Cumberland Times-News

April 15, 2013

W.Va. prison overcrowding bill invests in drug treatment, supervision after release

From Staff Reports
Cumberland Times-News

— KEYSER, W.Va. — A Senate bill that addresses overcrowding in West Virginia’s prisons was passed by the House of Delegates after it initially passed unanimously in the West Virginia Senate.

 “As the bill was originally proposed by Governor (Earl Ray) Tomblin, it is a safe bet that he will sign the legislation into law quickly,” said Sen. Donald Cookman in a press release.

This bill will address overcrowding in state prisons by investing more in substance abuse treatment and supervision upon release for those who are incarcerated, according to Cookman.

 “I believe that the bill is truly an example of how government can work more efficiently and better spend its valuable resources,” stated Cookman in the press release. “To reduce recidivism, the bill provides for increased supervision for prisoners when they are released. More importantly the new law will provide for an increase and much needed improvements in substance abuse treatment programs for those in the system.”  

Mineral County Commissioner Jerry Whisner stated in a previous interview with the Times-News that  approximately 30 percent of those incarcerated are the result of drug abuse and that a drug rehabilitation center should have been put in place in the county years ago.

“If we could channel those drug offenders through a drug rehabilitation program at drug offenders’ expense, the end result would be some being rehabilitated and removed from the revolving door cycle, thereby cutting jail expense,” said Whisner previously.

 Tomblin told the media that the bill has worked in other states and the problem lies with the number of repeat offenders.

 “We’ve got to give it a try,” Tomblin said. “The alternative is to spend a couple hundred million dollars on a new penitentiary but we still have the same problem with recidivism. I think it’s going to be a big help in preventing the recidivism rate. That’s where most of our overcrowding is coming from. People going back for the second and third time.”

The bill requires mandatory supervision for violent offenders once they are released from prison and will release nonviolent offenders six months early to put them into supervised release programs, according to Cookman.

“Based upon our state’s success with its drug courts and mental health courts, it is believed that putting more resources into the supervision and rehabilitation components of our criminal justice system will in the end reduce the huge costs we currently incur to house prisoners, and further save money in the long run by reducing the number of people who re-offend and end up in jail or prison repeatedly,” said Cookman.

Some of the recommendations in the prison overcrowding bill are based on a comprehensive report on West Virginia’s jails and prisons from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, according to Cookman.

The projected savings for the state next year could be reduced from $27 million to $18 million, according to West Virgina MetroNews.

In Mineral County, the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail bill has averaged about $80,000 the past few months, County Commissioner Dr. Richard Lechliter said during a recent council meeting. Commission president Janice LaRue noted that most of the inmates were repeat offenders.   

“We need to figure out a way to pay these jail bills,” said LaRue at a previous commission meeting. “All 55 counties, we are all in the same dilemma.”

In the county, funding for constitutional offices and outside agencies are directly affected by the regional jail bill. Outside agencies funded by the commission include but are not limited to the health department, West Virginia University Extension, Camp Minco, Family Crisis Center, Transit Authority, and Developmental Center and Workshop.