The Minority Leader in the state House of Delegates says he sees a number of problems with the prison reform bill that could get the approval of the full Senate on Thursday.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposal to reduce overcrowding in West Virginia’s prisons and regional jails is expected to run into some resistance when it next moves to the House of Delegates.
“All of us are interested in trying to do something to address this problem. We’re not just trying to kill this bill,” House Minority Leader Tim Armstead said on Wednesday’s MetroNews Talkline.
“We’re trying to find a solution that we can support, but this bill isn’t it.”
To reduce recidivism, the proposal calls for increased supervision for prisoners when they are released and improved substance abuse treatment programs.
As proposed, the bill would require a year of mandatory supervision for violent offenders once they are out of prison and would release nonviolent offenders six months early to put them into supervised release programs.
Delegate Armstead says, in the bill, the definitions of violent and nonviolent are too broad.
“There’s two questions: are they violent or nonviolent and are they ready to return to society? By not having been granted parole already, there’s at least a presumption they are not ready,” he said.
When it comes to substance abuse treatment, Armstead says he thinks alternative sentences for treatment should only apply in specific cases.
“If you’re going to do an alternative sentence for drug treatment, and the key is going to be drug treatment, it ought to go to people who are committing drug crimes,” he said.
“It should not go to people who are committing all the other more violent crimes who just happen to be on drugs when they do it.”
Some of the recommendations in the bill, SB 371, are based on a comprehensive report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
For the past decade, the incarceration rate in West Virginia has been three times the national average, with many prison inmates forced to stay in regional jails because of a lack of space.
According to current estimates, without changes, the state’s prison population is expected to grow by another 24% over the next five years