A $6,000 settlement here, an $8,000 settlement there, and pretty soon, you're talking real money - more than $7 million.
West Virginia Regional Jail Authority officials are taking steps to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits filed against the state by inmates. Because many of those accusing jail guards of sexual assault are filed by female prisoners, that group is the focus of changes.
All state-sentenced female jail inmates have been transferred to one regional jail, the Tygart Valley facility, which has a relatively large number of female corrections officers. In addition, more use is being made of surveillance cameras and recording of conversations on jail intercoms.
Sixty-three lawsuits alleging mistreatment of inmates are pending against the regional jail authority. Many have been resolved in the past, often through settlements averaging $6,000 to $8,000.
State officials sometimes agree to such settlements because the cost of fighting even a frivolous lawsuit could exceed amounts paid out to avoid lengthy court proceedings.
That is not unusual. Many companies have the same policy - but, if anything, it encourages frivolous lawsuits.
During the past three years alone, the state has paid $2 million annually for liability insurance - and expended $7 million to deal with claims.
Perhaps not settling a few clearly frivolous lawsuits - then coming down hard on the inmates who file them - is a better idea. Knowledge that filing a false claim may come back to hurt them could deter a few inmates from doing so, and could save the state money.