Recriminations over the failure of a plan to lesson prison overcrowding in West Virginia are likely to continue for many months. So should attempts to resurrect a bill in the Legislature.
A bill with various provisions, including some allowing early release of some convicts, was approved unanimously by the state Senate earlier this year. But it stalled in the House of Delegates on the last day of the legislative session.
Various explanations for what went wrong have been offered. It seems likely a leading Republican lawmaker had genuine concerns that enactment of the bill could release some dangerous prisoners too early.
Indeed, the bill did provide for early release of many non-violent offenders, including those convicted of drug-related crimes.
It also included several worthwhile proposals, including drug addiction treatment for more inmates.
Whatever the reason for the bill' s failure, it is clear the state must act to reduce prison overcrowding before a federal judge orders it to do so. Such rulings have been issued in other states, including California, where a judge ordered the state to free thousands of inmates to ease prison overcrowding.
Prison overcrowding is a serious concern in West Virginia. By the end of 2011, about 6,700 inmates were being handled by the state corrections agency. The 13 prisons and other correctional facilities in the state were built to accommodate only 5,100 convicts. Hundreds are being housed "temporarily" in regional jails throughout the state.
Clearly, the state is one carefully crafted federal lawsuit away from an order that it take care of the problem, even if that means releasing hundreds of convicts to prey on West Virginians.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislative leaders should consult on the matter and attempt to bring it up in a special legislative session this summer.