CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office on Wednesday pledged up to $25.5 million in funds to kick-start the state's prison reform efforts if the legislation survives a bumpy ride through the Legislature.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill Wednesday evening after nearly two hours of discussion. The legislation now will head to the Senate Finance Committee.
Jason Pizatella, Tomblin's legislative director, told committee members on Wednesday the governor is prepared to give $3 million to help fund the initial cost of revamping the state's substance abuse treatment program.
Tomblin would appropriate another $500,000 to help parole-eligible inmates complete their transitions back into society.
According to a January report from the Justice Center, around 1,000 parole-eligible inmates are stuck in the prison system because they lack an adequate "home plan," or psychological evaluation.Pizatella said the governor also pledged an additional $5.5 million for the prison overhaul in each of the next four fiscal years.
Changes to the state's prison system are projected to save $100 million over the next decade, but the state will not see those savings until programs are in place. The initial $3.5 million would come via a supplemental budget appropriation that lawmakers must approve.
Pizatella said the money would not be taken from any agency's budget but would come from accrued surplus funds not yet assigned in the budget.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, pointed out Tomblin already has forecast a tight budget year, including 7.5 percent cuts in most state agencies.
"I'm worried about higher education, that we're going to be taking from one group to satisfy this commitment," he said.