West Virginia has an incarceration crisis. Our jails and prisons have long been dangerously overcrowded and the state imprisonment rate continues to rise even as other states are taking important steps to reduce their prison population. Between 2009-2019, West Virginia’s imprisonment rate grew 10 percent while the rest of the country experienced a 16 percent decline.
Locking up more people has not made us safer, and research has shown that high imprisonment rates do not lead to less crime. In fact, 34 states experienced reductions in crime and imprisonment from 2007 to 2017. Recent policy changes have slowed prison population growth in West Virginia, but meaningful sentencing reforms are needed to lower the imprisonment rate and reduce corrections spending.
Unfortunately, the legislature is considering sweeping reforms to West Virginia’s criminal code that will have the opposite effect—increasing prison terms and costing taxpayers millions in the process. Hastily drafted legislation would create a new sentencing structure that ties the hands of judges and our parole board by increasing the minimum sentence and time-served requirements for many offenses. We urge the Legislature to reject HB 2017 and other bills that would increase incarceration in West Virginia.