CONGRATULATIONS to all three branches of the state government for passage of a corrections bill based on suggestions made by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments.
The changes hold the promise of holding down costs and lowering the re-offense rate for people upon their release from prison.
Nonviolent offenders will be released earlier and supervised longer than they are now. Relatively minor offenses won't necessarily land parolees back in prison. Drug offenders will be diverted to substance abuse programs.
This will ease prison overcrowding, which is spilling over into regional jails.
This is serious legislation that saw Brent Benjamin, the Republican chief justice of the state Supreme Court, going to bat for Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill.
Benjamin pointed to the success of the state's drug courts, which have a recidivism rate of 10 percent for adult offenders and 14 percent for juveniles. That is well below the overall recidivism rates of 30 percent for adults and 51 percent for juveniles.
Passage of this bill, though, is only the first step for the administration and lawmakers.
The Tomblin administration must make sure the programs work. Legislators should get data to that effect.
That means a thorough follow-up by legislators next year and every year after that. Lawmakers have a duty to ensure that public safety does not decline, and that diversion programs also produce reliable data, and that the reform does keep costs down.
In a late-session debate, House Republican Leader Tim Armstead of Kanawha County introduced four amendments. They failed, but legislators should keep his concerns in mind when they review the law next year.
Even praiseworthy legislation can have unintended consequences. Prison reform does not end with passage of a law.
That is where it begins.