Hardened, vicious criminals who ought to be locked up in West Virginia state prisons instead are being held in regional jails, among inmates incarcerated for far less serious crimes, because of overcrowding throughout the state corrections system.
Overcrowding is leading to situations in which jail and prison guards find it harder to keep control of inmates - and to prevent violence in the cell blocks.
During a recent attack at the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville, an inmate was held down by four convicted felons who vowed to beat him if he moved. They forcibly applied tattoos to his body.
Clearly, such attacks are lawsuits waiting to happen. Federal judges take dim views of jails and prisons in which violent inmates cannot be stopped from preying on weaker convicts.
State officials have known for years something needs to be done about jail and prison overcrowding. Prisons are overcrowded, forcing the state to house about 1,800 inmates in regional jails, which now are coping with nearly 1,900 more residents than their design capacity.
Legislators rightly are reluctant to act hastily - and perhaps expensively - in prison overcrowding. Clearly, however, time is running out for some solution to be devised.