West Virginia Invests in a Study to Determine the Cause and Solution of Prison Overcrowding

979960_prison.jpgWest Virginia’s Governor Tomblin has sought the aid of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in combating the problem of prison overcrowding. Governor Tomblin was moved to action after seeing the positive effects the Justice Reinvestment Initiative has had on other states like Texas, North Carolina, and Ohio.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative will launch a study, funded by the Justice Department Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Center on the States, to find out whether there was any link between the rise in incarcerations over the years and the rise in violent crime arrests and unsupervised release of offenders. West Virginia officials hope to find out what happens at the sentencing stage to account for who gets sent to prison, who gets placed on probation, and who goes to community corrections.

West Virginia’s prison population has quadrupled in size since 1990, and at present, more than 6,900 people are incarcerated. Roughly 1,800 people convicted of felonies are required to serve at least part of their sentences in regional jails due to lack of prison space. Originally, the 10 jails were intended to hold no more than 2,900 inmates. As of mid-May, they held 4,740 inmates.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative will study data from West Virginia’s criminal justice system, then develop proposals with both those involved in the system and those affected by it. West Virginians involved in finding solutions include legislators from both parties and representatives for corrections officers, counties, and community-based programs. The project will also seek to ensure that the criminal justice system uses the latest scientific techniques to assess the risk of each offender. The expectation is that these techniques will help determine whether an offender can be deterred from committing more crimes in the future.

We at the Wolfe Law Firm applaud the state’s actions and hope that they pave the way toward real reform in the state’s criminal justice system. For the past few decades, there has been a trend across the country to be “tough on crime,” which means convicting at a high rate and issuing the toughest penalty allowed. That might have allowed for law enforcement officials to feel good about themselves, but the end result was that prisons became overcrowded, and now states must contend with large aging prison populations that require more expensive medical care. People who committed nonviolent crimes, such as smoking marijuana, have seen their potential wasted due to languishing in prison. If West Virginia is part of a trend to come up with more sensible solutions to the problems with crime, that can only be a good thing.

If you or your loved one have been accused of a crime that you did not commit, you should find an experienced West Virginia criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A good criminal defense attorney will defend you to the utmost and help you understand what is at stake and what to expect. In the current criminal system, prior to any reforms, having an experienced attorney behind you is vital.