On March 12, Times West Virginian reporter Eddie Trizzino reported on a high-speed pursuit that began in Marion County and ended in Harrison County, resulting in the arrest of Ryan Thomas Heflin. According to police, Heflin had stolen a vehicle only a few days prior to the chase, although the vehicle was recovered before the incident.

This was not Heflin’s first encounter with law enforcement. It was his second high-speed chase in only three years.

In 2016, Heflin stole a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee and led officers on a similar chase through Harrison and Marion counties.

This week, Times West Virginian reporter Eric Hrin wrote about Brian Merchant Jones who faces charges of murder in the 1st degree, kidnapping and two counts of malicious assault. This was not Jones’ first encounter with law enforcement either – he was arrested and charged with malicious wounding after a separate incident in September 2018.

Heflin and Jones are hardly exceptions. According to the National Institute of Justice, recidivism is extremely prevalent. In one study that tracked 404,638 prisoners, the institute found that more than half of prisoners that were released were arrested again within the first year.

Two-thirds of released prisoners were arrested again within the first three years of their release, and within the first five years, that number rose to over three-quarters.

By any metric imaginable, this is an image of a broken system. And considering 71.6 percent of violent offenders were rearrested, it’s a system that is putting innocent lives in danger.

Criminals who are released often have no support system outside of their cell. They go through no meaningful rehabilitiation during their sentence and then re-enter the exact environments that drove them to break the law in the first place. Why is this such a common occurrence?

The U.S. has the highest prison population in the world by far, and is one of three countries that contain over half of the world prison population. The other two, China and Russia, are known for their strict government and rigid laws, and yet both still pale in comparison to the “land of the free.”

One would think that in the country that houses the most prisoners in the world, our prison system would be top notch – a system that rehabilitates inmates and helps them adjust to society and contribute in a meaningful way.

In addition to having the largest percentage of prisoners in the world, we also have the highest rate of recidivism. The country with the lowest recidivism rate of only 20 percent (and an incarceration rate at just 75 per 100,000 people, compared to 707 people for every 100,000 people in the U.S.) is Norway.

The Norwegian prison system is focused on “restorative justice,” a concept that aims to repair the damage caused by criminal activity. This system might be seen as too lax by some, but it’s difficult to argue in the face of measurable results.

Whatever the solution, sweeping prison reform is something desperately needed, both locally and around the country, and politicians of all stripes have dropped the ball for years.

Unfortunately, these cases we’ve seen here at home are part of a massive issue. But change starts from the ground, and we hope these local incidents have made our community more cognizant of the larger issues and how we are impacted directly.