WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING - America Has Become Incarceration Nation, FBI Says Crime Rate Dropping 15 Years, WV Lock-Up Leader

(07/21/2012)

COMMENT Bob Weaver

The U.S. crime rate has been dropping for at least 15 years. FBI data shows that crime fell to lows unseen since the 1960s.

At the same time there is a steady rise in the percentage of Americans who believe crime is getting worse, according to Gallup Polls. About 75% of those polled said crime is worse than ever.

That could be because of intense media coverage of crime.

West Virginia is a state that leads the nation in the number of incarcerations, the state continuing to face major challenges to finance the system.

Politicians are fearful that voters will call them soft on crime, according to studies related to the problem, with prisons filling up faster than taxpayers are willing to pay to build them.

Out of the seven billion people on the planet there are about nine million in prison. Twenty-five percent of those nine million are in the United States.

The US has 4.3% of the world’s population, yet 25% of all the people in prison are in the United States.

West Virginia’s corrections system is facing a shortage of 3,500 beds, with an expected 8,500 inmates expected to be incarcerated within three years.

State officials have said they are not going to build another prison, which could cost up to $200 million, but that doesn't include millions needed to operate it each year.

State correction officials have been looking at less costly solutions, including penalties handed out for nonviolent offenses. Either reduce the penalties or set up a process where those inmates can get paroled earlier for good behavior.

Community day programs, more home confinement and work release programs could also be part of a solution, they say.

The WV Division of Corrections says that inmates released from West Virginia prisons are less likely to commit new crimes than those in nearly every other state.

That's what Division of Corrections officials told state lawmakers.

The latest figures for WV say the recidivism rate is below 27 percent, with the national average at 43 percent.

West Virginia has nearly 7,000 inmates, but about 1,700 of those are in regional jails for lack of space.

A new report says 1,200 to 1,800 inmates housed in the state's regional jails who are eligible for parole cannot exercise the option because the state does not provide required counseling, treatment and rehabilitation courses.

Correction officials say it would take about $1.5 million to provide the courses necessary for parole.

Meanwhile, a recent report says WV corrections officers are among the lowest paid in the USA, causing major problems keeping staff.


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