If there’s one thing a politician hates it’s to be tagged as soft on crime.  Many political careers have been wounded, and even ended, because of a perception that a candidate is more concerned about the assailant than the victim.

And that fear is a strong undercurrent here at the State Capitol as the West Virginia Legislature works on Governor Tomblin’s bill to ease prison overcrowding.

The legislation is based on a report by Justice Reinvestment of the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

That report said West Virginia could ease prison overcrowding and save money on corrections by lowering recidivism through better alcohol and drug treatment programs and increased supervision when inmates are released.

Non-violent offenders would be released from jail six months before their sentence is up and entered into an intensive supervised program with substance abuse treatment, if necessary.

That’s one of the provisions that’s giving some lawmakers pause.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) believes it’s a mistake to let even non-violent offenders out early.  He believes, as a matter of principle, that early release falls short of justice.

Other lawmakers no doubt feel the same.  But there’s also a political concern, particularly by Democrats.

Democrats have a narrow 54-46 majority in the House.  The Republicans have momentum following the last election and they’re gunning to take control of the House in 2014.

A Democrat who supports the prison reform bill could find himself with the “soft on crime” label.  It would be challenging, in the face of that, to explain why supervised release and substance abuse treatment is actually an economic issue: it saves taxpayer money and increases the chances a former prisoner will get his life back together.

Worse yet, what if a non-violent offender commits a serious crime after being released early?  That’s bound to happen one day, and when it does, a political opponent may seize that opportunity.

House Democrats badly want Republicans to come along with them on prison reform.  If it’s a bipartisan bill, both political parties have cover when the “soft on crime” bomb is lobbed.

The practical reality is that the concept of more treatment and supervision makes sense.  It’s working in Texas of all places, which is notoriously tough on crime.  There the prison population has leveled out.

West Virginia must do something about prison overcrowding. If not, there may be a vote coming in the not too distant future whether to spend $200 million to build a new prison.

Nobody in either political party wants to make that call.

 

 

bubble graphic

31

bubble graphic

Comments

  • j

    Why would the criminals behind bars want out anyway. Most commit new crimes in order to go back.

    They are housed, clothed, given healthcare, given food, given better educational opportunities than most of our kids, Have Cable, etc.

    Why not once again make prision a place people do not want to be, as opposed to a place that is felt to be a safety net.

    • Jim Ashcraft

      You have no idea what you are talking about...inmates that have cable pay for it ...it is deducted from inmate accounts...as far as education goes they have a chance to obtain their G.E.D.I am not some bleeding heart and believe in the Constitution....all of it! Do some research.

      • james flesher

        research what? wv prison system is sad. Inmates are empowered for their crimes with our system. You get to run over people outside and ruin lives then come to prison and run over staff because there's no consequences in prison. F##k the inmate benefit fund paying for cable. it's not fitting the bill for near enough. If you want to coddle criminals then store some on your property to ease overcrowding, let you neighbor's place store some. Committing a crime should result in real punishment not a F##King debate topic... Consider victims of crime and the frustrated F##ks like me who deal with some these roundheads for years. All the while my community fills with the same sh#t that is inside the fence. Oh and yeah they get associates degrees here, certifications, etc. disagree? Need research? Keep it that way while hopefully your neighborhood fills with sh#t and we can watch and wait for us, our kids, or grandkids turn into a victim sometime. Come debate then.

  • Jim Ashcraft

    ....ok Sgt. Carter. Huttonsville was a joke!

  • Bill Carter

    When I started working in corrections in the early 70's, we had "arm crews" that did the dirty work like cleaning ditches and making little rocks out of big ones, than we had farm crews that growed produce for ever institution in the state, no inmates was aloud to stay in the prison unless he had a job. Than in 1978 the departments mission changed to "rehabilatation". Now WV Prison system is modeled after college campuses and that is why you have so many recommiting crimes to get back in!

    • Pruntytown

      It is even harder to rehab females, like the ones at PCC. Right Sgt. Carter? How did that work out for you, Preacher Carter.

  • zerotolerance

    The problems with prison isn't the the criminals, its the lawyers who represent their cause and the like. That is the root cause of your problem.

    • mntnman

      Yeah, lets not let anyone have their right to a day in court. Have you read the Constitution?

      • Hop'sHip

        "Lets not let anyone have their right to a day in court." You'll get lots of agreement here on that statemant a long as you're dealing with low class scum. But remember how everyone agreed that Don Blankenship deserved full protection of our justice system? I guess it depends on whether thay can afford their own lawyer.

      • GregG

        Normally mntnman I agree with your comments and ideas, but this time I'll have to disagree. And here is an example of why........ http://www.wsaz.com/news/headlines/Drug-Bust-Made-at-Suspects-Parents-Garage-Mother-Talks-199279751.html

  • Woodchuck0

    Legalize pot. Save money. Farm pot and sell to the world and make tax money. Old strip mines would make great farms.

    Punish the hard criminals quickly.

    Get sheriff joe here and watch the difference. Talk about saving money.

  • mntnman

    We need to rethink who we put in prison. I think we need to use prison for the worst, violent offenders, and the worst of other crimes, such a child abuse, sand the like. Those crimes involving self abuse (drugs, alcohol, etc) or financial crimes need to be directed toward treatment in the first instance, home confinement in the second, and then, only after the others fail, prison.

    Drug treatment and home confinement work because the burden of support is on the criminal, not the public. They pay for the housing, the food and the equipment/people who have to follow them in the program. It works by treating the problem at its root, instead of simply locking people up. Of course, it does not always work, but we need a more efficient, effective and cheaper way to deal with non-violent offenders. Let them pay the freight, I say, get them help and only if they refuse, do we lock them up.

    As for financial offenders, take all they have, sell it, and give the money to those they cheated. Then, make them work off the rest, if they still owe more. Let them support themselves meagerly, and give the rest to their victims. If they choose not to do so, then lock them up.

    Prisons need to be for the worst among us. Those who abuse, injure, maim and kill. Those whose actions threaten violence. When it comes to violence -- no tolerance. Zero tolerance. Period.

    For the others, lets make them pay the freight, make them work off the debt, make them work to get better. We have the technology to follow them, and keep and eye on them. If they don't do what we ask, then lock them up. But give it a try -- it just might work and cost us a lot less in the long run.

    Finally, we need to rethink prisons. Less amenities and more work. Earn privileges like TV. Get rid of weight lifting -- let them work out if they choose, but do it the old fashioned way. Food should be basic only -- nutritious, but bland. Water to drink. Keep them alive; don't mistreat them. But make prison worse than it is. Its no vacation now, but we can make it worse without being cruel and unusual. Lets do that.

  • Shadow

    Releasing criminals is not a solution. They just keep doing what they were doing. WV used to have Work Camps where plain old wooden barracks were used with a barbed wire enclosure. It doesn't seem like "cruel and inhuman" punishment to me. Then, we should get a guy like Sheriff Joe to do our incarcerations with his pink pants and baloney sandwiches.

    • bulldog95

      Instead of some DOH guy riding in a tractor, mowing grass along our roads, why not pay an armed guard to watch a bunch of criminals use push mowers and weed eaters.

      • TBone

        The leftist liberal regressive progressives would never let that happen. They are more concerned with getting murderers off of death row and out of prison altogether. The liberals coddle and fawn over the death row muderers and child molesters. The liberals highly embraced the "Occupy Wall Street" thuggery all across this nation. You know, the OWS criminals who wanted to blow up a bridge during rush hour traffic in Ohio. The OWs crowd who attacked police in dozens of cities. The OWS crowd that "camped" and cost municipalties millions and millions of $$$$ to clean up after them. It is the liberals who embrace criminal, murderous dictators, like Castro and Chavez.
        That is the liberal way, embrace the criminals, for it was their environment that caused them to be criminals. What a croque of crap the liberals try to feed us.

        • GregG

          Just passed a "Inmate work crew" picking up trash this morning. I see this often in my area. But I will admit, considering the weather conditions this morning, I was shocked to see them out today.

        • Ann

          TBone, I'm as liberal as they come and nothing you say here speaks for me and my positions. I don't embrace criminals at all -- murderers should be behind bars for life, as should child molesters; I own guns and know how to use them; I'm pro 2nd Amendment rights; I despise Castro and Chavez, etc. You're painting with an awfully broad brush and it certainly doesn't help any of our debates here. Food for thought.

          • Shadow

            I would say you are not a true Liberal, you are a Libertarian.

          • Hop'sHip

            Ann: You must be new here. Most of those who post here are very conservative, but many will address issues with reasoned arguments. TBone (who also goes by other names here) ain't one of them. I use to think he was doing a parody of a sterotypical right-wing nut case. Sort of like Stephen Colbert, without the humor. But now I think he is the real thing. Engage him at your own peril.

          • GregG

            Ann, Fester Fungo Bone only has one brush. If he would shut up for a moment and listen/read he might find that these liberals he loves to rant about are not as "liberal" as he accuses them of being. Just because I believe the republican party is nothing more than puppets of the rich and big business doesn't mean I have a "soft stance" on criminals. Sure I detest what Big Coal is trying to do to the retired miners of our area, but that doesn't make me "anti-coal". Actually, as I have said before, I'm tired of both the dems and reps. Neither party has an ounce of common sense anymore.

  • TD

    So the choice is do something smart that could save money and actually help people or continue with the war on drugs that has been an absolute failure for the past 50 years. We have 6% of the worlds population and 25% of the worlds prisoners thanks to that policy.

    Forget it, makes too much sense and Republicans are very good at beating their opponents over the head with quick labels that fool the average voter. My guess is we'll be building a prison and wasting millions more in money and lives.

    • bulldog95

      There are other programs that continue to have billons of dollars wasted on them, the war on poverty happens to be one of them. It would seem we have more people than ever, but I guess thats because of greedy republicans and nothing to do with peoples motivation and desire being killed with free stuff.

      • TBone

        Obamaphones. Come to the welfare office and get your Obamaphones. Come get your free foodstamp debit card. Come get your free money debit card. Come and get your free health insurance. Come and get your electric bill paid for free. Come get your free rent from HUD. Come get your free HUD allowance. Come and get your free wardrobe for all women who qualify. Come and get your free car for all women who qualify. Come and get your free school allowance clothing check for all the illegitimate kids running around. Come and get your heating bill paid for free. When will all the welfare giveaways end????

        • Michael

          The phones you talking about was a G W Bush law, signed when he was President. You should do your research before posting. Come and get your Social Securuty check that you paid into all your life, let big corps like Patriot Coal take your pensions and retirement away while giving the CEO a 6 million dollar bonus.

        • bulldog95

          I appreciate your support, but I would like most to see a response from TD but its hard to do when he complains about failed government spending that is caused by "the right" but cant say a word when even more failed spending is attributed to the left.

  • Levelheaded

    We need to reopen the old county jails for the "overnighters" and save the transportation cost. It would cost next to nothing and help free up some cells. If you're going to let these people out early, why not just stop arresting them. That would save some money.
    P.S. Build the prison, we're going to need it.

  • GregG

    If "nobody in either political party wants to make that call" then put it in the hands of the voters. Put the death penalty on the ballot. I'll sure vote for it!! As a matter of fact, I say crimes such as rape, child molestation, cooking meth, and any form of drug crime other than weed can be added to the death penalty. Legalize pot and start hanging people guilty of cooking meth in a house full of children. A length of rope is all the "drug treatment" they should receive on my tax paying dime.

    • Hop'sHip

      GregG: I appreciate your disdain for the criminal behavior ever present, much of which is drug/alcohol fueled. But I would say that it is always wise to reexamine your comments when the likes of Fungo agrees with you.

      • GregG

        Tehee, yea I almost fell out of my chair on that one!! But I'll give ol' Fester Fungo Bone credit for admitting he agreed with me for once. Like I mentioned below, he would find many of the leftist liberal regressive progressives as he like to call them are not as "liberal" as he thinks.

    • TBone

      I never thought we would agree on anything, but I cannot disagree with a word you said.
      I would also add that to get rid of the term Corrections. It is just a feel-good term for the liberals. The federal government has gone back to the Bureau of Prisons. The arrogant liberals think they and their policies will help "correct" the behavior of criminals. How has that worked over the last 40 years?? Not too good. The liberasl have the anti-Midas touch. Anything they touch, turns into crap. The prison system. The education system. The welfare system. The tax system. And on and on and ....

  • CaptainQ

    Hoppy, this is yet another case of "True Reality vs. Political Reality." True reality says that this solution would both save money and help somewhat relieve the problems with our overcrowded prisons. Political reality says that any lawmaker who backs this solution will be labeled as 'soft' on crime. In THIS state, often once the public sticks a 'political label' on someone, it's very very hard to remove, just ask Joe "Gun Control" Manchin.

    Since politics is nearly 100% showmanship and image, I suspect there's going to be some problems securing enough votes in Charleston to get this bill passed. Forgive the pun, but to me, the 'jury's still out' on whether or not this new idea of early release will work. I'd be curious to see if other states have tried this and how successful it was in those states. Like Hoppy said, all it would take is one of these 'released non-violence criminals' to go out and commit some major crime to bring political 'fallout' upon those who supported/voted for this bill.

    Seems like a Catch 22, Hoppy. Either set up this early release program (with all it's potential pitfalls) to save money or be willing to spend MORE taxpayer funds on prisons and the prison system. This is going to be a tough call for our elected leaders to make.