Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

June 24, 2014

Repeat offenders — Progress in the Mountain State

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says West Virginia is seeing a reduction in repeat offenders, and subsequent cost savings as a result of this welcomed news. And Tomblin says ongoing projects — like a new $1.2 million substance abuse center planned for Mercer County — will provide additional help in terms of reducing prison overcrowding and helping those who are struggling to break the chains of addiction.

Just two years ago, prison overcrowding in West Virginia was a major problem. That led to renewed discussions by lawmakers about the need for a new state prison — a project that would have increased the Divisions of Corrections budget by an additional $200 million, the Register-Herald in Beckley reported.

As expected, drug offenses have and continue to top the state’s list of prison offenses. Related crimes, including property thefts, also were tied back to the drug problem — as addicts find themselves committing other crimes just to support their drug habits.

In the two years that have since passed, improvements have been recorded.

Tomblin also successfully introduced the Justice Reinvestment Act last year, a state initiative with a goal of strengthening community-based supervision while improving the use of risk assessments of inmates with violent histories. As part of the initiative, plans are now underway to build a 60- to 100-bed substance abuse treatment facility in Mercer County. Two sites are currently under consideration for the project, including the old BB&T building on Bluefield Avenue in the city limits of Bluefield. The project organizers also are reviewing possible locations in the Princeton area.

The good news is that we are seeing some progress. Tomblin says since last year, the state’s prison population has been reduced by 5 percent and overcrowding at state prisons has been reduced by nearly 50 percent. And the state’s current inmate population is estimated at 6,743. Two years ago, it was projected that the inmate population would climb to 7,800 by 2014. But that hasn’t been the case — at least not yet.

We are glad to see some positive progress is being made as it relates to reducing the rates of repeat offenders — and subsequent prison overcrowding in West Virginia. It is our hope that we will see a continued reduction in these statistics in the months and years ahead.

And, with hope, future drug-treatment facilities like the project planned in Mercer County can make a positive difference in reducing the near epidemic rates of substance abuse we continue to see in the coalfield counties.

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