by Martha Sparks
The Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, having studied the overcrowding of West Virginia’s prison and regional jail systems, recommends the state take a number of steps:
— Expand community-based treatment programs for substance abuse.
— Improve community-based supervision of inmates on probation or parole.
— Require post-release supervision of all inmates, including those who have served their time and are not placed on parole when they are released.
— Impose short jail terms instead of revoking parole or probation when violations of those programs are merely technical.
— Make risk and need assessments available to circuit judges and probation officers on a timely basis.
— Give judges the authority to sentence those convicted of crimes to treatment programs.
The center thinks such steps could reduce the prison population from 7,531 at present to 7,418 by 2018. Reducing the population instead of allowing it to balloon to a projected 8,893, as is anticipated at the current rate, could reduce operating costs by $116.3 million over that time period.
The state could then reinvest about $25.5 million in substance abuse programs. That might save the state from having to spend $200 million on a new prison.
It seems like a lot of savings from a relatively small reduction in inmate population, but the insight of experts who have looked at these problems in many states cannot be dismissed out of hand.
West Virginians don’t have the money to pay higher taxes for any reason. But they don’t like the crime many experience in their neighborhoods either.
Crime is both a fiscal and a neighborhood problem.
The Legislature has to balance the state’s responsibility for public safety against its need to cut costs.
It won’t be easy, but it’s the essence of the job.
— Distributed by The Associated Press
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