Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jail Overcrowding A Major Issue

It's time to confront the problem because it is not getting any better. West Virginia has a problem with overcrowded jails.

Many years ago, West Virginia went from a county jail system to one of regional jails. Antiquated county lockups were supposed to be replaced with modern new facilities which would reduce costs. That did not happen. Costs, especially for counties, have risen considerably.

These jails were suppsed to be safer. That did not happen. Jails are seen as more dangerous than the state penetentiary due to the fact that staffing problems plague the regional jails. You also have a bad mixture of violent felons and non violent criminals in the new system. Does it really make sense to house a small time pot dealer from a rural area with hardened criminals from Charleston or Huntington, who are sometimes actually from the mean streets of Detroit or Atlanta? This creates very unsafe conditions for inmates whose offenses and demeanor are not violent.

What is the solution? There is no solution that does not require the spending of money that we do not have, outside of decriminalization. We don't need to decriminalize, but we can change how we approach some crimes to alleviate some of the problems.

In 2007, 87% of around 2,300 marijuana arrests in West Virginia were for simple possession, according to drugscience.org. That means that a fairly large number of people were processed through the criminal justice system for this offense. While many offenders escaped jail time, the strain and cost of processing are significant. Why not, instead of arresting people for possession, simply issue a ticket if there is no other crime taking place? This is much more cost-effective than arrest and possible incarceration and it still enforces the law. This is one way that we can start changing our system to address the strains of overcrowded jails and overburdened courts.

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