Surge in W.Va. crime rate must be confronted

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

When Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act 20 years ago, one of the initiatives was to toughen sentences and increase prison time. In every other state, in the two decades since, crime rates have decreased. The national average imprisonment rate has increased 24 percent while the crime rate has dropped 40 percent.

West Virginia stands alone on the other side of that equation. Imprisonment rates have risen an astounding 195 percent – more than anywhere else in the country. And crime has increased by 6 percent – again, the only place in the U.S. where the figures went up.

According to the Pew report, factors contributing to the declines seen everywhere else include better policing, waning crack cocaine use, an aging population, more incarceration, an improving economy, fewer people carrying cash (in favor of debit/credit cards), improved technology, increased use of private security and a reduction in lead exposure.

West Virginia police are doing their utmost to fight the crime wave that crashed into our state, our population is aging faster than most, and our imprisonment rates are through the roof. But this report brings to light just how widespread and insidious the methamphetamine, prescription painkiller and heroin problems have become here. Outright drug crimes are only the start, as the ancillary crimes committed to fund drug addiction are affecting far too many of us. And, of course, our economy has not seen the hoped-for rebound experienced in many other parts of the country.

Law enforcement officers, lawmakers, teachers, doctors and parents now have proof positive they are in a fight for the future of our state – and must be given all the tools and education necessary to win that fight.

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