W.Va. Considers Stronger Penalties in Some Meth Cases

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- State lawmakers are calling for more tougher penalties in cases where people expose children to methamphetamine manufacturing, including the possibility of a prison sentence up to 30 years.

Under current law, a person can be imprisoned from one to five years for committing this crime. The penalty increases to a range of three to 15 years in prison if the child is seriously injured.

A bill proposed in the House of Delegates would set a range of five to 30 years in prison for exposing a child to methamphetamine manufacturing. The minimum would increase to 10 years if the child were to be seriously injured.

"Increasing penalties for that kind of bad behavior is always a good a thing," says Del. Jonathan Miller (R-Berkeley), one of the bill’s sponsors. "They see [making methamphetamine] as an opportunity. I think that if there's not that much of a loss for them getting caught running a meth lab, then I think they weigh the costs with the benefits."

In October, police arrested three people at a home in Pinch. Police said they found a meth lab and a baby sitting in a bouncer.

The baby’s parents were charged with exposing a child to meth manufacturing.

"It could kill them, cause all kinds of respiratory issues," says Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster, who says he supports the idea of stiffer penalties.

But, some experts caution there won't be a solution until they can get to the root of the problem.

"There's still an underlying problem here before we get to the exposure of children, and that is we have people with the disease of addiction," says Dr. Michael O’Neil, a professor at the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy and chair of the West Virginia Controlled Substance Advisory Board.

O’Neil added, "If we never treat those issues, then the chances of staying in recovery, whether it's for meth or coke, or oxy or anything else, are between some and none."

Even supporters of stiffer penalties question how much of a deterring effect they will have.

“Most of these people are pretty zoned out and committed to do what they're going to do, but yeah, we've got to look out for the children," Webster says.

O'Neil says the majority of people dealing with addiction have another psychological issue, too. So, he says if we're going to put people in jail longer, you need to address treatment and what happens when people get out.

This bill's been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. It hasn't been taken up yet.

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