Thank you for your recent opinion pieces on American prisons and more locally, West Virginia prisons. Also, the piece by Bishop Michael Bransfield (“Care of prisoners, Pope sets example.”
How many research studies does West Virginia need before it finally acts on what needs to be done? Prison overcrowding and escalation of inmate population has a direct link to draconian sentencing that focuses on revenge rather than rehabilitation.
Many imprisoned in West Virginia — more specifically here at Mt. Olive — are serving substantial sentences for crimes directly linked to drug addiction. Is addiction not considered a disease? Many inmates are not violent, untrustworth lepers. Rather, they are fighting for their lives. Most crimes are a byproduct of their disease of addiction. So in essence, human beings in West Virginia and the nation are being imprisoned because they have a disease! Our disease happens to be the unpopular one whose name is addiction.
This letter is not only about myself, but I shall use my case as an example. In 2006, I demanded a man’s wallet one night on the street. No weapon, no real physical harm inflicted, although my codefendant grabbed him from behind. The wallet contained $105. I was sentenced to 50 years for that crime. In essence I got 50 years for $52.50.
Although I am not proud of my actions — in fact I am ashamed and deeply remorseful and agree that some prison time was warranted — this is a prime example of draconian (excessive) sentencing.
I am grouped into a classification as that of a violent offender, under the same exact charge as a person who wields a firearm during a robbery.
Thankfully, I was able to see the error of my ways, ask for and receive forgiveness for my crime and further seek change for my future. I am not a bad person, nor are the other men I live with behind these concertina-topped fences, shut off from the world.
Unfortunately I am an addict who was not in my correct state of mind when I committed my offense eight years ago. There are a significant number of human beings being labeled “violent” in this state instead of being labeled “addict” and sentenced to unruly lengths of time and clogging the penal system as a result.
Additionally, many prisoners (hundreds) either finish their prison terms or make parole from solitary confinement after being forced to spend years there with no rehabilitation or social interaction with other humans. Are these men not put at a severe disadvantage and more apt to fail?
Hundreds of inmates are housed in Mt. Olive’s solitary confinement beds for rule infractions that are grossly disproportionate to the years they are forced to spend there. Yes, you read that right — years! No programming, no counseling, no encouragement.
Most times, beds are filled in solitary for minor rule violations merely because space (cells) exists there, and with so many convicted people waiting in the regional jails to come to prison, they are placed in solitary for convenience, not because they deserve it. The prison does this while falsely terming solitary confinement as a “therapeutic quality-of-life program.” This could not be further from the truth.
Inmates imprisoned in West Virginia are rushed to complete rehabilitation programs and classes for the sake of sheer numbers. In other words, it looks good on paper for the Division of Corrections to show high numbers of completion. Some get rehabilitated. Most do not.
Say an inmate is serving a 50-year sentence. He will be eligible to make parole in 12 and a half years. If he is rushed to complete his programming in the first three years of incarceration, what is he doing to improve himself for the remaining nine and a half years?
Completion of programs/classes on paper quickly is about statistics. Completion of quality programs/classes over time is rehabilitation.
Inmates who obtain GED diplomas, complete mandatory rehabilitation classes, demonstrate a desire to change themselves, abstain from drugs/alcohol and meet other requirements should be considered to go in front of their sentencing courts to show these things and receive a reconsideration of their length of sentence.
In doing so, this would help alleviate the overcrowding and lack of bed space. In conclusion, there needs to be drastic changes in the sentencing guidelines and prison system to curb this growing problem in West Virginia.
While there is not a “cure all,” courts need to stop sentencing people to insane amounts of time for having the disease of addiction, because that’s what it amounts to.
Most crime is a byproduct of addiction. Treat addiction more fairly while making individuals pay for their crimes. Stop wasting the taxpayers’ money with draconian sentencing if rehabilitation can be achieved in one-fourth the time. Remember, the goal is rehabilitation, not revenge.
Jordan is a Mt. Olive prison inmate.