Report: Minorities a majority in WV prison population

Shanteya Hudson

new study of incarceration trends shows Black people are jailed at a rate three times higher than their white peers in West Virginia, even though they only make up 14% of the population.

In addition, research from the Prison Policy Initiative found disparities in the criminal justice system have not changed in the last decade, despite debates about addressing mass incarceration.

Wanda Bertram, communications strategist for the group, said decisions at a local level often dictate what happens.

“It has a lot to do with how policing works, and how courts work, and also, in a big way, how social services work,” Bertram explained. “What social services are and are not being provided to people in these lower-income neighborhoods where often health care is harder to access, and schools are much worse.”

She pointed out the research showed members of minority populations also spend more time in prison because of disproportionate sentencing and bail amounts. Every year in West Virginia, at least 34,000 people are booked into local jails.

Between March 2 and April 20, 2020, West Virginia’s regional jail population decreased by more than 1,000 people but have now begun to rise again. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy parole and probation violations now make up about 22% of prison admissions.

Bertram argued the data present opportunities for reform. She added the report offers pathways to address areas often contributing to mass incarnation.

“Those things include getting people off of parole, supervision and probation supervision; strict supervision that’s going to make it more likely that they end up behind bars for just a minor slip-up,” Bertram emphasized. “It includes reforms to the war on drugs, which is still very active in many places.”

She added other important considerations are community involvement, improved health care and public education as methods to lessen imprisonment and counteract racial bias.