The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 25, 2013

Corrections

Officials should get on board with overcrowding relief provisions


— Sen. Bill Laird was puzzled Monday when the state’s corrections commissioner told him there are delays in implementing provisions of a bill passed last winter to facilitate overcrowding in West Virginia’s prisons and jails.

We must admit, we are puzzled as well.

SB371, which was approved in the 2013 legislative session, addressed overcrowding in a couple different ways.

What is puzzling is that the provision for the early release of non-violent offenders has been delayed until two staffers are hired.

As Laird, D-Fayette, co-chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, said it should be not take months to hire two people.

He told Commissioner Jim Rubenstein that it is urgent that this be corrected as it is a critical part of SB371.

He termed that failure to hire the two as “a bit too lethargic.”

It seems pretty simple to us. The jobs are posted with the proper requirements, people apply, interviews are conducted and the new employees are chosen.

It sounds like a fairly simple process — not one that should take months to complete.

Taking advantage of the provisions of the bill will help the state in two ways.

First is the overcrowding itself. In addition to full prisons, regional jails are now holding 1,652 state-sentenced inmates; 563 inmates are sleeping on the floors of the jails because of overcrowding.

Second, the state must pay the regional jails to house its prisoners — to the tune of $31 million to $34 million annually.

The early release of non-violent offenders would help ease both problems.

We urge the state Department of Corrections to get off its duff and institute the provisions of this law post haste.

On another note, the Division of Juvenile Services told the committee that the Gene Spadaro juvenile facility in Mount Hope is undergoing a status change from staff secure to lockdown.

Co-chair Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, was miffed, noting that the move “bothers him in terms of the preparations made and the awareness of the local community around it.”

Again, we come down on the side of the legislators. Such moves deserve proper notice to the neighbors it affects as well as the facility itself.

Corrections officials must do better at communicating and deploying directives they have been given.