Prosecuting Attorney: Mercer County not releasing inmates from jail because of pandemic

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PRINCETON, WV (WVNS) — Mercer County will not be releasing inmates because of COVID-19 concerns.

According to Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler, Mercer County Circuit Court Judges are not releasing inmates from jail because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sitler said judges look at certain criteria when setting bond for a pretrial defendant, including the severity of the alleged crime, the likelihood for a defendant to commit further crimes, and the defendant’s likelihood to cooperate with counsel and appear at further hearings. Sitler added that standard is not changing because of the pandemic.

Mercer County currently houses 165 inmates at the Southern Regional Jail. Of those inmates, 71 are held on misdemeanor crimes and 93 are held on felony offenses.

Sitler is holding bi-weekly meetings with Chief Public Defender Tracy Burks and Pretrial
Release Officer Jackie Houchins to evaluate whether inmates should be considered for bond
modification. If so, their cases and the Prosecutor’s recommendations are presented to Circuit
Court for review.

“Our Court system employs a pretrial release officer, Jackie Houchins. Her job is to evaluate the
circumstances of each person being held on charges prior to their trial or conviction, and make
recommendations to the Circuit Court whether these detainees should be held or released under
community supervision–sometimes through electronically monitored home incarceration,” Sitler explained.

“At our last meeting, we reviewed the entire inmate list and found only two cases where pre-trial bond release seemed clearly appropriate. Our highest priority is public safety. An inmates’ potential for violence, the nature of the offense charged, and their prior record are the first things we look at. If the accused has little or no prior criminal history, we will consider an inmate’s medical treatment needs, employment status, and family support responsibilities,” Sitler said.

“It’s important for the public to understand that our Circuit Judges carefully consider the
likelihood that an accused will commit another crime when they make determinations about pretrial bond release. Someone who is accused of a minor non-violent property crime is usually
released on bond. However, almost all of our current jail detainees have substantial prior records, are accused of violent and/or dangerous offenses, or are serving post-conviction
misdemeanor sentences,” Sitler reported.

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