CHARLESTON – Justice Larry Starcher of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would control escalating jail costs by letting inmates out of jail.
“West Virginia has absolutely no need for the number of jail and prison beds it has now,” Starcher claimed in concurring with a Nov. 21 decision on regional jails.
“Crime rates are down in our state,” he argued. “Most new admissions to jails and prisons are for nonviolent offenses.”
A substantial portion of inmates are there because of untreated mental illness, he wrote.
Regional jails are overcrowded, he wrote, “but the truth is that for the same or less money, many of the current inmates could be safely punished or safely managed (with intensive supervision) in the community.”
He proposed that they clean highways, parks and streams.
He wrote, “Sadly, too many prosecutors seek and judges impose long prison and jail sentences out of fear, anger, and re-election concerns –- not common sense or a compelling concern for public safety.”
The situation cries out for legislative attention, he wrote.
He added that, “… when it comes to locking people up, race matters.”
He wrote, “The percent of jail and prison inmates who are African American is hugely higher than the African American percentage in West Virginia’s population.”
He wrote, “And for the same offenses, black West Virginians receive much harsher sentences. To not recognize this is to turn a blind eye to the truth.”
A task force worked for years on racial disparity in juvenile justice but produced no report to the Court, Starcher wrote.
“Inasmuch as a majority of this Court voted to deny me my scheduled rotation as Chief Justice for the year 2007,” he wrote, “I have been unable to help bring this task force’s work to a resolution.”
He wrote, “Sometimes, and for some people, the continuing problems of the color line in America are more easily ‘swept under the rug’ than confronted. But we all pay a price for this mistake.”