Gov. Tomblin unveils policy frame for corrections savings - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Gov. Tomblin unveils policy frame for corrections savings

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After more than six months of collaboration from the state's 22-member Justice Reinvestment Working Group, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced policy framework that he estimates will save taxpayers more than $140 million and reinvest $25.5 million in substance abuse and addiction treatment.

Tomblin said in a news release that the plan has been drafted to make the Mountain State's communities safer along with making the criminal justice system more effective.

"When I asked the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to come together to tackle the issue of prison overcrowding, I made it clear that any policies developed must directly address the criminal behavior that ends up putting more and more people behind bars," Tomblin said in the news release. "Equipped with a framework that maximizes correction dollars and improves public safety, I am going to work closely with the Legislature to act on these recommendations so that our state can share in the success experienced in states across the country that have implemented similar policies to cut crime and reduce spending."

The policy framework is made up of three pieces. The first piece calls for risk assessment for each criminal to assess his or her likelihood of re-committing crime. The second piece calls for providing tools and resources for community supervision agencies so they may hold offenders accountable "in meaningful ways through using swift and certain responses to violations," according to Tomblin's news release.

And the third piece of the framework would assure that no one be released from prison without supervision.

Supreme Court of Appeals Administrative Director Steve Canterbury said the court decided at its January administrative conference that each person found guilty of a felony will receive a risk assessment test before sentencing.

"The court's decision is a direct result of the information the justices received from the justice reinvestment process," Canterbury said in a news release.

Within the past year, the Council of State Governments Justice Center staff partnered with the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance to complete an analysis of West Virginia's criminal justice system, as it had done in Texas, Ohio and North Carolina.

That study found that during the past 10 years, West Virginia's prison population increased at a rate three times faster than the national average. Those numbers have forced about 25 percent of people sentenced to state prison to serve those terms in regional jails, pushing them beyond their operating capacities.

The study also found that if West Virginia didn't change the course of corrections, the prison population would increase 24 percent in the next five years, costing taxpayers at least $200 million in regional jail construction costs and $150 million in projected operating costs.

Click here to view the full report for West Virginia.