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Overcrowding and new ideas

March 5, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

West Virginia's prison overcrowding problem has been targeted by a ton of studies, pilot programs, limited legislation and proposals during the past few years. What good can one more study do?

Perhaps none. Still, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is right to seek a new study of the crisis by the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments. We need all the help we can get, after all.

Thirteen prisons and other corrections centers throughout the state house 5,146 inmates. That exceeds the facilities' design capacity. So bad is overcrowding that 1,799 convicts who should be in state prisons are being housed "temporarily" in regional jails. Sometimes, the jails have to set up cots in their gymnasiums to take care of the inmates.

It may be the state will have to build a new prison to deal with the problem. But that could cost as much as $200 million, and that is money West Virginia simply doesn't have to spare.

In announcing he would seek a study by the Council of State Governments, Tomblin noted it has been successful in suggesting ways to reduce prison overcrowding in other states. A Justice Center study in Texas resulted in recommendations that reduced the state's prison population by more than 8,000 people during a three-year period.

West Virginia already has embarked on some initiatives of the type recommended for Texas. For example, more resources are to be dedicated to treatment of drug abusers. That may keep them from re-offending and being sent back to prison.

Again, Tomblin's idea is a good one. With any luck, the Justice Center may find ways Mountain State officials have not considered to reduce prison overcrowding.



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