CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Legislature's 47 interim committees and subcommittees have about 130 different topics to research over the next 10 months after legislative leaders assigned interim study topics Monday morning.
The Legislature's Joint Committee on Government and Finance, which is chaired by House Speaker Rick Thompson and Senate President Jeff Kessler, assigned a list of about 130 different topics to be studied by the Legislature's 47 interim committees and subcommittees this year.
Lawmakers will meet 10 times between now and the 2013 legislative session to research and review the topics in interim committee meetings.
Interims, as the meetings are commonly called, give legislators the opportunity to study issues further than the annual 60-day regular session allows.
Lawmakers started on Monday with discussions on a topic they've studied at length over the past few years: the overcrowded state of West Virginia's jails and prisons.
The state's prison population continues to climb, Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said Monday.
"We're at 6,971 inmates as of today's count," Rubenstein said. "So we're very close to the 7,000-mark on the population."
Lawmakers crafted a comprehensive reform package to address the problem during interim meetings last year, but the bill died during this year's legislative session.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is also trying to get the Justice Center at the nonpartisan Council of State Governments to study West Virginia's situation. That review could take one to two years.
The most immediate problem is the nearly 1,800 Division of Corrections inmates currently housed in regional jails across the state.
The overflow of prison inmates to the jail system has pushed regional jails to maximum capacity.
To provide some relief, the Division of Corrections has added 300 beds, and the Regional Jail Authority has added an additional 500 beds.
But Joe DeLong, acting Regional Jail Authority director, said Monday he is out of space to house more prisoners safely.
"Unless we can get them to sleep on top of each other, there's no more room," DeLong said.
To eliminate the logjam, DeLong said jail officials have recently looked at setting up pre-parole programs for some corrections inmates.
One problem with housing prison inmates in jails is that they're not able to get some of the classes and treatment programs required for parole. DeLong said this is a proactive approach on the part of his staff to alleviate the congestion.