A new report says there are ways West Virginia can slow its prison population growth and improve public safety.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which was asked last year to conduct the study by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, says the state can ease its overcrowding problem by doing a better job assessing those convicted of crimes and doing a better job keeping an eye on them when they get out of jail.
West Virginia’s crime rate is one of the lowest in the nation but it leads to the U.S. in growth of inmate population. That has caused hundreds of state prison inmates to be held in regional jails, leaving those overcrowded.
The report, released Tuesday, says the state can save $340 million by sending fewer people to prison and not having to build a new state prison. The report recommends $25 million be invested in programs to get a handle on the state’s drug abuse problem.
The report also says everyone released from prison would be required to go into a period of community supervision in hopes of reducing the chances of their return to prison.
State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury is hailing the report and its recommendations. He tells MetroNews this could be the start of getting a handle on overcrowding in the state’s prisons and jails.
“I think we’ll be able to look at this year as the year things started to turn right about our public safety and overcrowding problem in correctional facilities in our state,” Canterbury said.
The state Supreme Court has already adopted one of the recommendations. It approved a new policy Tuesday that will require all convicted felons to undergo a risk and needs assessment profile before they are sentenced by a circuit judge.
“This will allow for the judges to have more information at their disposal about whether they can feel comfortable putting somebody on probation or comfortable about putting somebody in prison,” Canterbury said.
The new requirement will begin Aug. 1.
The report’s recommendations are expected to be a part of Gov. Tomblin’s legislative agenda for the upcoming 60-day regular session. Canterbury says the study gives policymakers the information they need.
“My hope is the legislature will embrace those areas that require legislative changes and that the administration will embrace those things that require procedural or policy changes that don’t need legislation,” Canterbury said.
A group of lawmakers is already familiar with the recommendations. They’ve been part of a working group that’s been with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.
The full report can be accessed by visiting the CSG Justice Center webpage at www.justicereinvestment.org.