FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — As the number of drug-related arrests in West Virginia continues to increase, so does the cost of housing suspects and convicted offenders.

Fayette County Sheriff Mike Fridley spoke with MetroNews affiliate WJLS about the double-edged nature of his department’s success in its ongoing efforts to turn the tide against the state’s ever-expanding drug crisis, including the recent multi-agency “Operation Mountaineer Highway” sting operation that resulted in dozens of arrests in the county and in other states.

Fayette County Sheriff's Dept.

Fayette County Sheriff Mike Fridley

“Last month, our jail bill has been the highest it’s ever been.  It was over $157-thousand for one month to keep people in jail.  If it stays at that (level), we’re going to use 20% of our general budget for the county on a jail bill cost…I hope the legislature looks at some stuff that can help out the counties.  I know Raleigh County’s (incarceration cost) runs $2-and-$300- thousand — Cabell County, $300-thousand-some a month — it’s really breaking these counties,” he said, pointing out that the costs resulting from initial arrests are almost invariably absorbed at the county level, regardless of which law enforcement agency takes a suspect into custody.

According to Fridley, some of those costs have been mitigated by the implementation of the Fayette County Drug Court program, which provides alternatives to prison sentences for addicts who have committed crimes in order to support their drug addiction.  Nonetheless, he said, the number of drug addicts ending up behind bars has increased steadily, over the past several years.

“Some people need to be in jail.  The thing is, a lot of people that are being arrested now, addicted to drugs, they don’t want to get help.  They’ve got to want help, in order to get help,” he explained.

The Fayette County Drug Court was established in 2016.  Offenders who have been charged with, pled guilty to, or have been found guilty of misdemeanor or felony drug-related offenses, or offenses in which substance abuse is determined to have been a factor in the commission of the offense, can avoid prison time by entering a treatment program, in some cases.  Similar drug courts have been established and modified in other regions of the state, over the past 13 years.

Fridley’s comments followed Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement this week of the creation of a council that will work with the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy.