*** Manchin unveils work-release program to cut prison overcrowding

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 8, 2009

CHARLESTON -– Gov. Joe Manchin has announced that a new multi-agency effort to help alleviate jail and prison overcrowding will also save taxpayer money and better utilize existing state facilities.

The Department of Administration's Real Estate Division, the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety's Division of Corrections are working together on a project to renovate part of the Jackie Withrow Hospital (formerly Pinecrest State Hospital) in Beckley to accommodate additional individuals in the Division of Correction's Work Release Program. The Work Release Program currently operates at the Beckley Correctional Center, adjacent to the hospital.

The governor's announcement follows a July report by the Governor's Commission on Prison Overcrowding that recommended expanding programs, such as work release, as part of a multifaceted approach to alleviating the overcrowding problem.

"The nationwide problem with prison overcrowding can't be overcome with a single solution; however, we can take immediate steps to follow through on the Commission's recommendations here in West Virginia," Manchin said. "A number of state agencies have come together and by working with an existing state facility, we're addressing the prison problem, saving money and truly getting the most out of taxpayer dollars."

By securing the fourth floor of the hospital, the Work Release Program will be able to double its current occupants from 70 to 140, which will decrease regional jail space needed for these non-violent inmates who require minimum security monitoring. The mission of the program is to operate a safe, secure and cost-effective corrections program that changes inmate conduct through community supervision and treatment programs that help inmates successfully re-enter society.

I! n its report, the Commission on Prison Overcrowding recommended the st ate "build or acquire at least four additional 80-bed work release centers for lower security inmates preparing in return to community life."

Real Estate Director Charles Lawrence said this move also takes advantage of underutilized space currently owned by the state of West Virginia.

Currently, 78 inmates and 21 staff members are located in the Beckley Correctional Center. The program expansion will allow for an additional 70 inmates and 16 new staff positions. The state expects to save about $2 million by renovating the former Pinecrest space, rather than building new housing or expanding its current location. Additionally, approximately $250,000 in savings will be realized annually in housing and treatment services in comparison to the cost of inmates residing in the regional jail system.

The facility currently serves as a long-term health care facility operated by the DHHR, in addition to a tuberculosis treatment center, Hospice patient care, and housing various DHHR offices.

Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the Division of Corrections, said that due to the increased population of the prison system, the state continues to seek more efficient ways to meet its needs. "As suggested in the commission report, we are able to double the population at our Beckley Correctional Center by segregating the program participants in this facility, while ensuring that the proper security controls are established," Rubenstein said.

Lawrence said the Real Estate Division expects to have the facility ready within four to six months.

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