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Help for ex-inmates

January 13, 1999

In West Virginia's state prisons, corrections officials maintain order by cutting two days off an inmate's sentence for every "good behavior day" he serves. But when their time is up, many are released with no supervision, something Gov. Cecil Underwood would like to change. It's a good idea the legislature should approve without delay.

The proposal would affect the 200 or so state inmates released each year, and the 30 parole officers who supervise them from offices across the state. Underwood would hire additional parole officers, but would also increase existing officers' caseloadshtgg by five to seven inmates.

That's the one part of this plan which we have reservations about. If the object is to provide more supervision to each inmate, does it make sense to add to each parole officers' caseload? And we also question the numbers here; if 30 existing parole officers each got seven new cases, then that would be 210 cases, more than the total number of inmates released each year.

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Since it's still early in the session, let's give the governor the benefit of the doubt on the numbers question. The concept is sound; the more help inmates get as they try to re-enter society, the fewer will get in trouble with the law again.

The program's other dividend should be a reduction in prison costs. Officials estimate that with intensive supervision, only about 25 inmates released because of accumulated "good behavior days" will be sent back to serve the remainder of their sentences.

That's 25 cells the state won't have to build, and hundreds of thousands of dollars the state won't have to spend on inmates' day-to-day care. Once the bill's numbers are clarified, this should be an easy measure for lawmakers to enact into law.

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