by Christopher Zoukis
West Virginia’s prison and jail population has continued to grow despite the passage of a sweeping prison reform bill, so much that the state has been taking bids from private prison operators to house hundreds of prisoners in out-of-state facilities. Sadly, as the overcrowding program grows, the West Virginia Parole Board denies release to about half of the eligible prisoners, many of whom are unable to participate in rehabilitation programs required for parole due to budget restraints.
In November 2013, West Virginia opened bids for at least 400 beds in out-of-state privately operated prisons. The additional beds are necessary to alleviate the Division of Corrections’ (DOC) overcrowding crisis, which has caused it to house 400 or so DOC prisoners in regional jails.
Prisons-for-profit giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has been eyeing West Virginia as a prospective “market,” according to a transcript from CCA’s Earnings Conference Call to investors in October 2013. CEO and President Damon T. Hininger told investors, “So, we actually have been working on West Virginia for about two years. It’s part of that group of six [states] that we’ve been targeting…[T]hey’re dealing with significant overcrowding today, but looking to grow by another, I think 1,700 [prisoners] over the next four years. We’ve been reporting for several quarters our pursuit of new state prospects, with significant projected overcrowding in the next five years and West Virginia is one of the states we’ve been pursuing.”
While such private prison contracts generate millions in taxpayer-funded revenue for CCA and its fellow prison profiteers, West Virginia’s dismal parole rate is due, in part, to a failure to fund relatively low-cost rehabilitation programs that the parole board requires of prospective parolees. Joe DeLong, acting executive director of the state’s Regional Jails Authority, said that costs remain the biggest barrier to offering such courses to jail and DOC prisoners under his agency’s care. “I think the first time we put together the proposal it was a cost of $1.5 million, but over time we found ways to be even more efficient and we think now for $750,000 we could do these things,” he said. “The question becomes, where do these resources come from?”
Dennis Foreman, chairman of the West Virginia Parole Board, said that his agency rarely, if ever, paroles prisoners who haven’t taken at least two of the eight courses offered by the Division of Corrections to meet the basic rehabilitation needs agreed upon at a meeting between the parole board and prison and jail officials.
Only two of the eight courses agreed upon are taught at regional jails, leaving hundreds of DOC prisoners housed there out of luck, Delong said.
The state has yet to announce the winner of, or the terms of, any private prison contract arising from the November bids.
(Originally published by Prison Legal News)