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
  • rock VIdeo: Experts dislodge precariously perched remnant of a rockslide

    A highly-trained crew in climbing gear hoisted chainsaws and other specialized equipment high above the road in Hinton Tuesday morning to remove a boulder that hung precariously above a busy intersection.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Preliminary hearing set for Bluefield ‘warlock’

    A Bluefield man who police say used a promise of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him remains incarcerated at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver on multiple sexual assault and sexual abuse charges.

    April 23, 2014

  • New River Gorge fire still burning

    Firefighters are still trying to control the fire at Fern Creek along the Endless Wall area of the New River Gorge, according to a press release from the National Park Service on Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • fff Experts help growing entrepreneurs

    John Yates wants to grow potatoes to supply Monroe County schools.
    He’s got a business plan, he can get the equipment and 3 tons of seed potatoes. The land for lease in Sweet Springs is farther from his Ballard home than he’d like, but with a little help, the active duty Army staff sergeant and his sister Rebecca are ready to begin.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rahall calls meeting on W.Va.’s drug problem

    U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall says he has arranged a roundtable discussion with federal and West Virginia officials on the state’s prescription drug abuse and trafficking problems.

    April 23, 2014

  • Arch Coal reports wider 1Q loss

    Arch Coal Inc. said Tuesday that its first-quarter loss widened as weaker prices and demand cut into its margins, prompting the mine operator to shave its outlook for shipments of coal used in making steel.

    April 22, 2014

  • Former Concord University police officer sentenced on sex charge involving juvenile

    A former Concord University police officer was sentenced Tuesday to a term of 10 to 20 years in prison on a single count of sexual abuse by a parent or custodian.

    April 22, 2014

  • Bly6bH3CYAA6Xdl.jpg-large.jpeg UPDATE: Ill. crew helps fight New River Gorge fire

    An Illinois-based firefighting crew has joined the effort to contain a wildfire in the New River Gorge National River.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thunderstorms, showers heading our way

    Today’s forecast lurches us a little further toward real spring weather, with scattered showers and thunderstorms possible after 2 p.m.

    April 22, 2014

  • State spring gobbler season to open next week

    The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources says spring gobbler season will open Monday and run through May 24.

    April 22, 2014