W. Va. Legislators Urge Solution to Prison, Jail Overcrowding

CHARLESTON, W. Va — State officials are pushing for completion of a tabled prison expansion projects and possible sentence restructuring to alleviate overcrowding at correctional facilities throughout West Virginia.

Legislators are considering several options to reduce or accommodate the state’s swelling inmate population, which is projected to reach 8,000 inmates by 2012 if current conditions persist.

State facilities are suffering from a 1,200-bed deficiency and regional jails are filled to capacity with felons awaiting transfer to prisons, according to reports.

Officials estimate the state could ease the pressure of crowded correctional facilities by completing proposed expansions at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex and St. Mary’s Correctional Center that would add 300 or more beds to the prison system.

The two projects, still in the discussion phase, have been given a fresh look by lawmakers in response to state Gov. Joe Manchin’s call to study prison overcrowding.

Lawmakers are also considering alternatives to construction, including sentence restructuring and community sentencing.

Sentence restructuring would involve a re-evaluation of current sentencing policies and possibly shortening or eliminating incarceration periods for non-repeat offenders, in tandem with intervention and rehabilitation programs.

Community sentencing, already in use at the county level in some parts of the state, would confine offenders to their homes or day reporting centers, lowering costs to the county to house inmates in regional jails.

In the meantime, legislators may convene a special task force to analyze the penal system and develop a solution to the overcrowding.

The staff report must be approved by the full panel of commissioners before a formal presentation to the Legislature.