CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation intended to curb prison overcrowding by reducing recidivism and expanding community sentencing options (SB371) passed the Senate on Thursday 33-0, with several senators calling it a good first step toward state prison reforms.
Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, a former long-time county sheriff, and former assistant Corrections commissioner, encouraged legislators to pass the bill, calling it the product of "an inclusive, collaborative, and consensus-building process."
"In approaching this problem, I've realized there is no single silver-bullet solution," said Laird, who currently serves as co-chairman of a legislative interim committee on Corrections and Regional Jails.
"Our Regional Jails and prison systems are busting at the seams, and at the same time, we continue to incarcerate 900 non-violent offenders each year," said Laird, who said the bill will ease overcrowding, "and will also make us safer in the communities in which we live."
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, also endorsed the bill, and deflected criticism from some House Republicans who have raised concerns the legislation is soft on crime.
"It makes sense to me, even if you let someone out six months early, and you supervise them, recidivism will be less," he said.
Under the Tomblin administration bill, all inmates would be subject to mandatory post-release supervision, ranging from six months for non-violent offenders to one year for violent offenders.
Afterward, Hall said his vote should not be considered a message to House Republicans who have raised concerns about the bill, including House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.