House Change Improves Bill

State officials simply must find a way to reduce overcrowding in West Virginia prisons and regional jails. But releasing convicts who may go back to preying on Mountain State residents is not the way to do it, legislators agree.

A bill proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and already approved by the state Senate would implement several initiatives to control the prison and jail populations. But some members of the House of Delegates balked at one of the measure’s provisions.

It would allow the Department of Corrections to free some convicts six months before their sentences normally would expire, with intensive post-release supervision. For a few days, it appeared concern about that provision in the House might derail the whole bill.

But a compromise has been reached, and it is a good idea. It calls for judges, not the Department of Corrections, to decide whether individual prisoners should be allowed to take advantage of the early release provision.

In all likelihood, that will mean fewer prisoners are released earlier. That will reduce the measure’s affect on overcrowding.

It also will provide an additional layer of assurance against convicts gaming the system, winning early release, then going back to lives of crime.

Giving judges the final say over which prisoners can participate in the program, combined with the additional post-release supervision planned by the state, should hold problems to a minimum.

Will some ex-cons go right back to breaking the law? Probably. If they do, they ought to be sent back behind bars to finish their sentences – with time tacked on to serve as a deterrent for such behavior.

State officials have no reasonable alternative but to find some way of reducing the jail and prison populations, however. The Senate bill, as amended by the House, seems like a good proposal. Once delegates approve it, state senators should agree to the amendments and enact the measure.