The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 28, 2008

‘Pocket parolees’ reforms promised by corrections chief

CHARLESTON — “Pocket parolees,” inmates left behind prison bars for various reasons after ordered released, potentially could cost West Virginia more than $2 million annually, lawmakers learned Monday.

Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein acknowledged, when quizzed Monday by Sen. Shirley Love, D-Fayette, that a major problem has been the failure to provide the parole board with a home plan when an inmate becomes eligible for discharge.

Rubenstein said a new policy has been imposed mandating that inmates come equipped with a home plan before a parole board considers releasing them.

“Ideally, it should take away any controversy that exists,” he assured Love, a co-chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility.

Love was concerned about the potential loss the state is absorbing by keeping inmates locked up, even though the parole board has agreed they could be set free.

The panel learned that 127 such “pocket parolees” remain in custody this month across the state.

At the daily $48 cost of maintaining an inmate, that shakes out to about $2.25 million a year.

Besides the home plan oversight, Rubenstein said some inmates have been held because they have committed a fresh offense.

Another committee member, Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, asked Rubenstein to provide a full accounting of the costs associated with the “pocket parolees,” including what medical bills have accumulated.

“A lot of them did have a home plan ... but a lot of other things started coming into the picture,” the commissioner said.

Rubenstein advised another member, Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, that a fresh study is being performed on recidivism.

When drug sampling is done, he said, it’s not uncommon to see a paroled inmate “turning up dirty,” but drug abuse isn’t necessarily a violation that results in recommitment to prison.

Pursuing one of his longtime goals, Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia, called on Rubenstein to amplify drug rehabilitation programs, pointing out that more than 80 percent of all inmates are in prison for crimes associated with substance abuse.

“Just doing drug testing, to me, isn’t going to solve the problem,” Hunter said.

Rubenstein said his department conducts a treatment program and isn’t using drug tests as a means of finding something amiss with a released inmate.

“It’s not just testing to catch you doing something wrong,” he added.

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