Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin: West Virginia's Justice Reinvestment Act - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin: West Virginia's Justice Reinvestment Act already paying dividends

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Gov. Tomblin Gov. Tomblin

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says the Mountain State's Justice Reinvestment Initiative is already paying dividends, helping to reduce the prison population while making sure those who are paroled or on probation are properly supervised.

Tomblin said the JRI, signed into law in May 2013, strengthens community-based supervision and improves the use of risk assessments to ensure inmates with violent histories are not released without supervision, while at the same time increasing investments in drug courts and other community-based treatment options for substance abuse.

"We have had a 5 percent reduction in our prison population," he said. "In April 2013, we had nearly 7,100 prisoners in our state. Last Thursday, that figure was down to 6,743 (and) we have reduced overcrowding at our regional jail facilities by nearly 50 percent."

He said the state has implemented new policies aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders by supporting workforce training programs, and has pumped more than $1.2 million in grants into community-based substance abuse treatment and recovery services throughout the state.

"We have developed a unified, common sense approach to prison overcrowding and public safety," he told state and federal officials gathered Thursday, June 12 at the Council of State Governments Justice Center in Washington, D.C. "Through this research-driven approach, we have developed a financially sustainable plan to reduce prison overcrowding and rehabilitate individuals released into the community, maximizing correction dollars and improving public safety."

Tomblin, president of the CSG, said the state's problems with prison overcrowding was too big to ignore: From 2007-2012, he said the state's prison population swelled by 20 percent. If that trend were to continue, he said within five years they'd be forced to spend an estimated $200 million to build at least one new prison, in addition to finding funds to operate it.

"In a time when we were faced with tightening our budgets, we had no data to prove the number of people incarcerated in our state actually made West Virginians any safer," he said. "We knew there was a problem. West Virginia’s substance abuse crisis was driving our prison population higher, from actual drug use to related property crimes committed in an effort to support drug habits."

He said they identified a number of reasons for the overcrowding, including inconsistent standards for revocation of probation and parole, a lack of coordinated resources to prepare nonviolent offenders for parole, inmates being released without any supervision and a glaring need for community-based substance abuse resources tailored to West Virginia.

Since JRI passed, he said they've taken steps to "strengthen parole and probation capacity and effectiveness, develop the use of graduated sanctions for probation and parole violations, improve information sharing and coordination, and provide more community-based resources to treat substance abuse and mental health issues.