Prison Overcrowding
1:56 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

Division of Corrections Still Working to Provide Programs to Overflow Inmates

Over the past two years, lawmakers have implemented two pieces of legislation intended to drastically decrease the population in state prisons in the face of a growing overcrowding problem.

Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein takes questions from the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Corrections Facility Authority.
Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein takes questions from the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Corrections Facility Authority.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In 2013, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 371, the Justice Reinvestment Act. Among a long list of provisions, the bill allowed the Division of Corrections to develop and implement a cognitive behavioral restructuring program for DOC inmates being housed at regional jails due to overcrowding in the state prisons.

The key to that bill, however, is offering all other programs in the Regional Jail system was optional, not mandatory. That is until 2014.

Senate Bill 457, which was passed in March, required those additional programs be made available. The bill requires the DOC to provide things like substance abuse treatment or a high school equivalency program at regional jails just like they do within their own facilities.

DOC inmates take many of these classes while they’re incarcerated to help them become parole eligible, but inmates who are housed at regional jails because of a lack of beds can’t take those classes and are staying locked up longer, costing the state more money.

“[The funding] for the positions for Senate Bill 457 is in next year’s fiscal budget,” DOC Commissioner Jim Rubenstein told members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority Monday. “So, we’re preparing, but we won’t actually be able to hire until after July 8.”

The DOC was alotted funding for ten 10 new counselors under the bill, but  hasn’t filled the positions yet. Rubenstein said they have been working to secure space and finalize schedules for the courses.

Cognitive programs will begin July 1, but those additional programs required under 457 aren’t expected to begin until October 1.

In the meantime, inmates are being assessed using what’s called a Level of Service Case Management Instrument, or LSCMI. The test determines which courses a particular inmate needs to be rehabilitated. It helps the inmate prepare for parole, but also helps the division.

“Really what this will do is, where before the inmate would request to go into every class because they wanted to look good in front of the parole board, this instrument will indicate what an individual needs and it will help us get inmates into the classes they need and cut down on waiting lists,” Rubenstein said.

As for the cost, last interim session Regional Jail Authority Director Joe DeLong reported to the committee that for a $600-700,000 investment putting DOC courses in the regional jails, the state could save upwards of $7-8 million from shortened prison sentences.

Rubenstein reported the division won’t be able to truly measure those cost savings for some time, but said he stands by those projections and believes the state is headed in the right direction.