(02/28/2012)
COMMENT By Bob Weaver

The issue of prison over-crowding in West Virginia can't be solved by building more facilities, according to a report by the American Friends Service Committee, the Partnership of African American Churches and the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy.

West Virginia has one of the highest incarceration rates in the USA, and the state has been discussing the building of another prison to relieve severe crowding in prisons and the regional jail system.

The report, called "Stemming the Tide: The Radical and Economic Impacts of West Virginia's Prison System," found that despite a stagnant crime rate and population, the state's prison population continues to spiral upward. West Virginia had the nation's second highest growth in general revenue spending on corrections between 1990 and 2010.

The state has not be willing to alter sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.

The report's recommendations include expanding drug courts to every county and creating mental health courts, as well as increasing the use of alternative sentencing.

Rick Wilson with the American Friends Service Committee said the state spends so much on its prison budget it crowds out funding for other services.

"We think it's time for our state leaders to take a look at ways at reducing the pipeline to prison" he said.

"Some people have said we should lock up the people we're afraid of, not necessarily the people we're mad at, and we think it's possible to address the situation without compromising public safety."

The report said more people need diverted from going into prisons in the first place, and more resources should be devoted to services for people after they are incarcerated.

Wilson said part of the problem has been the collapse of low-skilled jobs being available in the Mountain State.

Those "low-skilled" jobs Wilson is referring to are production jobs, most of which have been removed from the state by globalization, not only the higher paid union jobs, but low-paid jobs that were once stable in the state's rural counties.

In regional counties, virtually all have vanished, from sweater making, garment manufacturing, shoe making, production of tools, to B. F. Goodrich, a company that bailed out of Calhoun and Roane to essentially go abroad.

Garment and shoe production have all shifted abroad, despite the fact they were bottom-end jobs with few benefits.

When courts say, "Get a job," there is no opportunity, adding to the dilemna of a shiftless group of drug abusers, if these so desired, have little way out.

Now, most West Virginia counties are finding it difficult to pay jail costs.


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