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February 22, 2012

New report laments prison growth in West Virginia

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a nonpartisan research group, has today released a new report highlighting and criticizing growth in West Virginia's prison population and corrections spending in recent decades. The report, available at this link, is titled "Stemming the Tide: The Racial and Economic Impacts of West Virginia's Prison System," and here is the start of the report's executive summary:

Despite a relatively stable crime rate, West Virginia is facing a growing prison population, which currently is larger than the capacity of the existing state prisons.  As a result, many state prisoners are being housed in regional jails where they cannot access educational and supportive services offered by the Division of Corrections.  With more individuals serving sentences in prison, there is a growing financial burden on the state. This population increase is associated with an increase in prison spending, with a growing percentage of the General Revenue fund going toward the Division of Corrections.  Prison population growth and its associated overcrowding are not only criminal justice issues, but also fiscal concerns for West Virginia.

This growth in the prison population in a state with little total population growth and a stable crime rate is in part the effect of sentencing patterns that place offenders into prison rather than into alternatives like community corrections and give them long sentences, as well as a reduction in the rate of granting parole.  It also is a result of the shift from understanding prison as a place of rehabilitation to one of punishment that accompanied the “war on drugs” and the movement in the 1970s toward harsher sentences and being tough on crime.  The growing prison population appears to be mainly the result of structures and policies, rather than an increase in crime.

February 22, 2012 at 05:03 PM | Permalink

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