Juvenile Justice Reform Bill Signed in West Virginia

On April 2, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a set of policies designed to protect public safety; improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities; enhance accountability for juvenile offenders and state agencies; and contain taxpayer costs by prioritizing resources for the most serious offenders. The reforms are expected to reduce the number of youth in residential placements by at least 16 percent, saving the state at least $20 million over the next five years.

The new law is based on policy recommendations from the bipartisan Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, which was established in June 2014 after passage of criminal justice reinvestment legislation the previous year. The 30-member task force conducted a comprehensive analysis of West Virginia’s juvenile court and correctional systems to determine how state resources were being used and whether taxpayers were getting a sufficient public safety return on their investments.

The task force, which received intensive technical assistance from Pew, found that West Virginia was sending many lower-level juvenile offenders to residential placements at a cost of up to $100,000 per person per year. Youth sent to state-funded facilities in 2012 for status offenses—infractions such as skipping school or violating curfew— increased by 255 percent since 2002. The task force also discovered that juveniles were staying longer in residential facilities than in the past.

Based on its analysis, the task force reached unanimous agreement on fiscally sound, data-driven policy recommendations for improving West Virginia’s juvenile justice system. The recommendations served as the basis for S.B. 393, which passed with unanimous bipartisan support in both legislative chambers. The law stipulates that a portion of savings be reinvested in evidence-based community programs that reduce recidivism and improve other outcomes for youth and their families.

The task force’s full report can be viewed here.

Pew and its partners have assisted more than two dozen states, including Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, and South Dakota, with similar data-driven analyses and consensus-based policy recommendations.

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