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This Week from Charleston

By Staff | Aug 29, 2014

I was honored to be appointed by Governor Tomblin and Speaker Miley to serve on the Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice. This task force is being guided by by the Pew Charitable Trusts. We are tasked with findng substantive reforms for our juvenile justice system to best serve our youth, employ evidence-based solutions, and save taxpayer dollars. There have been two meetings, with three more scheduled in the next month and additional ones through the end of the year. The end result will be an initiative for reform ready for the next legislative session. One of my jobs is to remind the task force that Charleston-based solutions are not necessarily Eastern Panhandle solutions. Additional Eastern Panhandle appointees include Judge Michael Lorensen and Senator Cookman.

Juvenile justice reform is a follow up to the reforms from the 2013 legislative session that we commonly call “Justice Reinvestment” or “JRI” and were contained in SB 371. Last Monday at the legislative interim meetings in Bridgeport, the joint Justice Committee heard an update on the ongoing implementation of JRI. As a result of the evidence-based practices, the inmate population has decreased by 3.5 percent and the Department of Corrections inmates held in regional jails has decreased by 47 percent. The lowering and shifting of the populations well West Virginia counter overcrowding.

JRI requires all inmates who choose to finish their sentences, instead of parole, to have mandatory supervision. This solves a prior problem where inmates were actually incentivized to avoid parole within the last six months of a sentence. Like much of the initiative, post release supervision is designed to lower recidivism and as a result: lower costs for taxpayers. Another critical component is graduated sanctions for parole. While the process of setting up a comprehensive continuum of sanctions is not yet complete, non-violent parole violations can now receive 60 or 120 day incarcerations instead of the full revocation of parole. Full revocation can be expensive and not result in better outcomes.

I have been extremely impressed with the Department of Corrections staff and their willingness to make substantive changes and use data and evidence-based methods. It was only a few years ago that we were faced with building expensive additional facilities for a projected higher rate of incarcerations. By addressing core problems–including alcohol and substance abuse, we are managing these numbers. It is gratifying to actually see results just 18 months after the passage of the legislation. I look forward to more updates.