Local funds could curb substance abuse, jail costs - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Local funds could curb substance abuse, jail costs

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Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, thinks it's time for the state to put its money where the prisoners are.

"If we're really serious about the idea of curbing and also reducing the jail costs in our state, instead of reducing sentences to crimes, we really ought to be looking at the root cause of why people are going to jail," Unger said Friday.

Unger said reports to the Legislature have shown that more than 80 percent of people in jail are there because of substance abuse, either directly or indirectly.

He said a bill that will be debated in the Senate's finance committee next week would allow counties to use a portion of their transfer tax to fund both regional jail costs and substance abuse treatment.

"We need to drive down jail costs and keep people from going to jail, but we need to increase our treatment, and this would empower local communities to find ways to do that," he said. "This would give the counties an opportunity to look at research-based, innovative approaches in order to provide that treatment for people."

Unger said West Virginia doesn't have enough options or resources for substance abuse treatment.

"So much of what we do is punitive: cracking down, preventing, not letting people get prescription drugs to do illegal things," he said. "This gets to the heart of getting people back on track."

Unger said next week the Senate will begin working on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's substance abuse bill.

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