In 2012, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, D-W.Va., teamed up with the U.S. Department of Justice to implement a “justice reinvestment” approach to prison reform. The goal of this project is to decrease state spending on prisons in a way that simultaneously provides reduced costs and increased safety for the citizens of West Virginia. As of 2008, the annual West Virginia prison budget was more than a staggering $139,000, with an average cost of over $23,000 per inmate. And, in recent years, the number of violent crime arrests has increased and prisons have grown increasingly crowded.
This justice reinvestment strategy involves a three-step process in hopes of creating effective prison reform. The Council of State Governments (CSG) will be directly involved, working with at least 16 other states that face similar problems. In the first step, the CSG Justice Center will analyze a number of statistics relating to imprisonment. This includes data on arrests, convictions, sentencing, parole and community corrections data. The goal is to determine which policies are and are not working, specifically in regard to reducing future crime and the repetition of undesirable behaviors. A number of new prison policies will be drafted to better meet the demands of the West Virginia prison system.
The second step in this process is to implement new policies based on the careful statistical analysis undertaken. The CSG Justice Center will assist West Virginia in translating these policies into practice. This will include working with state and local officials to ensure that the transition process occurs smoothly.
The third step of this process requires reviewing the performance of the new policies that have been implemented. West Virginia officials will receive detailed information regarding the effectiveness of these policies, specifically regarding rates of re-incarceration and levels of continued criminal activity.
While West Virginia’s justice reinvestment process is still in the early stages of development, it has won substantial support from many of West Virginia’s political and civil leaders. Along with many top West Virginia Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, have also backed the proposal.
Whether or not the proposal will have any success is yet to be determined, but the bipartisan support for the project is certainly an encouraging sign. Hopefully, West Virginia will be able to reduce its overcrowded prison population in a way that maintains the safety of its citizens and the integrity of the judicial process.