As I’ve said time and time again, substance abuse is a growing problem in our state. It affects people of all ages and in every corner of West Virginia. Since taking office, I’ve worked hard to address the issues. We’ve studied the problem in great detail, and we have taken bold steps to save our families from this terrible addiction. We have made great progress so far, and I’m happy to report we are now looking at substance abuse from another perspective.
Last year I brought together my colleagues in the legislature, as well as judges, prosecutors, state and local leaders as part of this effort. I brought them together to improve public safety by addressing our prison overcrowding while also seeking to lower the financial burden of our overextended corrections system on our citizens. With the number of people in prison increasing at a rate triple the national average during the last decade, we looked to national experts for guidance on our unbelievably high prison growth rate.
Last week, a 22-member panel completed its review of a six-month comprehensive analysis conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in partnership with the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance. What we learned from our experts — substance abuse is the root cause of prison overcrowding, and the high recidivism rate exacerbates the problem. In short, we must act now to address these challenges.
Through an extensive support system, we can help individuals transition from a correctional setting to their new lives in communities throughout our state. Providing treatment options needed to fight substance abuse as well as strong supervisory programs will reduce the likelihood of bad behavior escalating into more serious crimes and will reduce our recidivism rate-improving public safety in our communities.
Justice reinvestment has worked in other states, and I’m confident it will help us improve public safety. I will work closely with the legislature to act on the recommendations we received because we must do everything we can for the safety and security of our communities and our families, as well as for the successful future of our state.