CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the seven months since legislation intended to alleviate state prison overcrowding was signed into law, the state's inmate population has dropped by 253 and the backlog of inmates housed in state regional jails is down 554, Joe Garcia told legislators Monday.
"The numbers have been moving in the right direction," Garcia, deputy general counselor for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, told the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Corrections. "We have seen from April to the present, a period of time where the numbers have decreased and have done so steadily."
From April 13 -- the day the Justice Reinvestment Act was signed into law -- to Monday, the state's inmate population has dropped from 7,078 to 6,825, Garcia said. Previous projections had called for the population to grow past the 7,500 mark by the end of the year, he added.
Likewise, the backlog of inmates housed in the state's 10 regional jails because state prisons are at capacity has dropped from 1,736 on April 13 to 1,192 on Monday.
Part of that, Garcia noted, is attributable to expansions of bed space in Corrections facilities, particularly with the conversion this summer of the former Industrial Home for Youth into the Salem Correctional Facility.
That facility, which ultimately will have a capacity of 400 inmates, on Monday had an inmate population of 296.
Reducing the backlog of inmates in regional jails should reduce the overall inmate population by allowing inmates to become parole eligible more quickly, Garcia said.
Inmates in regional jails do not have access to all the counseling, educational and vocational programs needed to qualify for parole. As a result, inmates serving one-to-3-year, one-to-5-year, or one-to-10-year sentences are serving an average of 18 to 20 months before they get their first appearance before the Parole Board.
Parole Board Chairman Dennis Foreman told legislators Monday the biggest obstacle to parole are inmates who are designated "FC" -- further consideration -- because they have not completed all requirements to be parole eligible.
"They don't have their documentation," he said.
Last year, about 1,200 inmates were FCs, a number that has dropped to about 600 this year, Foreman said.