Last updated: July 15. 2014 7:35AM - 405 Views
A column by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin

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The communities we live in are more than the places we put down roots, start a new business and watch our children grow up. They are places we call home - and they should be a place we feel comfortable and safe.

For many years, protecting the public meant locking up more people and keeping them away from society and behind bars. Incarceration and long sentences were considered the only effective response to high crime rates, with little consideration for what happens while the person is in prison or how 95 percent of offenders will later transition back into the community.

During the last 15 years, new data has identified cost effective and efficient ways to increase public safety without building more prisons. With the right types of services, support and supervision, we can reduce the likelihood of re-offenses. That means more productive citizens and less crime while also ensuring enough room in prison for those who need to remain behind bars. We’re already seeing early signs of success.

In West Virginia, we’ve developed a unified, common sense approach to prison overcrowding and public safety. With the help of the Council of State Government’s Justice Center and through a collaborative effort with our state’s judicial system, we have put together a financially sustainable plan to rehabilitate individuals released into the community - maximizing our correction dollars to lower the financial burden of our overextended corrections system and improve public safety.

Before the CSG Justice Center arrived in 2012, West Virginia had one of the fastest growing prison populations in the country. Projections indicated an additional 1,400 offenders would break the existing system and would require the construction of at least one new prison facility at an estimated cost of $200 million. Prepared with a research-driven approach and with overwhelming bipartisan support, West Virginia’s justice system has implemented new policies to reduce recidivism by supporting workforce training programs and ensuring access to community-based substance abuse treatment programs and services.

Last month, I announced a significant step toward reducing prison overcrowding and substance abuse with the awarding of more than $1.2 million in grants for community-based substance abuse treatment and recovery services in communities throughout West Virginia, including much needed services in rural southern West Virginia.

For the first time in 16 years, our corrections system has reduced the overall number of inmates and the number of individuals in jails while awaiting transfer to prison has nearly been cut in half. Today, we have more than 1,000 fewer people in our prisons than what was projected just a few years ago.

In West Virginia, our message is clear. If you commit a crime, you will get caught, you will do your time and we will take reasonable, responsible steps to rehabilitate you and give you every opportunity to become a productive member of society. We’re investing in our state’s future, and making our communities a safer place to call home.

Our justice reinvestment efforts in the Mountain State are providing us the opportunity to improve safety in our hometowns while making every effort to rehabilitate those returning to society. As Governor, I am committed to supporting these efforts and ensuring our towns and communities remain a safe place to call home long into the future.

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