Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin today joined state leaders to announce a bipartisan and inter-government effort to reduce prison growth and prevent crime using a data-driven "justice reinvestment" approach. To guide this comprehensive analysis of West Virginia's criminal justice system, the state established a working group of legislative leaders from across the political spectrum, top court officials, state agency directors, and criminal justice stakeholders to review trends in the state's criminal justice system and ultimately develop policy options for state leaders to review in time for the 2013 legislative session.
"Our prison population is growing and our violent crime rate is increasing. We have a choice to make: continue on this path, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on top of what we're already appropriating in hopes that it has more of an impact on crime than it has to date, or use data to determine if there is a way to spend less and have a bigger impact on crime," said Gov. Tomblin. "The assistance provided through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative will allow us to take a comprehensive look at our criminal justice system and learn from innovations around the country that are reducing crime and correctional costs."
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a comprehensive, research-based approach that identifies factors driving the growth and costs in prison and jail populations. The data-driven model helps states to develop and implement new policies to control corrections spending and reinvest a portion of the savings in strategies to prevent crime. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in partnership with the Pew Center on the States (Pew), and the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) will conduct this analysis.
"This is an issue of importance throughout state government and across party lines," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Ketchum. "By bringing together all three branches of state government, we can work in concert to develop a precise and actionable plan to make a real difference. No single agency or administration has the ability to accomplish what we hope to do by focusing our efforts jointly and simultaneously."
If incarceration rates continue to increase at the same pace, the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services estimates the prison population will increase by an additional 45 percent to 9,732 people by 2020. Adding prison beds to ease existing crowding and ensure space for the additional anticipated growth will cost up to $200 million in construction costs and an additional $70 million annually in operation costs by FY 2020.
"Our prison population has grown an average of 5.7 percent each year from 2000 to 2009. That growth rate makes it nearly three and a half times higher than the national average and one of the fastest growing prison populations in the US," said Senate President Jeffrey Kessler. "We need to find out why we're such an outlier and to think about how to reverse the trend of prison population growth. The analysis offered through the Justice Reinvestment process will help us to decide how to most effectively spend public safety dollars."
West Virginia prisons are at capacity and are unable to house approximately 6,600 people sentenced to the West Virginia Division of Corrections (DOC) facilities. To compensate for the growing population, DOC has increased its reliance on regional jails, with about 1,800 DOC inmates currently being held in regional jail facilities.
"The fact that officials from the leadership of each branch of government and both political parties have signed onto this comprehensive study speaks volumes about the seriousness and urgency of this complex problem," House Speaker Rick Thompson said. "Because of the shortage in prison space, many inmates are being housed in facilities that lack the treatment and services that help people avoid committing new offenses once released. Hopefully this initiative will identify strategies to connect offenders with the services they need so that they don't continue to cycle through our courtrooms and correctional facilities."
"There's consensus amongst legislators that something needs to be done to reduce prison overcrowding in West Virginia," said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall. "The bipartisan nature of the initiative will allow us to collaborate in developing policy options that transcend politics, even in an election year. All of us are committed to protecting the public while reducing correctional costs to taxpayers."
The Justice Reinvestment approach conducted by the CSG Justice Center and other technical assistance providers has provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in more than two dozen states including Kentucky, a state that was similarly confronted with spending hundreds of millions of dollars to house a growing correctional population. Last year, Justice Reinvestment resulted in the enactment of policies projected to save Kentucky taxpayers $422 million over 10 years with half of the savings being reinvested in efforts to reduce recidivism.
"The Justice Reinvestment approach has had a measureable impact on reducing both crime and corrections costs for states across the country," said Denise O'Donnell, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice. "By establishing a Work Group that is both bipartisan and inter-branch, West Virginia has laid the foundation for building policy options that will deliver improved criminal justice outcomes at less cost."
"States across the country are making dramatic changes to their sentencing and corrections policies that shift lower-risk offenders from prisons to more effective, less expensive alternatives," said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. "With this new effort, West Virginia's leaders from both parties and all branches of government are taking an important step toward getting taxpayers a better public safety return on their investment in corrections." To learn more about the justice reinvestment strategy in West Virginia and other states, please visit http://justicereinvestment.org/.
The CSG Justice Center's Justice Reinvestment Initiative to address corrections spending and public safety is a partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Center on the States, with additional support to CSG from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. These efforts have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 16 other states.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies--informed by available evidence--to increase public safety and strengthen communities.