Lawmakers hear numbers from prison overcrowding initiative - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Lawmakers hear numbers from prison overcrowding initiative

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West Virginia can take some steps to ease its prison overcrowding struggles, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance, which has been analyzing data since June to try to help.

Carl Reynolds presented some of the information to lawmakers Monday morning at the start of the October interim committee meetings of the Legislature.

Reynolds said he did not want the numbers to come across as "overly critical" of the decision makers currently in place, but he was hoping to make suggestions that would create a successful legislative session in February.

Reynolds said West Virginia has the fastest-growing rate of prison population growth, but the third-lowest rate of adults on parole. He said West Virginia is fourth among states for relying on jails because of overcrowding, with about 25 percent of prisoners in regional jails. The national average is about 5 percent.

Reynolds said about 54 percent of new prison commitments in West Virginia are from violent crimes and property crimes. He also said recidivism has cost the state about $168 million in the past five years.

Reynolds said West Virginia's rate of recidivism has stabilized, and it's not a stand-out number when compared to rates across the country.

He also told lawmakers he has repeatedly heard anecdotal evidence that municipal police officers are making decisions to send people to jail rather than write citations. Reynolds said there is some evidence the officers receive overtime that way and they also save their cities money because the counties foot the bill.

Reynolds said substance abuse needs in West Virginia prisons cross all offense types, and almost everyone with substance abuse issues receives at least some level of substance abuse program recommendations – so much so that Reynolds said substance abuse programming may actually be over-assigned.

Reynolds also said the criminal justice system in West Virginia is not identifying and targeting risk in offenders effectively, but that was a common problem across the country.