West Virginia’s Prison Overcrowding Crisis
An informative piece from West Virginia Public Broadcasting notes that the state’s fast-growing prison system now holds 6,700 inmates in facilities built to hold 5,100, and still the new commitments keep arriving faster than the system can make room for them. The state is experimenting with accelerated parole, work-release, and drug treatment programs to try to alleviate the overcrowding enough to avoid needing to build a new prison. According to the piece, 75% of West Virginia inmates are in for a nonviolent property or drug offense.
In absolute terms, of course, these numbers aren’t huge: what’s 6,700 inmates compared to the 100,000+ in California, Texas, and Florida? (West Virginia has approximately the population of Santa Clara County, California.) And West Virginia’s per capita incarceration rate (346 per 100K, or 570 if jails are also included) is also not particularly high by U.S. standards — though of course, that still makes it relatively high by world standards. Nevertheless, if it’s true that 75% of inmates are doing prison time for nonviolent property and drug offenses, I’d guess the system is ripe with low-hanging fruit for reform-minded legislators and policymakers.