BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Policy changes by the state Parole Board, increased use of graduated sanctions and a slower increase in commitments from circuit court have contributed to a reduction in the sentenced inmate population in the state.
This was the message that West Virginia Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein brought to the Legislature during an interim session Monday in Bridgeport.
Rubenstein gave an update on Senate Bill 371, the Justice Reinvestment Act passed by state lawmakers last year to address overcrowding in jails and prisons.
He was introduced by Del. Tim Manchin, co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.
“During fiscal year 2014, the overall DOC inmate population decreased by 3.5 percent. The number of DOC inmates held in the Regional Jails decreased by 47.7,” Rubenstein said. “The number of inmates in state DOC facilities increased by 10.3 percent due to a number of capacity upgrades, primarily the opening of Salem Correctional Center.”
This was at a time when the population was expected to increase for four years, said Rubenstein, who expects even more results as it is fully implemented.
“There is no more talk about building a new jail,” he said.
The graduated sanctions are required by SB371 to respond to parole violations that do not include absconding or serious criminal violations with 60- and 120-day jail incarcerations prior to attempting to revoke parole.
“A high number are returned for technical violations. We want to try to get their head straight. But they have addictions. In some cases, they are not breaking a law,” he said. “The sanctions are also required for other community supervision types and requires that jail bills for these stays be paid by the DOC.
The bill requires a two-tier evaluation process starting with a quicker appraisal followed by a full evaluation, if needed. It has resulted in faster inmate processing and preparation for parole hearings.
“What we’ve found out is 70-80 percent didn’t require full psychological evaluations, so the appraisals are resulting in a large cost savings,” Rubenstein said…