Americans ask a lot out of the country’s prison system.
Prison, of course, is a deterrent. The threat of time behind bars, in theory, is designed to prevent people from breaking the laws of the land.
Prisons are also designed to protect society, isolating those convicted of crimes away from law-abiding citizens the criminals could harm.
No matter how well the prison system serves in meeting those objectives, however, it’s not enough.
All but a handful of those sentenced will be released back into society. If prisons are nothing more than locations where convicts are isolated during their term in nothing more than an institution where they receive advanced instruction in crime from fellow inmates, the system fails.
You might as well put a revolving door out front. Inmates will complete their sentences and soon return, possibly after committing an even more serious crime.
West Virginia, statistics indicate, is doing a solid job in cutting down on recidivism.
Inmates released from West Virginia’s prison system, The Associated Press reported this week, are less likely to commit new crimes than those in nearly every other state.
Brad Douglas, director of Research and Planning for the state Division of Corrections, pegged West Virginia’s recidivism rate at 26.8 percent in 2004. A national study conducted with that year’s data ranks that rate the fourth-lowest among states, Douglas said. Just five states had rates lower than 30 percent, and the U.S. average was 43 percent, he told the Joint House-Senate Standing Committee on the Judiciary during a meeting in Charleston.
“I think that is a very positive light,” Douglas said.
The rate has since risen some and reached 30 percent in 2007, Douglas said. He attributed much of that to an increase in rate that parole is granted, from 33 percent to 53 percent.
The 30 percent figure reflects released inmates who ended up back in the system within three years. He noted that two-thirds of those returns were not because of new crimes, but because they had otherwise violated the terms of their release. Douglas also said that half of the recidivists returned within one year of release.
The division’s director of programs, Jennifer Ballard, credited her office’s work in this area. From schooling and vocational training to parenting classes and anger counseling, the programs aim to change behavior and improve an inmate’s prospects once released, she said. Ballard said the division’s residential substance abuse treatment program has been particularly successful.
“They’re held accountable for what they do 24-7,” she told lawmakers. “You’re not just sitting in a classroom for two hours and then going back out to population. You are actually held accountable by the staff and the peers.”
New arrivals are put through a battery of tests, such as I.Q., personality, sex offender, psychological and drug screens.
The division has also developed specialized programs for sex offenders, batterers and those who can trace their criminal background to an upbringing marked by domestic violence, she said.
An accelerated parole program, inaugurated in January, is tailored to help convicts get prepared for meetings with the parole board, she told the legislators.
“It seems like it helps these offenders focus on what they need,” Ballard said.
“I’m real proud of what we do here in West Virginia,” Ballard added. “We’re doing something right.”
That doesn’t mean there are no problems in the state’s system. Douglas said that West Virginia has the nation’s second-fastest growing prison population. Increasing by 4 percent annually, only Alaska is seeing a more rapid climb.
While West Virginia still has one of the nation’s lowest incarceration rates, the growth has meant that 1,700 people sentenced to prison for felonies remain in the state’s regional jails because of a lack of bed space in Division of Corrections facilities. The number of division inmates, including those stuck in jails, has grown by 200 since Jan. 1 to 6,881, Douglas said. He cited state figures projecting the prison-sentenced population to increase to 8,500 by 2016 and to 9,700 by the end of 2020.
Without additional bed capacity or change in trends, the backlog could reach 3,200 inmates in five years, Douglas said. Officials say 80 percent of the inmates are there for drug- or alcohol-related offenses.
“You don’t want to get a boiling pot that boils over by any means,” he said.
It’s indeed a challenge, one that would be even more significant without the measures keeping West Virginia’s recidivism rate low in comparison to the rest of the country.
Americans ask a lot out of the country’s prison system.
Roll up your sleeves, give blood and you can save lives
It takes up to 100 units of blood to save the life of someone who sustains life-threatening injuries in a vehicle accident.
We’re hoping that the number of people who come to Fairmont Senior High School on Friday for and American Red Cross blood drive will exceed that amount.
Vehicles and motorcycles must share the road safely
The days are long. The weather is superb. There’s plenty of leisure time in these lazy days of summer.
It’s the perfect time to take a long motorcycle ride.
It’s also the perfect opportunity for us to take the time to remind not only riders but drivers of the need to share the road. And we feel compelled to mention it because just within the month of July, there have been two motorcycle-versus-car accidents within the City of Fairmont alone — one with severe injuries sustained by the motorcyclist and the other with less serious injury.
- Too many taking too few steps to protect selves from skin cancer
Distracted driving: It isn’t worth fine or a life
Today marks the day that police agencies from six states are joining forces to crack down on one thing — distracted driving.
And they will focus on that traffic violation for a solid week, with the stepped-up effort to curb distracted driving wrapping up on Saturday, July 26.
COLUMN: Are we people watchers or people judgers?
Let me tell you about my little friend Robby. Well, actually, it’s more about his family and especially his mom. I didn’t get her name. I heard Robby’s name quite a bit, though, during a trip home from Birmingham, Alabama.
I noticed the family in the Birmingham airport immediately. They were just the kind of family you’d notice.
Relish the rich bounty of state’s diverse, unique food traditions
This week, a group of federal officials on a three-day culinary tour of the state visited the Greenbrier Valley to find out what most of us here already know — we have a rich food tradition in West Virginia.
The group was made up of officials from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Soup Opera in need of your support again this time of year
It’s happening again.
It usually always happens about this time each year. Sometimes it’s a little earlier and sometimes a little later.
But Soup Opera executive director Shelia Tennant knows it will come — usually in July. And she’s never that surprised about it.
County honors men who gave all in helping their community
The next time you’re driving in the Rivesville area, you might notice new signs on two of the area’s bridges.
Those signs, which bear the names of Alex Angelino and Denzil O. Lockard, were unveiled Saturday in honor of the men whose names they display, two men who died while serving their communities.
The bridge on U.S. 19 over Paw Paw Creek was named to honor Lockard, while the bridge on U.S. 19 over Pharaoh Run Creek was named to honor Angelino. Lockard, a former Rivesville police chief, died in 1958 at the age of 48 while directing traffic. Angelino, a Rivesville firefighter, died at the age of 43 of a heart attack while fighting a fire in 1966.
State must learn to keep costs down and perform more efficiently on less
The West Virginia state government began its budget year last Tuesday with a small surplus of $40 million — less than 1 percent of its annual tax revenues — thanks only to dipping into its savings.
Let’s not do that again.
Long-range vision with transportation has been made to be thing of proud past
Last week’s closure of Fairmont’s Fourth Street Bridge is a symbol of a problem that must be fixed.
The United States should be proud of the vision its leaders once displayed to address the country’s transportation needs.
Back in 1954, for example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his goal of an interstate highway system — something that transformed the country.
- More Opinion Headlines
- Roll up your sleeves, give blood and you can save lives