Legislative Oversight Committee on Jails hears update on parole program ahead of Special Session

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Less than three hours after Gov. Jim Justice called for a Special Session of the West Virginia Legislature on Sunday, lawmakers picked up where they left off in March by suspending the Constitutionally-required transparency rules to expedite the passage of bills.

While “increasing the salaries of our Correctional Officers” was stated to be a primary factor in Justice’s decision to call for the Special Session, it was not on the agenda during Sunday’s interim meeting of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority. Instead, the conversation had by committee members dealt exclusively with the Non-violent Offense Parole Program – also referred to as the NVOPP.

Paul Simmons, deputy director of the W.Va. Division of Corrections, was on hand to provide a brief overview of the NVOPP, and to answer the questions posed by committee members.

The NVOPP works to expedite the parole process, Simmons said, explaining that, “When a non-violent offender completes certain tasks and successfully completes all of their programs, on the date of their eligibility for parole, they are automatically paroled.”

Simmons added that once an offender is released through the NVOPP program, the monitoring requirements that they must abide by are the same as those released through more traditional parole methods. 

According to Simmons, of the 627 offenders who have been granted parole through the NVOPP program, 143 have had that parole revoked – primarily as the result of “technical violations,” such as not attending a meeting with a parole officer or testing positive during a drug screening. Offenders whose parole was revoked for these reasons were reincarcerated for 30 days. 

Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, took the opportunity to question Simmons, asking, “What’s the difference in the percentage of people who are coming back after being let out? Do you have that broken down by how many of those are full revocations, versus the sanctions that happen? Do you have a recidivism rate of offenders on general parole, and how does that compare [to those in the NVOPP program]?”

Simmons advised Garcia that he would provide the committee with specific data in the near future, however noting that the recidivism rate for parolees in the NVOPP program is “within the ballpark” of those who are not. 

“It’s (NVOPP) still a parole program,” Simmons said. “If they (offenders) meet all of their guidelines, when they reach their parole date they automatically go home. The other side of the Parole Board is a subjective three-person panel. They’ll review their (offender) program history, and they’ll vote on whether to send that incarcerated person home.”

Sen. Jack David Woodrum, R-Summers, while working from the accurate assumption that most offenders paroled through the NVOPP program had been originally incarcerated for drug-related offenses, then asked Simmons if, “Prior to being eligible for parole, are they required to go through some sort of rehabilitation?”

Simmons advised that parolees are required to participate in rehabilitation programs, adding that they are also prohibited from consuming alcohol while on parole. 

The next meeting of the Legislative Oversight on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority is scheduled to take place during the September Interim Legislative Session. RealWV will provide further scheduling updates as additional information is made available. 

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