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Commission begins exploring options for Harrison jail

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Appearing before a U.S. District Judge sometimes means a long trip for federal prisoners in North Central West Virginia.

Although Clarksburg is home to a U.S. District Court, the Taylor County Jail is the nearest facility that houses federal prisoners.

Harrison County Commissioners see that as a possible opportunity to not only fill a need, but also make some money.

The commission Thursday took the first step in appointing a panel to decide what the do with the Harrison County Correctional Center, which is slated to close next year when the North Central Regional Jail opens.

"We need to analyze the feasibility of converting the jail into a federal holding facility," commissioner Thomas Keeley said.

Keeley and commission president Roger Diaz agreed to appoint fellow commissioner Beth Taylor to lead the panel, which will consist of representatives from the Sheriff's Department, the Federal Marshal's Service and the commission.

The North Central Regional Jail is set to open next March. At that time, the seven counties it services will have to close their jails, or convert them for other uses, Sheriff Wayne Godwin said.

Converting the Harrison jail to a federal facility will do more than just be a convenience for U.S. officials, he said.

"If the jail closes, the county commission will still have to pay the (utility) bills," Godwin said. "I don't think they could afford not to do this."

Additionally, keeping the county jail open will ensure that the 24 county corrections officers will be able to keep their current jobs, Godwin said.

And the venture could be profitable for the county, he said. The federal government would pay the counties a daily rate for each prisoner kept there.

"They always pay on time and we have a good rapport with them," Godwin said. "This could make money for the county."

A profit would be a benefit for the commission, Diaz said.

"If we make a little money on it, then we'll spread it around," he said.

But the panel will have to consider whether or not the jail is worth keeping open, Taylor said. She has concerns about the condition of the building.

"I would want to be assured of the structural integrity," she said. "We need to know if the building structure warrants an infusion of funds for this kind of project."

Because of problems with the building's foundation, it leaks, she said. Cracks throughout the building make maintenance expensive for the county.

"I don't want us to throw good money after bad," she said.

The North Central Regional Jail is scheduled to open in March 2001. Construction reportedly is a month ahead of schedule, Godwin said.

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