Overcrowding in West Virginia's prisons and regional jails probably is at least partly to blame for an upsurge in assaults against inmates and guards.
Unfortunately, at least for now, not much can be done about it.
Something can be done to make violent convicts think twice before attacking a fellow inmate or a guard, however. They should be charged with assault, convicted and sentenced to the longest prison terms permissible under state law.
It may be argued that strategy would increase the problem with overcrowding.
And viewed in isolation, it certainly could have that effect.
But failing to throw the book at those guilty of jail or prison assaults would be an admission of surrender to them. Without the threat of a much longer time behind bars as a deterrent, some inmates actually might be emboldened to act more aggressively.
Clearly, there is a problem.
In 2007, 47 assaults on employees were reported in state prisons, where the most hard-core cons are kept. Last year, there were 101 such attacks. In regional jails, however, where less dangerous prisoners are kept, the number of assaults actually declined a bit during the past five years.
It is true West Virginia must find some way to lessen jail and prison overcrowding.
But the worst of the worst - and that includes those who assault guards and other inmates - should not view that as a "get out of jail free card."