The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

January 20, 2013

Group tasked with congested lockups

2103 Legislature

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s prisons and jails are bursting at the seams, begging for some decisive action by the Legislature this winter to relieve the congestion.

One lawmaker close to the problem, Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, feels the issue cannot be put off another year.

“I believe we’re at the point that it’s critical that this be addressed,” says Laird, whose four terms as Fayette County’s sheriff give him a deeper insight to the matter of overcrowded lockups.

“We can no longer continue to defer action, or we’re going to have real problems.”

Laird heads up the Senate delegation to a working group assigned to examine prison overcrowding for the Council of State Governments.

Just this week, Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, appointed Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, to the group, succeeding former Sen. Mark Wills, D-Kanawha.

Laird says the group plans to meet next week and pore over voluminous materials collected in its work on the issue.

“We’re at the point where we have to translate this into actual legislation and public policy,” Laird said.

“This is probably the most important step in the process. We’ve gotten the benefit of information that we’ve never had before. And then, it’s just a question of taking that and examining what the impact of that information is and what we can do legitimately to assist in our prison over-population problem.”

Without question, Laird says some legislation is going to surface in the 2013 session, which opens Feb. 13.

“It’s been an issue that’s involved all three branches of government,” the senator said.

“The governor’s office has been heavily involved. I think they’re working on drafting and introducing legislation early on in the session so we can attack the problem. The data is very insightful. We’ve never really had access to that information.”

For one thing, Laird says lawmakers need to make basic decisions on the increased use of community-based options as opposed to simply putting criminals behind already crowded bars.

“I think that will certainly be an important part of it,” he said.

Drug abuse figures to play a major role in all the legislative deliberations. Figures vary, but many consistently have said upward of 80 percent of all crimes are couched in some form of substance abuse.

At midweek, the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce jumped into the controversy with a surprise call for mandatory drug testing of all teachers and students. That ignited a lively talk about drugs. At one point, Raleigh County Commission President Dave Tolliver pointed out that the county’s bill to keep inmates at Southern Regional Jail is $2.5 million annually, and four-fifths of that can be attributed to drug offenses.

“That certainly feeds the problem,” Laird said of drug abuse.

“The substance abuse and addiction issue is heavily connected with our current criminal arrests occurring in West Virginia. So, we have to build that kind of treatment capacity to make people successful once they leave prison and re-enter society.”

Kessler termed overcrowding “a serious public policy issue that affects all West Virginia taxpayers.”

“It is imperative that a comprehensive plan and coordinated approach be developed to reverse the current trend of prison population growth.”

For Jenkins, the top priority is to safeguard the public and make the criminal element accountable for crimes.

“While that is job one, we must also look at the complete criminal justice system and make changes in those areas,” the senator said.

“Significant costs, like our prison overcrowding problem, continue to place enormous pressure on the taxpayers of West Virginia. I appreciate the appointment to help craft real, meaningful solutions to these difficult issues.”

— E-mail:

Text Only
Latest News
  • twv play 2 Season’s curtain call

    Tonight is the last chance to see Theatre West Virginia Act II’s production of “Hatfields and McCoys,” a 17-show season many thought would never happen.


    August 2, 2014 2 Photos

  • Alpha says reducing coal stockpiles could prevent layoffs

    An Alpha Natural Resources spokesman said Friday that the company is “hopeful” that coal stockpiles can be sold in the next few months so the company can avoid laying off more than 1,100 surface coal miners and other support personnel by mid-October. 

    August 2, 2014

  • Congress quick-fix: Highways funded through mid-2015

    Hours before the federal government was set to reduce payments to states for road and bridge projects, Congress approved a temporary fix late Thursday night that would maintain funding through the middle of next year.

    But in some ways, the damage already had been done.

    August 2, 2014

  • makeawish Selling stars: A dollar helps grant a child's wish

    Make-A-Wish and the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association (OMEGA) are partnering to sell “wish stars” at grocery and convenience stores throughout the state. You can get a star for $1 through the month of August. All money raised will go to making children’s wishes come true.

    August 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • W.Va., 11 other states, ask Supreme Court to declare new EPA rules illegal

    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Friday that West Virginia led a bipartisan group of 12 states that are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to declare illegal a settlement agreement in which the EPA promised to issue its now-pending rule concerning existing coal-fired power plants.

    August 1, 2014

  • Ebola outbreak moving faster than control efforts

    An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 700 people in West Africa is moving faster than efforts to control the disease, the head of the World Health Organization warned as presidents from the affected countries met Friday in Guinea's capital.

    August 1, 2014

  • Oak Hill man arrested for selling drugs to police officers

    A Fayette County man is in jail after his arrest Thursday evening for several drug offenses, according to a press release from the Fayette County Sheriff's Office.

    August 1, 2014

  • Suspect arrested, faces felony charges following shooting incident

    A Mercer County man was arrested and arraigned on felony charges Thursday after a domestic altercation led to a shooting incident in the Montcalm area of Mercer County.

    August 1, 2014

  • pittsburgh rally 5,000 rally in Pittsburgh against EPA Clean Power Plan

    The echo of people chanting, “Hey, hey, EPA, don’t take our jobs away” could be heard in downtown Pittsburgh Thursday. The voices came from about 5,000 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members and their families, along with other unions such as the Boilermakers and the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International (IBEW), marching through the streets.


    August 1, 2014 1 Photo 3 Stories

  • Alpha plans to idle coal workers

    Approximately 1,100 employees at 11 Alpha Resources-affiliated surface mines, preparation plants and other support operations in southern West Virginia got notice late Thursday afternoon that their jobs could be in jeopardy.


    August 1, 2014