How can state reduce jail, prison population

West Virginia legislators are being urged to reconsider laws regarding multiple criminal justice issues, in the interests of fairness — and reducing the state’s jail and prison population.

That factor does need to be addressed. In large measure because of the drug abuse epidemic, the state’s regional jails and prisons are overcrowded. On average, they are about 25% over their design capacities. That costs county commissions money they could be using for other purposes.

But reducing the population of inmates awaiting trial and those already convicted cannot be a higher priority than protecting the public from dangerous individuals. No matter how overcrowded a regional jail is, bonding requirements should not be cut to the point that people who may pose a danger to others are told they will remain free. By the same reasoning, those convicted of serious crimes cannot be released early just because we need beds in state prisons.

Several organizations on both ends of the political spectrum have urged legislators to enact a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill. We agree– with the caveat that such legislation needs to be balanced. By that, we mean no risks should be taken with the safety of West Virginians.

There appears to be plenty of room within those parameters for lawmakers to work. Let us hope they can enact a package of reforms this year.