The following editorial appeared in The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg on Nov. 3:
On Nov. 2, the first of 44 federal inmates were released from their prison sentences early because of sentencing guideline modification returned to Northern West Virginia, according to U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld.
It is important to note that while these individuals have been released from prison, many remain under federal supervision.
Ihlenfeld said that 68 percent of those returning to Northern West Virginia will be placed in halfway houses or home confinement.
So while they may be out from behind bars, they must conform to federal Bureau of Prisons regulations to remain so.
Their early release is part of the effort to shorten criminal sentences for some drug crimes in response to concerns over prison overcrowding, the costs of housing inmates and the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Make no mistake, all of those factors are legitimate concerns.
And handing out shorter sentences to non-violent drug offenders is one way to address those issues.
We support efforts to make drug rehabilitation available to those who are addicted, with the emphasis on treating the addiction instead of punishing those who are ill.
We believe there is support for this approach in handling drug cases on both the federal and state level.
We must begin to provide treatment instead of punishment if we hope to beat back the scourge of illegal drug use.
However, it is a narrow line to walk when those addicted turn to dealing or other criminal activity to support their habits.
With that in mind, we’re hopeful those in legal circles are able to differentiate between those who possess for personal use and those who are clearly marketing the product — and thus escalating the problem.
And we see no need to shorten sentences for those involved in the actual trafficking of drugs, especially if they are carrying guns or other means to turn to violence as they conduct their “business.”
We’re also hopeful that any further reduction of prison sentences be limited to only those with nonviolent convictions.
Those who have inflicted harm upon others should serve out their sentences accordingly, sending a clear message that violence is not the answer to our problems.
We’re sure this change in sentencing guidelines has caused some angst among those in law enforcement and the general public.
We understand there are legitimate concerns when there is an appearance that some are able to get away with criminal behavior or face lesser punishment.
But the verdict on the modified sentencing guidelines won’t be known anytime soon. It will take time to study their effects and the overall effect on the drug trade in West Virginia.
We’re hopeful the new guidelines are a step toward providing more help to those addicted instead of just locking away the problem and hoping that it goes away.
That solution just hasn’t worked.