State Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein told lawmakers Wednesday that prison overcrowding has reached the crisis stage.
“Our correctional facilities are full, the regional jails are beyond capacity,” Rubenstein told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The committee responded by passing Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s prison reform bill that’s designed to relieve overcrowding. The proposal calls for increased supervision for prisoners when they are released and improved substance abuse programs, all designed to reduce recidivism.
Currently, about half of all inmates coming out jail have no supervision. Additionally, former prisoners, who are still battling substance abuse, are more likely to commit a minor parole violation and end up back in jail.
State officials say it would cost $200 million to build a new prison, and the state pays about $24,000 a year to house each inmate. The Tomblin Administration is basing its reform on a study showing improved substance abuse programs and better monitoring of parolees could save the state $100 million over five to ten years.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, who supports the bill, says the legislation has been mischaracterized by some as being “soft on crime.” Violent offenders will not get out of jail any sooner, Palumbo said, but they will be monitored more closely when they are released.
All state prisons are filled to capacity, and an overflow of about 1,700 inmates are being housed at regional jails. Rubenstein worries about the volatility of the situation .
“The population continues to grow,” Rubenstein said. “You can only put so many people in a pot. It’s going to boil over at some point.”
The bill passed the Judiciary Committee on a unanimous voice vote. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.