Not long ago, this blog discussed the issue of prison overcrowding and the need for solutions. This important need is especially valid in light of a recent report that prison assaults have doubled as a result of the inmate population increase.
The number of report inmate-on-inmate violence incidents in West Virginia prisons increased from 64 in 2007 to 148 in 2011, despite the fact that half of the population was incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Meanwhile, assaults on prison employees increased from 47 to 101 during the same five-year period. In the 10 West Virginia regional jails, inmate-on-inmate violence increased from 449 to 612 between 2007 and 2011. While there have been no fatalities, the overall trend is ominous.
No single explanation was given, except that the increase was due to inmate overcrowding. West Virginia has 6,900 inmates overall, and regional jails meant to hold 2,900 instead hold nearly 5,000. Inmates in at least one regional jail are forced to sleep three to a bunk, with one sleeping on the floor. Negotiations for more space can frequently get heated, leading to violence. Furthermore, many who are in regional jails due to drug addiction lack access to a recreational yard and are forced together in a tight space, which impacts their mood. Prison corrections officers are often overworked and overwhelmed. With salaries that start at just $25,000 a year, they are quick to go elsewhere after being threatened with violence. Examples of such violence include one officer at Mount Olive Correctional Center getting stabbed by an inmate who melted a razor blade into a plastic pen cap.
The solutions to the problem are not easy, and will likely require taking steps away from the “tough on crime” approach that has been popular for the past few decades. People were given tough prison sentences even for nonviolent crimes. Now, several states, including West Virginia, are studying ways to deter people from crime without automatically sentencing them to jail. For instance, one of the ideas proposed by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative is to use the latest scientific methods to assess an offender’s risk.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm think that these assault statistics, more than anything else, illustrate what a problem we have in the West Virginia criminal justice system. While it might initially feel satisfying to think that dangerous criminals are locked away from society, it ignores the more complex problems facing offenders (such as drug possession and addiction). Inmates are frequently nonviolent, and in being sentenced to prison, they are too often separated from family members for long periods of time, including their children. The “tough on crime” approach also ignores the question of what to do with inmates as they age. If they must serve a life sentence, they are entitled to treatment for age-related problems. Thus, the cost of incarcerating so many people will only increase with time.
That is why the work of a West Virginia criminal defense attorney is so vital. An experienced criminal defense attorney can often successfully reduce charges, or have jail time changed to probation. Much of this occurs before the trial, during the plea bargaining phase, where the defense works out a deal with the prosecution. If there is no successful plea bargain, or the client does not want to plea bargain, a criminal defense attorney may be able to get evidence excluded due to violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Amendment, or Fourteenth Amendment. Or a criminal defense attorney might be able to successfully appeal a conviction. If you or your loved one have been charged with a crime, you should seek out help from a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.