West Virginia’s jails are in crisis.
Overcrowding, understaffing, deteriorating conditions, and deaths dominate headlines across the state. In recent years, legislation aimed at fixing these problems has focused largely on financials; paying guards higher wages and shifting costs from the state to counties and cities.
None of these plans, however, address the core issue: the state locks up thousands of people for simply possessing drugs. According to the state’s own figures, simple possession is the third most common offense cited for cramming more people into our jails.
That’s why we’re calling on Gov. Justice to issue a one-time pardon for simple drug possession for people currently held in state custody and to release an order asking police and courts across the state to stop putting people in jail for simple drug possession.
An analysis of the 2022 West Virginia Division of Corrections Annual Report shows that over the past year, 3,242 charges were issued for simple possession. By comparison, 1,534 charges were issued for people possessing drugs with the intent to deliver.
For years, lawmakers have claimed they are “going after the dealers, not the addicts” when talking about enforcing and expanding drug laws. But the data show they aren’t even adhering to their own racist, classist definitions for these terms.
Based on WV DCR data, a one-time pardon and moratorium on putting people in jail would reduce the jail population by at least ten percent. Such a reduction would save the state more than $8 million a year in per diem costs and would greatly reduce the problem of overcrowding.
It’s time for the state to put an end to the problem it’s creating for itself and all of us. Stop putting people in cages over drugs.