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Prison overcrowding bill advances in Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposals to reduce prison overcrowding (SB371) advanced to passage stage Thursday in the Senate, after the Senate approved amendments Wednesday making minor changes to the bill.

One change clarifies that pre-trial risk assessments, and risks and needs assessments to be conducted prior to inmates' release on probation or parole, are confidential.

The other change allows magistrates to sentence individuals convicted of misdemeanors to day reporting centers instead of to jail, with approval of the chief circuit judge in the magistrate's court district.

Based on recommendations of a yearlong study of state prison and regional jail overcrowding by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, the bill aims to reduce recidivism by requiring mandatory post-release supervision for all inmates, as well as community corrections options for nonviolent offenders.

Also Wednesday in the Senate:

* The Rev. Matthew Watts told the Select Committee on Children and Poverty that it makes no sense to sentence nonviolent offenders to prison for failure to pay child support.

It would make more sense to place those individuals on home confinement, with a requirement that they have gainful employment or attend job-training programs, he said.

"Do we want to make someone be a convicted felon because they did not pay child support?" he asked.

* The Complete Streets Act (SB158) advanced to the full Senate from the Government Organization Committee.

The legislation would call on the Division of Highways to take into consideration needs of walkers, bicyclists and public transportation when developing road projects.

"This is more about encouraging a mind-set in terms of developing transportation projects," said Tom Hunter with AARP-West Virginia, an advocate of the Complete Streets initiative.

Hunter said the goal is to develop projects with the needs of particular locations in mind. He noted that Washington Street in Charleston's East End would have different needs for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation than downtown Rainelle in Greenbrier County might have.

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


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