Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
News and Sentinel, Parkersburg, W.Va., on overcrowded jails:
West Virginia prisons and regional jails are less overcrowded than they were seven months ago, meaning a law enacted then appears to be working, state legislators were told this week. Let's hope so. The alternative is spending money the state doesn't have on a new prison or contractor-operated facilities.
Since April 13, when the Justice Reinvestment Act was signed into law, the number of inmates in state prisons has dropped from 7,078 to 6,825, lawmakers were told this past week. And though in mid-April the regional jail network held 1,736 convicts who were supposed to be in prisons, which number had dropped to 1,192 during the same period.
Unfortunately, the new law had little to do with some of the reduction. During the year, the old juvenile corrections center at Salem was converted to a facility for adults. It is intended to provide 400 new beds, of which 296 already are filled.
The basis of the JRA is allowing some non-violent offenders to leave prison sooner than they might have otherwise, and providing better supervision for those enjoying early release. It also provides more money for substance abuse treatment.
In addition, the law makes it less likely ex-convicts who violate terms of their parole will be sent back to prison to finish their sentences. Under the new law, judges have an alternative to sending parole violators back to prison for the full terms of their original sentences. Instead, judges can order "shock incarceration" for 60 days. Presumably, that taste of life back behind bars straightens some of the violators out.
Beyond any doubt, something had to be done to reduce prison and jail overcrowding in West Virginia. Otherwise, it was only a matter of time until an inmate filed a "cruel and unusual punishment" lawsuit and a federal court ordered the state to address the problem, by whatever means necessary. In some other states, that has included releasing convicts, even if they might pose a danger to society.
This week's report is good news - but with a caveat. The public's safety needs to be the paramount consideration. Convicts who abuse the breaks they get through early release by going back to lives of crime should be sent back to prison to serve the full terms of their sentences.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., on new focus on reading skills of third-graders badly needed:
One of the hottest topics in public education still is reading.
Specifically, states are focusing on making sure students have solid reading skills by the time they leave the third grade.
Educators have known for years that this is a critical turning point for students, because after the third grade, they need to read well to keep up in other subjects. Without those reading skills, students can fall behind and become more likely to drop out of school later on.
But the third-grade success rate is not very good.
Nationally, only about 34 percent of fourth-graders scored as proficient in reading in the Nation's Report Card for 2013. Kentucky and Ohio did a little better at 37 percent, but in West Virginia the proficiency rate is even lower — about 28 percent.
About 15 states have implemented stricter retention policies, which ultimately hold students back if they do not pass the reading benchmarks, according to the Stateline News Service. In Ohio, for example, that "third-grade reading guarantee" begins this year with plans to hold back students who do not pass, or almost pass, the state reading test.
Florida began a similar approach almost 10 years ago, and the state has seen reading scores improve.
But the effort has to go beyond just drawing a line in the sand and making students repeat a grade.
Just as importantly, most of the states with the tougher retention policies also have programs to provide extra help for students well before the third grade. That includes expanding access to pre-kindergarten and providing early intervention for children who are struggling with their reading.
Ohio's approach includes a closer evaluation of a child's reading in those early years and providing extra support for students who need it. That includes working with parents or guardians on techniques they can use at home and monitoring the child's progress to make sure their reading is improving.
Clearly these policies require increased instruction and resources, but it is time to make sure that third-graders develop the reading skills they need to carry them through school and life.
Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on gas boom:
Last winter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy predicted that the snowballing Marcellus Shale gas boom and spinoff industries will create 30,000 high-paying West Virginia jobs by 2020 and 58,000 by 2035 -- vastly outstripping the fading coal industry.
Projections in a three-part study titled "America's New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil and Gas Revolution" said horizontal drilling and "fracking" have opened an era in which "shale will create millions of jobs and trillions in investments over the coming decades."
The report says the drilling boom added $1.6 billion to West Virginia's economy in 2012 and "we forecast that this contribution will grow to $9.3 billion by 2035." That's almost a six fold increase.
Now, however, a contradictory study by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative says early estimates have been far too rosy. Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy said gas field work so far is "less than 1 percent of the state employment mix." Frank Mauro of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York said. ...
Which assessment is most accurate? Continuing developments in coming months and years will provide an answer.
The recent announcement of a possible ethane "cracker" and three polyethylene chemical plants near Parkersburg to turn Marcellus gas into thousands of plastic products raised hopes -- but it's not yet certain whether they will materialize.
Nobody can predict economic outcomes precisely, but it seems that West Virginia is changing. As coal's dominance slips, a different future is taking shape.
State leaders must manage this transition wisely, imposing strong safeguards to prevent ravages such as those that accompanied previous industrial booms. As for us, we hope the Marcellus upsurge brings even more jobs and prosperity than the wildest forecasts.