CHARLESTON -– The seven-person Compliance Committee on Sams v. Kirby had its organizational meeting on Jan. 30, agreed to a mission statement and chose a chairman.

The Committee was established by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia in December.

The mission statement says:

"Whereas, this committee recognizes that it is the role of the judiciary to remain hortatory unless the incarceration of inmates is constitutionally violative of standards; and

"Whereas, the committee recognizes the mandates of Sams v. Kirby, 208 W.Va. 726, 542 S.E. 2nd 889 (2000);

"Therefore, it is the mission of this committee to evaluate whether or not inmates are being unconstitutionally detained; and if so

"To recommend to all branches of government, reasonable solutions to address these unconstitutional deficiencies and to reduce, if possible, the cost of incarcerations to society."

Sams v. Kirby was a Nov. 30, 2005, Supreme Court opinion addressing the increasing number of state prisoners held in regional jails. That per curiam opinion is available on the Supreme Court Web site at http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca/Docs/Fall05/26647.htm

The Sams v. Kirby case was filed in 1999 by Daniel L. Sams and other inmates who sought a writ of mandamus to compel their transfer from a regional jail to facilities operated by the Division of Corrections.

Regional jails are designed for short-term housing of those charged with crimes and are operated by the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority. After people have been convicted and sentenced, they become state prisoners and are to be transferred to prisons operated by the Division of Corrections. Prisons are designed for long-term housing and offer extensive rehabilitative programming. When there is a shortage of space in prisons, state inmates are backed up in jails, causing overcrowding in jails and forcing many to sleep on mats on floors.

When the Sams v. Kirby case was filed, there were 745 state inmates in jails. As of early December 2008, there were 1,160.

The Committee chose as its chairman Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Jack Alsop of Braxton, Clay, Gilmer, and Webster Counties.

Other committee members are First Circuit Judge Martin J. Gaughan of Brooke, Hancock, and Ohio Counties; Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Lawrance S. Miller Jr. of Preston County; W. Joseph McCoy, a former corrections commissioner and retired professor at Marshall University and West Virginia Wesleyan; Father Brian O'Donnell, director of the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University; Kanawha County Chief Public Defender George Castelle; and Charleston lawyer Forrest Roles, who was the last special master in the Sams v. Kirby case. Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury is an ex-officio member.

The panel has one full-time employee, former Southern Regional Jail Administrator Tom Scott.

The Committee's next meeting is planned for April.

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