Compromising On Prison Overcrowding Bill

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Updated: 4/09/2013 6:20 P.M.

Housing prisoners has become an increasing problem in both the regional jail and West Virginia prison system-because, in part, an increase in crime has led to prison and jail overcrowding. One local law enforcement official told us recently offenders get out almost as quickly as they get in.

"When I started out in the late 1980's, if you were out on bond, and you broke the law again, you were probably going to jail and not getting out for a while," recalls Sgt. Shawn Graham, Chief Deputy of the Wood County Sheriff's Office. "Now, it seems a lot of them break the law, then bond out, then break the law again."

Lawmakers believe they've reached a compromise on Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed overcrowding bill, making early release for non-violent offenders a decision of a judge, rather than mandatory. It also would not apply to prisoners already in the system.

"I think they're going to change that to when a person is going to be released, instead of getting out six months early with supervision," says Sen. David Nohe (R-Wood County). "The way it is now, they get knocked out the door, and answer to nobody."

The regular session ends Saturday, but after that, legislators will still be working on the state budget for the next fiscal year. It's one a local lawmaker says is affected by declining state revenues.

Says Del. Dan Poling (D-Wood County): " It's been a challenge to do that, and still maintain all the services people want. But we'll have a balanced budget, and it will be a good budget, and it will be fair."

Two versions of the budget bill have been approved, one by the House of Delegates and the other by the Senate.


Build more prisons.

That's a local law enforcement officer's answer to the problem of prison overcrowding in West Virginia.

Earlier this week, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin introduced a bill mandating non-violent offenders six months early into supervised release programs.

It also calls for mandatory supervision for violent offenders once they're released.

Chief Deputy Shawn Graham of the Wood County Sheriff's Office agrees there's a problem.

But he adds the county faces a problem with offenders who end up back in the system within months of their release.

"If crime rates keep going up and you're using alternative sentencing, home confinements and day report centers...and all those are great," Graham says. "The fact is, the crime rate is going up and we should build more jails and lock more people up who are committing crimes. If more people got substantial time on their sentences, they would think twice about violating the law over and over again."

Another bill dealing with the overcrowding problem failed to get final passage in last year's legislative session.

This year's bill would also provide for better treatment programs for drug offenders.

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