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Recidivism costs W.Va. millions in prison spending

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Criminals whose parole or probation have been revoked have cost West Virginia at least $168 million in higher prison expenditures over the past five years, according to researchers for the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

"Recidivism is costing West Virginia money as we speak," Carl Reynolds, senior legal and policy adviser for the Justice Center, told members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Corrections on Monday.

From 2007 to 2011, there were 2,506 parole revocations, 2,389 probation revocations and 591 community corrections revocations, the researchers found.

With average additional time served ranging from 1.57 years to 1.87 years per inmate, the revocations cost the state $168.2 million -- and that's assuming the lowest cost of $48.80 a day to house Division of Corrections inmates in state regional jails.

More than half of the revocations were for technical violations, Reynolds said. That usually means possession of drugs or alcohol, failure to report to the parole or probation officer, or failure to report a change of residence or work status.

Only 21 percent of revocations were because of new criminal charges, he said.

Also, Reynolds said, the number of inmates being released after serving their full sentence is up 33 percent, with many opting to "max out" rather than seeking parole.

Under state law, where inmates' sentences are reduced by one day for each day of good time credit, the time period between initial parole eligibility and maxing out -- which imposes no post-release supervision -- can be very narrow, he said.

"At some point, people are deciding, "You know what? I'm not even going to go to the parole board. I'm going to sit it out for nine months and walk away," Reynolds said.

The lack of post-prison supervision is a factor in increasing recidivism rates.

"More people are maxing out and leaving with no supervision," Reynolds said.

He said the Justice Center anticipates two more meetings with state officials, one for a final review of data collected on the inmate population, and ultimately a final session to propose policy options to be part of the agenda for the 2013 legislative session.

In May, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Supreme Court Chief Justice Menis Ketchum and ranking legislative leaders requested that the Justice Center study West Virginia's criminal justice system to determine ways to reduce severe overcrowding in state prisons and regional jails.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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