Cumberland Times-News

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December 10, 2012

W.Va. inmate crowding focuses on drug abuse

State in need of treatment programs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia can likely reduce prison crowding by assessing more quickly the risks posed by offenders and providing substance abuse treatment to those on probation, parole and other community-level supervision, researchers told state officials Monday.

The recommendations are among several findings emerging from a study of the state’s criminal justice and corrections systems by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The project of the Justice Center at the nonpartisan Council of State Governments began scrutinizing West Virginia’s situation earlier this year. With plans to present more formal proposals in January, its staff on Monday updated a panel that includes corrections and court officials, legislators, county prosecutors, defense lawyers and community leaders.

West Virginia’s prisons are at capacity, forcing nearly 1,800 convicted felons to serve at least part of their sentences in regional jails that weren’t designed to confine them or provide treatment, education and other services. All 10 regional jails have more inmates than they were meant to hold as a result of this overflow.

Carl Reynolds, a Justice Center senior adviser, outlined the state’s drug problem and how it plays a role: West Virginians are more likely to die from drug overdoses than residents of any other state; one in 10 state adults has a substance abuse problem; 22 percent of new prison commitments are for drug offenses.

Reynolds also provided a new statistic drawn from the study’s research: 62 percent of offenders sent to prison when their probation is revoked show signs of substance abuse or addition.

“It’s a driver in that context,” he said.

But neither the probation nor parole program provides or funds any substance abuse services, Reynolds told the working group. The study has estimated that around 1,450 people on probation need these services, as do another 492 on parole. Their needs range from outpatient treatment to a residential program that continues to work with them once they’re released.

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