The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

January 8, 2013

Mother says antiquated laws adding to prison overcrowding

CHARLESTON — A mother pleaded with lawmakers Monday to look at excessive prison terms to ease overcrowding, saying her own son is pulling 15 years to life for delivering a single punch.

“This is the worst of the worst for injustice,” Phyllis Gaspell told the Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.

Not only are sentences too long to fit the offenses, but Gaspell said the parole board is refusing releases for such trivial indiscretions as failing to have a fresh shave.

A 34-year administrative assistant to the president of District 17 of the United Mine Workers of America, she said her son is pulling a long sentence for malicious wounding, even though he had no history of serious crimes such as murder, rape or armed robbery.

In his case, Gaspell said the son, now 40 and looking at seven more years at Huttonsville Correctional Center, was put away for similar crimes in which a weapon was used by others to stab or half beat a victim to death.

“Never for punching a guy one time,” she said.

“This happens in bar brawls every Saturday night and we all know that.”

Another man served a mere year in a regional jail for throwing one punch that proved fatal, Gaspell said.

“I’m not asking for special treatment from anyone for my son,” she said.

“I’m just asking for justice. He’s already served eight years for one punch.”

With overcrowding a major issue before the Legislature in the months ahead, Gaspell said she isn’t suggesting the committee cannot come up with a solution.

“But it’s hard to put yourself inside the walls when you’re outside the walls,” she said.

“Figures and stats on paper and on your computer are one thing. But experience and living it is a whole new story.”

For instance, she told the lawmakers, a first-degree murder conviction can lead to a term of six to eight decades.

“We need to dig into these circumstances with individuals who commit these crimes and see whether rehabilitation or some other alternatives is out there,” Gaspell said.

As she spoke, an updated report from the Regional Jail Authority showed the 10-jail system is housing 203 inmates in excess of total beds.

Southern Regional Jail in Beckley contains 88 more inmates above the number for which it was designed.

Gaspell told of a Wheeling man, then 19, who held up a drug store in his hometown and faces 60 years behind bars, with taxpayers putting up $29,000 annually to feed and shelter him.

“In most states, first-degree robbery is five to 10 years,” she said.

“We have to look at these cases individually.”

Gaspell complained that inmates who play by the rules are systematically turned down by the parole board for some minor infractions as not being clean shaven or skipping classes.

“Model inmates just cannot get out of the system,” she told the committee.

Halfway houses likewise are exacerbating the congestion in prisons and jails by recommitting inmates for simple infractions, such as having a cell phone, she said.

“A cell phone seems like a very small, minute thing that you want to take him back and put him back in prison another year or two,” Gaspell said.

“If he gets caught with a cell phone, just take it away. He’s caught again, take it away.”

That, she insisted, is a better means of discipline than adding the prison bill to taxpayers.

“Our laws are old and they need to be worked on before the overcrowding problem is even dented,” Gaspell added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • forum1 VIDEO: Meet the Candidates

    ABOUT THE FORUM:
    The Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce hosted a Meet the Candidates forum Thursday morning at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.

    April 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Forum: U.S. Senate and House

    U.S. Senate
    The lone candidate for U.S. Senate to attend the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidate Forum, David Wamsley, described himself as “the most liberal candidate, the most conservative candidate and the most moderate candidate” in the race. Wamsley said he believes each individual issue should be dealt with on its merits and not because of partisan politics.

    April 25, 2014

  • Forum: House of Delegates

    District 28
    Democratic House of Delegates candidates Jeffry Pritt and James Brown focused on issues dealing with the efficiency of the Legislature, crime, infrastructure and taxes.

    April 25, 2014

  • Forum: Board of Education

    Perennial board of education issues of technology, consolidation and truancy were among the questions dealt with Thursday by candidates for a seat on the Raleigh County Board of Education.

    April 25, 2014

  • After being line-item vetoed from state budget, Meadow Bridge to get $50,000 from WVDOE

    After the prospect was initially vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in March, Fayette County School Superintendent Keith Butcher announced this week that the county will indeed receive funds for Meadow Bridge High School after all.

    April 25, 2014

  • ARH, BARH registered nurses to stage one-day strike

    A national labor union announced Thursday that registered nurses at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital will join colleagues at Appalachian Regional Hospital in Hazard, Ky., in staging a one-day strike May 1.

    April 25, 2014

  • expressway Coalfields Expressway developments detailed by WVDOT

    A convoy of press, public and politics raised clouds of dust along an unfinished corridor of the long-awaited Coalfields Expressway Thursday during an open tour of the construction zone.

    April 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mercer County firefighters batting three different brush fires

    Firefighters are currently on the scene of at least three brush fires now burning in rural areas of Mercer County.

    April 24, 2014

  • BeverlyMagnumMUG.jpg Woman who attempted to rob bank at gunpoint captured in Tennessee

    A woman who attempted to rob a Bluefield bank at gunpoint has been captured in Tennessee , police said Thursday.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Former federal prison worker pleads guilty to sex offense

    A former federal prison employee pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Beckley to engaging in abusive sexual contact with a female inmate.

    April 24, 2014