West Virginia Debates Prison Overcrowding Remedies

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West Virginia’s parole board chairman opposes expanding good-time credit for state inmates to relieve prison overcrowding, the Charleston Gazette says. Inmates now have their sentences reduced by one day for each day of good behavior, effectively cutting in half maximum sentences for inmates who stay out of trouble. “Fifty percent, to me, is extremely liberal, and most of the other states see it that way,” Chairman Doug Stump told a legislative panel.

He said most states and the federal government require inmates to complete 85 percent of their sentences before release. “Fifty percent is about as liberal as I could stand, as a private citizen,” said Stump, who said he was concerned that proposals to offer bonus good time could lead to the release of inmates before they are ready to be back in society.

Regional Jail Authority Chairman Steve Canterbury said that if lawmakers fail to address prison overcrowding, the state's prison population will reach the point by 2010 where the system could fall into federal receivership, likely resulting in the mass release of inmates. “I think we need to do everything we can right now to anticipate this unacceptable possibility and avoid it if we can,” he said.

Canterbury said lawmakers will have to look at sentencing alternatives, because there is no way the state can afford to build and operate enough prisons to deal with the projected inmate population. “We cannot spend enough money to build our way out of this,” he said. Canterbury said a limited bonus good-time program could be useful for inmates who are in their 40s and 50s and are no longer criminal threats, but who otherwise might have to serve another 10 years before they are eligible for parole. Canterbury urged restricting eligibility so that sex offenders and persons serving life-with-mercy sentences could not participate.

Link: http://www.wvgazette.com/section/News/Other%20News/2003080522

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