“As far as I’m concerned, we’re at a crisis stage right now,” corrections commissioner Jim Rubenstein told reporters. “We’re capped. The pot is boiling over.”
Rubenstein said on any given day, all 5,400 prison beds are filled and about 1,800 inmates who should be in prisons are held in regional jails.
Joe DeLong, the state’s regional jails director, said regional jails also are overcrowded but the issue is directly related to overcrowding in prisons. If the state could keep all its prisoners in prison instead of using jails to house flow-over inmates, he said, the jails would no longer be overcrowded.
Senate Judiciary chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, and Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, agreed the legislature needs to tackle the problem, although they had different ideas about how to accomplish those goals.
One thing they agree on, however, is that any attempt to change our prison system will cost money.
It also could save a bunch of money, too.
Last month the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the Justice Center at the nonprofit Council of State Governments, released its recommendations for overhauling the state prison system. The workgroup estimated its proposals would save West Virginia $116.3 million in operational costs between now and 2018, mostly by avoiding the construction of a new prison.
I’m working on a full story about prison overcrowding now, including comments from House and Senate leadership. I’ll post that here as soon as it’s finished. In the meantime, click here to watch a live-stream of the event.