- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Nov. 3

The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg on non-violent drug offenders being released from prison:

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.

Online:

https://www.theet.com/

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Nov. 4

The Intelligencer of Wheeling on the state’s rainy day fund:

West Virginians are lucky to have a “rainy day” fund to cushion the state budget during rough periods - such as now. It will be difficult enough to avoid depleting the account without opening the floodgates to local requests for money from it.

Last spring, a huge mudslide tore away part of a runway at Yeager Airport in Charleston. Several properties down the hill from the facility were damaged heavily.

Yeager officials want to start repairing the airport as quickly as possible. To do that, they are asking state officials to give them as much as $35 million from the rainy day fund.

That might seem like a drop in the bucket from an account that contains about $850 million. But it is a substantial amount of cash by itself - and worrisome, too, for the precedent providing it would establish.

Officials set up the rainy day system years ago to provide fiscal insurance for the state budget. It was never envisioned as a source of funding for local projects such as that at Yeager.

Certainly, the Charleston airport project is an important one. And no doubt, Yeager officials already have pointed out their facility serves the state capital.

But in every corner of the state, local officials can point to expensive projects that are of critical importance to many West Virginians, too. If Yeager gets rainy day money, why not them?

West Virginia legislators intended the rainy day fund as a safeguard for state government - not a piggy bank for local officials to tap when they need cash. At the rate state finances are going, the $850 million may be drawn down soon enough without changing that policy.

Onlione:

https://www.theintelligencer.net/

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Nov. 1

The Journal of Martinsburg on children in need:

As other woes mount in West Virginia - jobs lost, severance taxes down, statewide budget cut, drugs flooding our state at a crippling rate - many of our youngest Mountaineers are suffering. West Virginia Children’s Advocacy Centers are providing services at an alarmingly increasing rate.

During fiscal year 2014-15, the number of children served by the centers increased by a disturbing 14.6 percent, from 2,874 in 2013-14 to 3,294 in 2014-15. These children are victims of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, mistreatment or witnesses of violent crimes. WVCAN reports 75 percent of the children served were under the age of 13.

Looking past the single-year increase, however, it should be noted the trend has been steady for several years. In 2010-11, the number of children served was 2,026; in 2008-09, it was 1,806.

Also worrisome is that the number of alleged offenders under the age of 18 has risen sharply, too. In 2010-11, the number of alleged offenders under 18 was 327; in 2014-15, that figure was 539.

Perhaps part of the increase in the number of children served through WVCAN should be attributed to better awareness and reporting. Cooperation with law enforcement, schools, doctors and other mandated reporters is essential.

But there is no denying our already-vulnerable kids are in trouble, and their situations are getting worse. The report issued by WVCAN this week does not speculate on the reasons for the increase. Almost beyond doubt, the drug abuse epidemic has something to do with it.

Clearly, more needs to be known about why the number of children who need help is increasing - and what can be done about it.

Online:

https://www.journal-news.net/

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