During interim committee meetings in Bridgeport, W.Va., lawmakers heard a report from Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein. He discussed how the 2013 Justice Reinvestment Act is working.
In essence, the law gives judges more flexibility in sentencing criminals. Those guilty of non-violent acts can be given breaks that reduce their prison sentences or allow them to escape them altogether.
In return, the criminals work with various programs including drug courts and community intervention to reform their lives, turning to jobs instead of returning to crime.
It had been predicted state jails and prisons would see reductions in overcrowding within three to five years of the law’s enactment. But on Monday, Rubenstein said change already is occurring. Last year, the population of inmates at state prisons dropped by 3.5 percent. Regional jails saw a 48 percent dropoff.
That is excellent news, but what about recidivism?
It probably is too early to say how well rehabilitation programs are working. Clearly, however, if they fail too often, some of the criminals who got breaks will have to be sent back behind bars.
As soon as possible, legislators should ask Rubenstein for a report on whether that aspect of the new law is performing as hoped.