Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 14, 2014

W.Va. prisons see reduction in repeat offenders, saving money

CHARLESTON — West Virginia is seeing a reduction in repeat offenders, and with that reduction, also seeing a $200 million in cost savings, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday at the Dirksen Senate Building in Washington, D.C.

Tomblin said prison overcrowding was a burgeoning problem just two years ago as the state’s incarcerated population grew by 20 percent. Estimates showed that the population would grown by another 1,400 prisoners, meaning the state would have to build another prison, an additional $200 million in the Division of Corrections budget, he said.

“In a time when we were faced with tightening our budgets, we had no data to prove the number of people incarcerated in our state actually made West Virginia any safer,” Tomblin said.

The governor said drug offenses topped the list of imprisonable offenses because of the drugs themselves and related property crimes committed to support drug habits.

“We needed a research-driven approach based on the facts,” Tomblin said. “With this in mind, West Virginia embraced the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.”

The governor introduced the Justice Reinvestment Act last year, with a goal of strengthening community-based supervision and improving the use of risk assessments to ensure inmates with violent histories had supervision when they were released and to invest in drug courts.

He said the CSG Justice Center continued to provide assistance with policy-making and training, analyzing data trends and coordinating implementation.

Since last year, Tomblin said, the prison population has been reduced by 5 percent and overcrowding has been reduced by nearly 50 percent. The governor said the state’s prisons have 6,743 inmates, compared to the projected 7,800.

Tomblin said part of the plan is to build a 60- to 100-bed substance abuse treatment facility in Mercer County at a cost of $1.2 million, the first step in a plan to reinvest money to fight substance abuse.

“By identifying and putting common sense solutions in place, we are protecting public safety and our state’s finances at the same time,” he said.

According to a CSG report, the bill passed by the West Virginia Legislature in 2013, the center analyzed more than 650,000 individual records, convened focus groups and met with criminal justice stakeholders. The recidivism rate had increased 45 percent between 2001 and 2008, years when the state’s population remained flat.

Tomblin is president of the Council of State Governments.

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