As the nursery rhyme goes, the little old lady who lived in a shoe had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
The prison system in West Virginia can relate.
Overcrowding is a serious problem in West Virginia jails and prisons.
And it’s no secret that at the root of most of the offenders’ problems is drug addiction.
That’s not to make an excuse for the actions that landed them behind bars. We’re sure that there were a multitude of bad choices that litter their paths.
But left with the problem we have now in housing convicts, decisions have to be made.
Solutions are needed.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the Justice Center at the nonpartisan Council of State Governments, has been asked by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislative leaders to examine our state’s prison crowding problem. Formal recommendations are expected from the group in January.
Our hope is that significant progress will be made.
Although we’ve advocated in the past for building another prison costing hundreds of millions of dollars — not to mention the upkeep on such a facility — it isn’t the most cost-effective option, nor would it offer much more help in rehabilitating the offenders than is currently available. Especially for the ones who have repeated many times.
Regional jails are currently housing felons meant to be in the state prison system, and they don’t provide the same level of treatment services for addiction.
More treatment resources are needed, on both sides of the prison walls.
The optimum would be that our young men and women not fall victim to addiction, leading to a lifestyle filled with illegal activity that would feed their habits.
Early intervention could stave off many potential lives of crime and the destruction that inevitably comes with it.
First offenders who are addicted should be dealt with swiftly, and followed up on.
Those involved in probation already are prime targets for rehab services. Sadly, now many of them return to their addictive ways and end up behind bars for testing positive and revoking probation.
The families of the imprisoned inmates suffer.
Crime victims and their families are hurting.
Punishment for crimes committed needs to take place, and we support jail time in most instances. However, just locking the addicted up is not always the answer. There has to be more.
Helping people overcome addiction and rehabilitating them to be productive members of society has to be the end result.
That’s when prison populations, and the crime rate, will show a marked decline.