GETTING into prison in West Virginia has been difficult for years. The state had so few cells for felons that corrections officials had to pay the regional jail system $48.25 an inmate per day to house roughly 1,500 felons.
However, jails are designed for people who commit misdemeanors — charges that carry one year or less as a maximum sentence — and not hardened criminals.
But between the Legislature passing a prison reform act in the spring, the remodeling of a youth camp in Salem into a prison, and plans to send some prisoners to private prisons out-of-state, corrections officials believe they can cut the number of inmates in jails in half.
The state could move up to 400 prisoners out of state on a volunteer basis, Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein told lawmakers on Monday.
"This has been discussed and looked at for quite some period of time. I've always looked at it as a temporary solution," Rubenstein said.
As long as the move complies with both the federal and state constitutions, there should be no legal problem.
And as long as the moves keep the public safe from hardened criminals, there should be no problem with the plan.
To be sure, corrections officials are hoping to save a few dollars. Also, the inmates transferred from jails would be better off in prison.
"These inmates sent to regional jails are not afforded the same services as those in correctional facilities," Rubenstein said.
"There are a lot of people who are not receiving any type of treatment that they should be, and they're sitting for extended periods of time [in regional jails]."
But the first purpose of a corrections system is to house people who pose a danger to society.
Punishment also has its place. Many nonviolent felons belong in prison. A prime example is former Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, who earned every minute he will get in federal prison when sentenced for his abuse of office.
Prison has its place. Efforts by corrections officials to put those who belong in prison in prison and those who could use drug treatment in halfway houses are laudable — as long as the public is protected.