CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's legislation to curb overcrowding in state prisons and regional jails -- primarily by ensuring that ex-inmates don't end up back in prison -- is up for passage Friday in the House of Delegates, after the House rejected a series of amendments by Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.
Armstead argued that the bill (SB371) sacrifices public safety to clear out prison overcrowding, and offered four amendments he suggested would toughen the bill.
"I happen to think it's not worth saving a couple of million dollars to put people in danger," he said.
One of Armstead's amendments would have erased a key provision in the bill -- providing six months early release for nonviolent offenders, with six months mandatory post-release supervision.
Armstead said that, under the legislation, a number of serious crimes would be classified as non-violent for purposes of early release, including hate crimes, possession of a deadly weapon other than a gun on school grounds, DUI causing death and willful violation of mine safety standards resulting in a fatality.
However, proponents of the bill stressed that judges would have discretion to determine on a case-by-case basis if individuals should be eligible for early release.
"This amendment does nothing but frustrate the intent of the bill," said Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, an assistant county prosecutor. "Let's be clear: This is not being soft on crime. It's being smart on crime."
Armstead's amendment was rejected on a 61-37 roll call vote.
The House also rejected an Armstead amendment to limit the ability of judges to issue short "shock treatment" jail terms for technical violations of probation or parole. Under current law, such violations result in parolees being sent back to prison to complete the remainder of their term.
Again, Marcum argued against the more stringent amendment.