West Virginia’s jails and prisons have grown crowded at the same time that violent crime arrests and the unsupervised release of offenders have increased, according to a national group’s initial review of the state’s criminal justice system, says the Associated Press. Analysts at the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, have also tracked a rise in repeat offenses by people previously convicted of crimes and in the prison sentences handed out for nonviolent offenses.
But what, if anything, these recent trends have to do with each other awaits further study by the project as it helps West Virginia tackle the state’s growing inmate crisis, the project’s Carl Reynolds told a group of state and local officials and others assigned to work with the study. With a goal of developing policy options in time for the Legislature’s 2013 session, Reynolds said the looming questions include the actual terms that inmates serve and how judges decide on punishments. West Virginia’s prison population has quadrupled since 1990, to more than 6,900 inmates. That’s forcing around 1,800 convicted felons to serve at least parts of their sentences in regional jails, because of a lack of prison space. The network of 10 jails was designed to hold a total of 2,900 inmates, but held more than 4,740 as of mid-May, according to state officials.