Proponents of alternative sentencing are looking to overhaul the way West Virginia deals with lawbreakers and cut down on climbing regional jail costs and prison overcrowding, says the Charleston Daily Mail. Jim Lee, a probation officer in Brooke County, has spent the better part of two decades promoting diversion programs such as community service, day reporting centers, and drug rehabilitation for convicted criminals. Now that the state legislature and counties are struggling to deal with rising regional jail costs and exploding inmate populations, Lee’s ideas might be starting to resonate. “I see the same people coming out (of jail) and then going right back in, and then I see their kids doing the same thing. We are never able to break the cycle.”
West Virginia has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation while maintaining one of the most rapidly rising incarceration rates. The state for years incarcerated fewer persons in relation to its population than other states. It has moved up the scale in recent years but still falls significantly below the national average and ranked 40th among states in 2004. The growing number of men and women in jail is putting serious strains on state and county resources. A bill advancing through the legislature would shift some of the costs of housing inmates in regional jails from the counties to the state. Many counties exhaust their annual jail budgets in a few months. Lee is urging legislators, Gov. Joe Manchin, and other state executives to put only the most violent offenders and sexual predators behind bars.