The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

October 9, 2012

Lawmakers hear alarming prison data

West Virginia suffers the fourth fastest-growing inmate rate in America and some municipal police aren’t helping matters by hauling folks off to jail instead of writing citations.

That was one observation Monday by Carl Reynolds, senior legal and policy adviser for the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, working on West Virginia’s prison crowding.

Reynolds told the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority he often has heard officials say police in some cities are inclined to make arrests rather than write citations as a means of getting more overtime pay, or a desire to throw the costs onto counties.

“That is anecdotal information, not data,” he emphasized.

Yet, the Austin, Texas, resident said he has heard this assessment on several occasions by county commissioners and other officials.

“So it’s more than anecdotal,” Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said.

“It has to do with big cities that kind of dominate counties,” Reynolds said, noting that Huntington and Wheeling had been mentioned.

“It seems like some municipal police officers have an incentive to take people to regional jails instead of citing them when they could cite them,” he said.

“They have both a personal incentive in terms of racking up some overtime, from what I’ve been told, and an institutional one of working for the city and not wanting to cost the city money, but the county.”

Another panelist, Delegate Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, said media reports in Huntington lend “strong” support to this complaint that police there were taking some people to jail unnecessarily.

West Virginia’s 10 regional jails already are overburdened, absorbing some 1,800 state-sentenced inmates.

Reynolds suggested the state focus on people who are more likely to re-offend once they are released on parole.

“You have to actually change the way that people think and act, and you really can do it right and undo criminal thinking,” he said.

Aided by Justice Center policy analyst Megan Grasso, he said that 25 percent of West Virginia’s convicts are in regional jails, awaiting transfer, contrasted with a national figure of 5 percent.

Drugs play a major role in the criminal problem in an era that finds West Virginia with the second highest rate of fatal overdoses, he said.

In fact, 54 percent of new commitments last year were for drugs and property crimes, he noted, and commitments to the system are outpacing releases.

Between 2007 and 2011, there were 2,500 parole revocations, 2,400 for probation and 600 others were sent back for violations in community corrections programs, Reynolds said.

“Recidivism is costing West Virginia money as we speak,” he said.

“We’re not saying you shouldn’t or can’t revoke people when you put people on supervision. There has to be a potential consequence. We do see this as an area where we might be able to make some headway.”

Reynolds encouraged the lawmakers to employ risk assessment to identify those inclined to become repeat offenders, saying this element is lacking in both pre-trial and sentencing.

“Risk reduction is targeting programs, interventions to lower the risk to fix people to the extent that you can keep them from thinking like criminals, keep them from hanging around criminals and keep them from acting like criminals,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said West Virginia is no different than other states when it comes to repeat offenders.

“It’s the numbers game,” he said.

“If 100 people are on supervision anywhere, 50 percent are going to get arrested within a year. That’s just what happens. Pick any place in the country. Fifty percent. But you don’t know what 50 percent.”

Studies have shown that those considered high-risk actually have a smaller tendency to return to prison, he said.

Reynolds told the panel that he plans a follow-up session of presenting more data, then a final meeting to pose some possible corrective policies.

“All this leading into February, hopefully, with a bill drafted that reflects those options,” he added.

— E-mail:

Text Only
Latest News
  • legion VIDEO: American Legion posts plan to merge

    To help deal with its decreasing membership numbers, Beckley American Legion Post 70 is planning a merger with Post 32.

    “We see the benefit for both of us and for Raleigh County,” Post 32 Adjutant Frank Cook said. “Right now Post 70 is having membership problems and with membership problems comes financial problems.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tri-state coal interests rally before hearings

     More than 2,000 union workers and others organized by the coal industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia joined top state elected officials Wednesday to rally against proposed stricter federal pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants.

    July 31, 2014

  • legal Tort reform group brings message to Beckley

    How can West Virginia create more jobs and have a better business climate, at no cost to taxpayers?

    Greg Thomas, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA), says legal reform is one of the answers to that question.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • ‘Biscuit guy’ makes his mark with anthem at TWV

    The old saying “being at the right place at the right time” couldn’t be more true for Calvin Alexander.

    Thanks to a salad dressing bottle (and some impressive vocal skills), Alexander was invited to sing the national anthem not once, but twice, at Theatre West Virginia before the opening of “Hatfields and McCoy

    July 31, 2014

  • Judge in W.Va. asked to delay gay marriage ruling

    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has asked a judge to postpone ruling on a federal lawsuit challenging West Virginia's same-sex marriage ban until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a ruling in a similar case in Virginia.

    July 30, 2014

  • Tri-state coal interests rally before EPA hearings

    More than 2,000 union workers and others organized by the coal industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia joined top state elected officials Wednesday to rally against proposed stricter federal pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants.

    July 30, 2014

  • Work continues on stand-alone Warrior Trail

    The executive director of the Hatfield and McCoy Trail Authority said Tuesday that officials are still working toward the creation of the stand-alone Warrior Trail in McDowell County.

    July 30, 2014

  • East River Mountain Tunnel repairs will continue for several weeks

    Motorists traveling Interstate 77 could see slight delays again tonight as repair work continues inside of the fire-damaged East River Mountain Tunnel.

    July 30, 2014

  • State leaders to attend coal rally in Pittsburgh

    West Virginia officials are set to join hundreds of coal miners and coal supporters at an electricity and energy jobs rally.

    July 30, 2014

  • Americans continue to be plagued by debt

    Credit card debt may have reached its lowest level in a decade, but according to a recent study on personal debt vs. income, just as more people are paying off their credit card debt monthly, nearly the same number of people are being reported for unpaid bills. 

    July 30, 2014