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Jail Overcrowding: Working to Solve the Issue
Written by Lindsey Burnworth
Last updated on November 06, 2013 @ 9:01AM
Created on November 04, 2013 @ 4:05PM

309. That's how many inmates Tygart Valley Regional Jail averaged over their 300 bed limit each day in 2012. Those numbers range in other regional jails to only 13 over population all the way up to 339.

Those numbers are growing each year, and it's putting a strain on a lot of resources.

"From a tax payer's stand point, quite frankly, there's a lot more wear and tear on the facilities. So, the facilities age a lot faster and it take a lot more money and maintenance and upkeep, and things of that nature," said Joe DeLong, executive director of the Regional Jail Authority. 

There's also a lot of safety risks at the jails due to overcrowding. The jails should have one guard to every 96 inmates. Overcrowding has pushed that to one for every 160 inmates.

"The more people you put in an emotionally charged environment increases the risk of anything. I think inmate on inmate assaults, inmate on staff assaults, the dangerous conditions that exist in the jail generally compound when you have more people in the facility," said DeLong. 

In the short term, some help is coming from the Division of Corrections. They're adding more beds to allow inmates who are incarcerated for more than a year to go to those facilities.

The problem is the jail population continues to grow each year, so a more permanent solution has been put in place to alleviate the problem.

More help for regional jails could come from the courtroom. Senate Bill 371 could allow non-violent offenders to be released early or sentenced to parole or community corrections based programs.

However, those offenders wouldn't just be picked randomly. There's specific criteria each one has to meet before getting alternative sentencing.

"The have psychological evaluations, drug and alcohol assessments and a range of tests," said Joe Shaffer, Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney. "It's not right for everybody. It's not right for some violent offenses, it's not right for people who aren't ready to get off drugs or alcohol."

Through the alternative sentencing, officials predict jail overcrowding could become a thing of the past in a very short time.

"The long term trend setting that's going to take place with these other provision, I think we'll have the population under control in the next year or so," said DeLong. "If you take someone who is a low level drug addiction or a person who is a minor misdemeanor type offender who really poses no actual willful harm to society and you incarcerate them for an extended period of time, you always risk just making them a better criminal." 

 


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