UPDATE Monday 3pm: Senate Finance Committee passed the bill Monday and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.
Legislation is set to be introduced this week at the State Capitol intended to implement a plan to change the Salem Industrial Home for Youth into a minimum security prison.
That plan, proposed by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, was signed off on by Mercer County Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn last week and has Salem being used in the effort of relieving the overcrowding population at the state’s regional jails.
Meanwhile, working in conjunction with the Salem plan is Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed prison overcrowding bill that is set to be taken up in the state Senate Finance Committee soon.
West Virginia Senator Corey Palumbo said now is the time to address this issue.
“This has been a growing, mounting problem. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for years on this,” said Palumbo. “This is the year we need to really, seriously address it.”
The Governor’s bill puts several reforms in place to alleviate the state’s current prison overcrowding problems while ensuring public safety.
One of those reforms calls for investment in a community based substance abuse program for parolees.
“We have to devote resources to substance abuse treatment ,” said Palumbo. “A lot of the folks who are in our prison system are there because of substance abuse issues.”
Palumbo said the goal would be to significantly reduce recidivism rates.
In addition to that, the bill also aims to improve accountability by requiring at least six months of supervision for all inmates after they are released.
“Statistically most people commit another crime when they are released from prison in the first six to twelve months,” said Palumbo. “If you’re watching them, if you’re supervising them they are much less likely to do that.”
The bill would also implement alternative penalties for those who commit technical violations while on probation or parole.
Palumbo said the state needs to look at finding other punishments for those who violate probation or parole instead of just sending them back to an overcrowded prison.
“We want to become more of a system where we punish the people and lock up people who we are afraid of as opposed to people we are mad at,” said Palumbo.
According to a study by the Justice Center, the bill is expected to level off the state’s prison population at about 7,400 inmates by 2018 and produce savings of $116 million on operating costs.
The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee March 8.