W. Va. Considering New Prison Construction, Measures

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — With the second fastest growing prison population in the country, West Virginia is building new correctional space and considering alternative sentencing measures to reduce its prison population.
The West Virginia Division of Corrections will need 8,500 new prison beds by the end of 2012 and 10,300 by 2017. The cost of housing a prison inmate in West Virginia is $25,500 a year.
Last year the Governor’s Commission on Prison Overcrowding issued a list of 14 recommendations to deal with the state’s burgeoning inmate numbers, recommending, among other things, adding 300 work release beds for nonviolent offenders. Seventy-five percent of prison admissions in the state are for nonviolent drug and property crimes.
As a result, the Division of Corrections is adding residential substance abuse treatment beds in Beckley, Parkersburg, Fairmont and Charleston where inmates will receive drug treatment and be subsequently moved to the traditional work release program, where they will work in the community and pay rent for their bed at the work release center.
The Corrections Division is also building a 48-bed work camp at the Huttonsville Correctional Center. A recommendation for the funding of 300 additional beds at St. Mary Correctional Complex is awaiting legislative approval.
A bill establishing the Accelerated Parole Program went into effect last month.
But the legislature has not acted on other key commission recommendations, including a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal code.
It also failed to enact alternative sanctions for lower risk offenders such as expanded probation, day report programs and shortened sentences. Likewise, it did not fund an expansion of the state’s substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.
State lawmakers believe the expansions and recommendations undertaken so far, in conjunction with other recommendations awaiting legislative action, could help avoid the need for the construction of a $200 million, 1,200-bed medium security facility, a measure also recommended by the governor’s commission.
Approximately 6,700 prisoners are sentenced to the custody of, but there’s room for only 5100. Close to 1600 inmates have been sent to regional jails.