CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed prison reform bill would create early, supervised releases for some criminals, shorten sentences for probation violators and allow judges to sentence certain offenders to drug treatment programs instead of jail.
Members of the House and Senate judiciary committees got an advance copy of Tomblin's prison reform bill at an informational meeting Thursday afternoon.
The bill still was in draft form -- it's expected to be introduced next week -- but contained many of the suggested reforms found in a report released last month by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the Justice Center at the nonprofit Council of State Governments.
The report suggested West Virginia allow some inmates to leave prison early but be supervised after their release. Researchers said this would cut down on the state's prison population and also would reduce inmates' risk of re-offending.
The draft includes a provision that would allow non-violent offenders out of jail six months early with supervised release.
Violent offenders who do not receive probation would serve their full terms but also be supervised for one year following their release.
The shortened sentences for probation violators would not be available for individuals who abscond or commit a new crime. Under Tomblin's bill, individuals who violated parole through relatively minor offenses like missing curfew or testing positive for drugs would be sentenced to 60 days in jail. A second offense would bring a 120-day sentence.
Judges would have the ability to sentence individuals to longer sentences after three probation violations.
Carl Reynolds, senior legal and policy adviser for the Justice Center, told lawmakers reducing sentences for probation violations is the quickest way for West Virginia to reduce its prison population. He said the shortened sentences still would teach violators a lesson but would not tie up state prison resources.
Parole violators made up around 23 percent of new prison commitments in 2011, the Justice Center found.
"That has a huge impact. That's the single-biggest policy you could adopt to affect your system," Reynolds said.
Tomblin's bill also would allow judges to sentence drug-addicted criminals and offenders believed to be at high risk of re-offending to substance abuse treatment programs.