CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has a great financial incentive to make sure the Justice Reinvestment Act, the 2013 legislation geared at reducing prison overcrowding, succeeds, Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury told the Senate Finance Committee Monday.
"If we had to build another medium-security prison, it would cost $250 million," Canterbury said. "We have really high stakes for the success of Justice Reinvestment."
In the first six months since its enactment, the legislation seems to be working, with about a 275-inmate reduction in the state Division of Corrections population, down to about 6,800 prisoners, he said.
Canterbury attributed that decline to circuit judges following the mandates of Justice Reinvestment at sentencing.
"More people are being placed in drug courts or on probation," he said. "That's exactly what we hoped for."
Currently, there are 21 drug courts in 33 counties, with a mandate in the law to have courts in all 55 counties by July 2016.
Drug courts, which emphasize community corrections and rehabilitation, are much less expensive than prison -- about $7,100 a year per participant, compared to $25,000 a year per inmate, Canterbury said.
More importantly, initial results are showing a 9 percent recidivism rate for participants.
"So far, so good. Nationally, the recidivism rate is 25 percent," he said.