Virginia officials discussed this week whether a simple logistical swap with incoming and outgoing state prisoners could make it easier to rehabilitate them, the Washington Post reports. On their way into the state prison system, thousands of felons remain in local jails for months until a prison bed becomes available. What if inmates spent that time in jail on their way out of prison instead? Getting newly convicted inmates into prison sooner would give them quicker access to mental-health and substance-abuse services that local jails are often ill-equipped to handle. Those wrapping up their sentences could benefit from moving from remote prisons to jails near the communities where they will eventually settle, allowing them to reconnect with family and perhaps start work through work-release programs.
The State Responsible Inmate Realignment Work Group had its first meeting Wednesday, with state Attorney General Mark Herring and Gov. Terry McAuliffe's secretaries of public safety and finance. “What if we were able to reverse this whole process?” asked Sen. Dave Marsden, a former director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice who organized the group. The discussion comes as budget-busting prison costs have led some states to rethink tough-on-crime sentencing practices and to battle recidivism with more drug and mental-health services. The Virginia push is not about saving money, at least in the short term. Inmates would simply swap beds, with no net change in the number housed in cheaper jails or more-expensive prisons. The potential payoff would come only down the road, with ex-convicts who are better equipped to reenter society and less likely to re-offend. The work group's dense-sounding name stems from state jargon: Felons who have been sentenced to at least a year in state prison are referred to as “state responsible” inmates.