterson said. “He said it would represent a considerable savings to take inmates to Bluefield Regional Medical Center, but his corrections officers couldn’t cross the state line. The medical transports to Richlands ties up officers for a longer period of time and the transportation costs are higher.”
According to Peterson, Young told him that other attorney generals of the states in other communities where he has worked were able to work out a “reciprocity agreement” to resolve the problem. Young wrote in a letter that the Virginia attorney general was trying to work out a reciprocity agreement with West Virginia. “To my knowledge, this agreement was never reached,” he wrote to West Virginia State Senator Bill Cole, R-Mercer.
“Should we have such an agreement, it would save the Commonwealth of Virginia thousands of dollars as the current hospital the institution uses is in Richlands, Va., which is approximately 60 miles from Pocahontas,” Young write. “Such an agreement would allow us to use Bluefield Regional Medical Center which would result in increased revenue for the hospital; on average, Pocahontas transports three inmates to the hospital per week, not to include and required tests or labs.”
Cole wrote a letter to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, asking him to look into the possibility of making a reciprocity agreement. “It is my understanding that if a reciprocity agreement can be reached, the Commonwealth of Virginia would save money and the Bluefield area would benefit from an increase in revenue for the hospital,” Cole wrote to Morrisey.
According to Peterson, Morrisey responded that it would be better if the legislature acted on the issue, and forwarded the concept to the state Department of Corrections for review and drafting. Senate Bill No. 387, has sponsors including Cole, Clair, Carmichael, D. Hall, M. Hall, Jenkins, McCabe, Walters, Williams and Nohe.
The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee where Cole serves, and went to Senate Finance where Cole was able to convince committee chairman, Senator Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, that it wouldn’t cost the state anything. The senate passed the bill, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed it into law on March 14.
SB 387 allows: “Duly authorized law enforcement officers of the United States, the District of Columbia and other states or political subdivisions thereof who are transporting prisoners through this state, delivering prisoners to this state or taking custody of a person in this state for transport to another jurisdiction are deemed to have lawful custody of said prisoner while in this state,” according to the bill.
Peterson said that the more than 1,000 inmates at the Pocahontas Correctional Center are covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical coverage provided through the state.
“There was already an agreement in place that would allow correctional officers to transport critically ill patients to BRMC in the case of emergency,” Peterson said. “This law helps Virginia save money, and benefits BRMC. Bill Hawley, BRMC chief executive officer was amazed when I told him the bill passed.”
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org