DOC sees drop in inmate population

BRIDGEPORT – West Virginia’s Justice Reinvestment Act already is showing positive results in reducing the number of inmates at Department of Corrections facilities, an official said Monday.

The West Virginia Legislature met Monday at the Bridgeport Conference Center for the first day of the August committee interim session. The interims run through Wednesday.

West Virginia Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein presented a brief overview of changes to to the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary. West Virginia Senate Bill 371, also known as the Justice Reinvestment Act, was approved in 2013 and was designed to help save the state’s legal system thousands of dollars while reducing recidivism.

Rubenstein said while officials predicted a noticeable reduction in the state’s inmate population within 3-5 years of the law being passed, those changes are visible now.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see, right off the bat, a decrease,” he said. “With passage of this bill we are seeing some of these positive results much earlier than expected.”

Rubenstein said during fiscal year 2014, the inmate population fell by 3.5 percent. The number of inmates held by the Regional Jail Authority fell by nearly 48 percent.

At the same time the number of inmates held by the corrections department increased by more than 10 percent due to upgrades at facilities, primarily at Salem Correctional Center. Legislators plan to tour Salem Correctional Center today.

Rubenstein said the reduction in the population of sentenced inmates have resulted primarily due to changes in the law which give the West Virginia Parole Board more leeway in granting parole and judges more options for graduated sanctions.

Graduated sanctions, Rubenstein said, are often shorter jail stays intended to give those who violate parole a chance to correct their actions or seek substance or alcohol abuse treatment. Those sanctions do not apply to violent offenders.

“A high number of those being returned (to confinement) were due to technical violations,” he said. “By using the graduated sanctions, “it allows us to work with individuals, get their heads on straight, and get them back out on parole.”

Rubenstein said not all parts of SB 317 “have been implemented across the board,” but said officials continue to work toward that goal.