"It wouldn't do anything," he said. "It won't help with the problem we're trying to fix."
Palumbo contests Armstead's claims that letting prisoners out six months early would endanger the public. He pointed out the Justice Center found non-violent offenders' average sentence in West Virginia is three years, while the national average is two years.
Palumbo said even with the six months' early release, West Virginia still would be incarcerating offenders for half a year longer than other states. By letting prisoners out early and supervising them, the state would reduce
"To me it's a no-brainer," he said. "If we can give them that supervision, we're doing a service to the whole state."
Armstead said the state should take a long-term view of prison reform. The state would save money even if it does not allow offenders to leave prison early, because a post-incarceration supervisory period still would reduce recidivism.
"I think the emphasis needs to be on, how do we ensure people once they're released do not commit additional crimes," he said.
Armstead also takes issue with the current bill's graduated sentences for probation violators.
If the legislation is passed, individuals who break conditions of their parole would be sentenced to up to 60 days in jail. That sentence would jump to 120 days for a second violation, while a third offense would bring a longer stay in jail, determined by a judge.
Individuals who abscond or commit a new crime while on probation would not be eligible for those graduated sentences.
Armstead said three chances are too many.
Representatives from the Justice Center say West Virginia's current harsh penalties for probation violators are too punitive and reducing their sentences would free up beds in state prisons.
Despite Armstead's objections, Palumbo said he is optimistic about the bill's chances, mostly because senators unanimously passed last year's legislation.
This year's prison reform bill was introduced in the state Senate on Tuesday. Senate President Jeff Kessler referred it to the Senate's judiciary and finance committees. Kessler also asked Tomblin's staff to provide information on the bill's fiscal impact.
Other opponents of the legislation, such as David McMahon of Mountain State Justice, claim the bill does not go far enough to reduce prison populations.
He pointed out that, by the Justice Center's own estimates, state prison populations only will fall 2 percent by 2018 if the current legislation is passed.
"It doesn't reduce prison overcrowding," he said.
McMahon said lawmakers should address problems in that state's existing parole system. He said in early <#146>90s, 60 percent of prisoners were released early. Now, only 30 percent are.
"You shouldn't be soft on crime. You shouldn't be hard on crime. You should be smart on crime," he said.
Alyson Celements, spokeswoman for the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the legislation also does not go far enough in expanding the state's community corrections programs.
She said West Virginia also has the highest percentage of elderly inmates in the country and should consider an "elder parole bill" similar to the one in Maryland, where inmates 50 and older are guaranteed hearings before a parole board. That does not mean all the individuals will be paroled, she said, but only gives them the opportunity.