CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's a common human trait to ignore problems for as long as possible in the hopes they will go away. Sometimes it might work, but most of the time it doesn't. One example is West Virginia's mushrooming prison population. State leaders have been aware of the problem for more than a decade but until recently have been reluctant to do anything about it.
This has now become the proverbial elephant in the room, sucking up all the peanuts, causing all kinds of problems and not making us as safe or as prosperous as we otherwise could be.
To his credit, Gov. Tomblin has offered legislation that would at least begin to get a handle on this problem. The bill sailed unanimously through the Senate and awaits action in the House.
Tomblin didn't pull the bill out of nowhere but rather developed it after a yearlong process of study and investigation involving stakeholders and the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, which has helped several other states get a handle on the same problem.
The overall goal is to promote public safety, reduce recidivism (the tendency for people to go back into the system), reduce unnecessary spending, and better address problems such as substance abuse. Similar efforts in other states have garnered the support and praise of legislators and leaders across the political spectrum.
Interestingly, some of the most vocal and articulate supporters of such measures are Republicans such as those associated with the national Right on Crime initiative. After all, throwing money away and promoting dependence on the state are hardly conservative virtues.
To better understand the merits of the governor's bill, here's a brief look both at the problem and the proposed solutions:
In a word, more people are being sentenced to prison where they often serve longer terms than those imposed by other states while fewer are being released. To use a hydraulic metaphor, the pipeline is way bigger than the drain. Once inmates do get out, they often receive no community supervision because they maxed out their sentences.