Blog Posts > As Legislative Session Approaches, New Issue Brief Explores Community Supervision Reform as Means to Address WV Incarceration Crisis
January 11, 2022

As Legislative Session Approaches, New Issue Brief Explores Community Supervision Reform as Means to Address WV Incarceration Crisis

For Immediate Release: January 11, 2022
Contact: Renee Alves, 559-916-5939

Charleston, WV – West Virginia is a national outlier in regard to rising incarceration. From 2009 to 2019, West Virginia’s imprisonment rate grew 10 percent while the state imprisonment rate fell 16 percent nationally. This rapid growth in incarceration has continued unabated during the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating dangerous overcrowding in West Virginia’s regional jails and state prisons and contributing to the deadly spread of the virus among incarcerated people, corrections officials, and their families.

A major driving force behind West Virginia’s high imprisonment rate is the large number of prison admissions that result from violations of probation or parole supervision (known as “revocations”). West Virginia is one of only four states to increase revocations for supervision violations during the pandemic, with a 25 percent increase from 2019 to 2020 – the highest surge in the nation. Notably, the vast majority of these revocations are due to technical violations of supervision conditions that do not involve a new crime.

Our new issue brief, Improving Community Supervision to Safely Reduce Incarceration in West Virginia, examines the role that revocations play in West Virginia’s incarceration crisis and recommends data-driven reforms that have been supported by bipartisan political majorities and proven to safely reduce incarceration and correctional control in other states. This brief was written by Brian Elderbroom, founder and president of Justice Reform Strategies and national expert on sentencing and corrections policy.

In 2013, the West Virginia Legislature adopted Senate Bill 371 – more commonly known as the Justice Reinvestment Act – in an effort to curb rising imprisonment rates and unsustainable corrections spending. While SB 371 initially helped slow prison population growth and was an important first step, the Mountain State’s imprisonment rate continues to rise and revocations of probation and parole supervision remain a key driver of prison admissions. Other states have done much more than West Virginia to reduce their supervision populations and revocations with positive results. This brief highlights examples of successful reform efforts in other states, and provides suggestions for how to tailor those types of reforms to West Virginia’s current laws and community supervision policies.

“It is imperative for West Virginia to address rising supervision revocations, which are an enormous drain on taxpayers and the economy, cause irreparable damage to our families and communities, and do nothing to make us safer,” says Elderbroom. “In fact, research shows that decarceration is one of the most important tools that policymakers have for improving public safety.” According to a new meta analysis of 116 studies, sending someone to jail or prison actually increases reoffending by an average of eight percentage points compared to non-incarceration sanctions such as probation.

With the 2022 West Virginia Legislative Session beginning tomorrow, we urge our state lawmakers to consider the policy reforms recommended in this brief as ways to meaningfully reduce both prison admissions and time served.

You can read the full issue brief here.

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