The Charleston Daily Mail is reporting that the next legislative session in West Virginia will feature a fundamental criminal justice debate: when faced with more prisoners than prison beds, should taxpayers foot the bill for $200 million in construction costs for a new prison, or should the legislature initiate right-on-crime diversions and alternatives?
This should sound familiar to Texans because Texas faced the same dilemma in 2007. After the state’s Legislative Budget Board projected the need for 17,000 more prison beds in five years, the legislature rejected $1.3 billion in construction costs and $300 million annual operating costs for new prisons, and instead—aided by research from the free-market-oriented Texas Public Policy Foundation—authorized various alternatives for non-violent offenders and substance abusers.
West Virginia lawmakers have an arduous task in front of them. Luckily, the wave of smart—yet tough—criminal justice reform that started in Texas has spread, resulting in a compendium of examples and research to aid West Virginians as they weigh their alternatives.