By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The suicide of an inmate Wednesday afternoon at the Bluefield city jail had members of the southern West Virginia law enforcement community concerned over the future of the facility that a previous city manager had slated for closing.
“Without a local jail, we will be spending a lot of time on the interstate,” Mercer County Sheriff Don Meadows said. “It would cost us a lot of money if the local jail was closed, but I can understand their point too. It’s expensive to operate a local jail, but it is a service that is needed.”
Without a local jail, officers would have to transport prisoners to and from the Southern Regional Jail much more frequently, according to Meadows. Using deputies to make additional transports would have an impact on the number of deputies available for patrol, he added.
Brian Cochran, Bluefield city solicitor, said that he is not aware of any plan to close the Bluefield jail. “When the previous city manager prepared the fiscal 2012-’13 budget, he removed all funding for the jail,” Cochran said. “It has been on the table to be closed since July, but the city board has intentions of keeping it open at least through the end of the year.”
Cochran said that the city has been able to keep the jail open by using funds available from positions in the city that were not filled to make the funds available. Still, Cochran said that the cost of operating a jail can be challenging.
“It’s a financial strain on the city,” Cochran said. “It’s not just a concern in Bluefield. It’s a statewide issue. I don’t think the burden has to be placed squarely on the shoulders of Bluefield. The city is impacted by the expense, but we see the jail as a good thing to have from a law enforcement perspective.”
An inmate, Don Adams, who admitted that he killed a neighbor, John Watkins, and severely wounded Watkins’ wife, Monika Watkins, apparently committed suicide in the city jail Wednesday afternoon while he was awaiting transport to the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.
Scott Ash, Mercer County prosecuting attorney, said he is aware of the vital service the jail serves in the county. “I assume it remains open,” Ash said.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org