Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin believes recommendations in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative released earlier this week can make a difference here in West Virginia.
The report focused on ways to reduce the prison population in West Virginia. Tomblin, who requested the study from the Center for Social Justice last year, did so because similar studies in North Carolina and Texas have made great improvements in those states.
“They had the similar overcrowding problems. They followed the recommendations of the Justice Center study and now they have a surplus of beds,” Tomblin said Thursday at the state capitol.
Following the Justice Center recommendations, Texas’ prison population dropped by 8,000 and recidivism was reduced by 25 percent. The state invested $220 million but ended up saving $440 million.
The Justice Center’s recommendations for West Virginia include spending $25 million for drug abuse programs and placing parolees on community supervision. Both are aimed at keeping inmates from re-offending once they’re on the outside.
“If we do a better job making sure when the inmates are released they are prepared to go back into the work place, back into the communities and not continue to rely on drugs. we’ll be able to reduce our [prison] population substantially,” according to Tomblin.
Currently the state houses more than 5,000 inmates in 13 facilities across West Virginia. But nearly 1,800 of those remain in the regional jail system because of prison overpopulation. Tomblin believes following the suggestions of Justice Center will dramatically reduce that.
“We’re hoping to implement many of those changes in West Virginia. Obviously it would be much cheaper than building a 200 million-plus facility and then having to staff it and keep it up,” the governor said.
The Legislature will tackle the report during its upcoming session.