West Virginia's prison system is spending about twice what it did seven years ago as the inmate population and medical costs have grown.

Charleston Daily Mail reporter Justin Anderson, says from 2000 to 2007, the state Division of Corrections budget has steadily grown from $71.7 million to $136.7 million.

Jail bills, according to some county officials, are pushing some counties toward bankruptcy.

Gov. Joe Manchin is asking lawmakers this year to approve $151 million for corrections.

The inmate population in the state's prison system has risen from 3,027 to 4,145 - a 37 percent increase.

Anderson reports, in 2000, another 745 overflow inmates had to be held in regional jails because there was not enough room in the prisons. Last year, there were 1,326 kept in regional jails because of prison overcrowding.

An additional 428 inmates are held in two other facilities in McDowell County.

Corrections officials have added almost 400 employees in the past seven years to handle the burgeoning population.

Officials are saying more jails and beds must be added to handle prisoners, despite the fact that most reports show crime is low in West Virginia.

Nearly half the budget goes toward paying employee salaries and benefits.

During the past five years, between 13 percent and 15 percent of the corrections budget has paid for inmate health care.

A total of 811 beds have been added at five facilities, either through new construction, double bunking or work camps, according to reporter Anderson.

Plans are in place for a facility to house 80 to 90 minimum-security inmates in Mason County. Once funding is approved, the division plans to add another 194 beds at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex and 270 beds at St. Mary's.

Two bills are currently pending in the state Legislature that would create commissions to study criminal sentencing guidelines and the state's overall criminal justice system.

Hur Herald ©from Sunny Cal
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