In 2015, West Virginia enacted S.B. 393, a bill to improve juvenile justice policies based on recommendations from a bipartisan
state task force. The law will reduce the placement of low-level youth offenders in state-funded facilities and steer resources
toward community-based sanctions and services that cost less and are more effective at reducing recidivism. The changes are
projected to cut the number of committed youth by at least 16 percent over five years, saving an estimated $20 million, which
will be invested in evidence-based community interventions for juvenile offenders.
Nationally, the number of juveniles committed to residential
placement facilities declined 35 percent from 2006 to 2011,
mirroring a nationwide decrease in youth arrest rates.1 West
Virginia’s committed juvenile population, however, increased
5 percent during this period, even as crime declined statewide.2
State taxpayers spent as much as $100,000 per year per youth
in a residential placement facility, even though research shows
that such placements generally fail to reduce reoffending.3
The West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile
Justice conducted an extensive review of the state’s
system. It found that nearly 60 percent of youth committed
to the Division of Juvenile Services (DJS) in 2012 were
misdemeanants or probation violators and that three-quarters
of those placed out of home through the Department of Health
and Human Resources (DHHR) were status offenders or
The task force recommended prioritizing costly, statefunded
residential facilities for the most serious offenders;
expanding effective community services and strengthening
supervision; and enhancing oversight and accountability.
Most of the recommendations were incorporated into
S.B. 393, which the House and Senate passed unanimously
and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed into law on
April 2, 2015.
In addition to reducing the number of youth in residential
placement facilities by at least 16 percent, S.B. 393 will
allow West Virginia to invest its savings in effective,
community-based alternatives to commitment. In the 2015
budget cycle, legislators made an initial appropriation of
$4.5 million for such programs.
Adjudication: A judgment or decision of a court or jury regarding
whether a youth was legally responsible for an offense. The
juvenile equivalent of a finding of guilt or innocence.
Any proceeding, action, cause, suit, lawsuit, or controversy
initiated through the court system by filing a complaint, petition,
Delinquency: Conduct by a juvenile that is subject to prosecution
and would be criminal if committed by an adult, as opposed to a
status offense (see below).
Disposition: A decision made by a judge regarding a guilty
adjudication—the juvenile equivalent of sentencing. Possible
determinations could include an improvement period (see below),
probation, specialty courts, or commitment to Department of
Health and Human Resources or Division of Juvenile Services custody.
Felony: The more serious of two categories of criminal offenses
(see misdemeanor, below).
Improvement period: A pre- or post-adjudication term of up to
one year with conditions calculated to serve a juvenile offender’s
rehabilitative needs. If the conditions are fulfilled, the proceedings
Misdemeanor: The less serious of two categories of criminal
offenses (see felony, above).
Out-of-home placement: A court-ordered disposition to a
placement other than in the home of a parent, relative, or
guardian, including to a foster family home, group home,
nonsecure facility, emergency shelter, hospital, psychiatric
residential treatment facility, staff secure facility, hardware secure
facility, or detention facility.
Probation: A disposition to community supervision, which may
include periodic reporting to a supervisory officer, participation in
behavior change programming, payment of victim restitution, and
regular drug tests.
Referral: A charge of a status or delinquent offense that is sent to
the court but not yet filed. Referrals can be addressed informally
or can go through formal processing steps and become a case.
Status offense: Conduct that would not be a crime if committed
by an adult but for which juveniles may be adjudicated, including
truancy, curfew violations, incorrigibility, running away, and
underage possession and/or consumption of alcohol or tobacco.
Definitions include information from West Virginia Code, West Virginia Trial Court
Rules, West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the federal Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
This important piece of legislation puts our kids first, and I’m confident it will improve outcomes for West Virginia youth and their families, increase accountability for juveniles and the justice system, and protect both public safety and the state’s finances.Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D)
In June 2014, Gov. Tomblin and leaders from the judicial and legislative branches established the
Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice. The bipartisan 30-member group included the governor’s
designee as chair, legislators from both chambers and both parties, law enforcement officials, judges, agency
leaders, a representative of the faith community, a prosecutor, a public defender, and others.
The task force was charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the state’s juvenile justice system and
developing consensus-based policy recommendations to protect public safety by improving case outcomes,
enhancing accountability for juvenile offenders and the system, and containing taxpayer costs by targeting
resources toward the most serious offenders. The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partner, the Crime and Justice
Institute at Community Resources for Justice, provided technical assistance as the task force collected and
analyzed information about West Virginia’s juvenile justice system and formulated new policies and practices.
Task force members met six times between August and November 2014, with four subgroups gathering more
frequently to review and discuss four specific policy areas: early intervention and diversion; evidence-based
and effective practices; community services and interagency service delivery; and disposition and placement.
Members examined state data trends and analyzed statutes, policies, and practices from each stage of the
juvenile justice process, including referrals to court, actual cases, adjudications, dispositions, supervision,
placement, and release. The task force gathered additional input through interviews, surveys, and roundtable
discussions with a variety of stakeholders, including judges, victim advocates, law enforcement leaders, service
providers, and agency staff. It also reviewed reform efforts in other states, as well as research on juvenile justice
In December 2014, the panel delivered its policy recommendations in a final report to the governor, the president
of the state Senate, the speaker of the House of Delegates, and the justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The task force examined how West Virginia’s juvenile justice system was performing and whether it was aligned
with the research about what works. It made several key findings:
More status offenders sent to juvenile court; most delinquency referrals involve
Referrals to court for status offenses—behaviors that would not be crimes if committed by adults—increased
124 percent between 2002 and 2012. During the same period, the number for delinquent offenses—which would
be crimes if committed by adults—declined 53 percent. In 2012, truancy accounted for 74 percent and
40 percent of status offense and all juvenile court referrals, respectively, while nonviolent offenses (67 percent)
and misdemeanors (76 percent) dominated those for delinquency. (See Figure 2.)
Many first-time low-level offenders placed on probation
First-time status offenders and misdemeanants made up a significant share of those placed on probation, despite
being eligible for diversion. Stakeholders indicated that these offenders were being placed on probation in part
because the state lacked uniform, structured diversion criteria. In 2012, status offenders represented 1 in 4
probation dispositions; of this group, more than half (58 percent) had no previous court referrals. The number of
status offenders placed on probation rose 77 percent from 2002 to 2012 even as the number of youth placed on
probation for delinquency offenses declined 54 percent.
Many in state-funded facilities are low-level offenders
Research demonstrates that for many juvenile offenders, lengthy and expensive out-of-home placements in
secure correctional or other residential facilities fail to produce better outcomes than alternative sanctions
and that such placement can even increase recidivism. In West Virginia, youth who committed misdemeanors,
probation violations, and status offenses made up an overwhelming share of those placed in the custody of
DHHR or committed to DJS and sent to state-funded residential facilities.5 More than half (51 percent) of the
juveniles placed out of home by DHHR in 2012 were status offenders—an increase of 255 percent from 2002— while misdemeanants accounted for another 24 percent. Of the youth committed to DJS custody in 2012,
misdemeanants and probation violators made up 41 percent and 16 percent, respectively. (See Figure 3.)
Further, many youth placed in out-of-home settings were first-time offenders: About half of status offenders
and delinquent youth placed in DHHR residential facilities in 2012 had never been arrested or referred to court.
In addition, 82 percent of the youth placed in a residential diagnostic facility operated by DJS—and used as a
location to evaluate youth before their dispositions are determined by the courts—had minimal prior history.6
More than half of the youth ordered to the diagnostic facility were released home without being placed into
DHHR or DJS custody, after spending months out of home to be assessed.
Long and growing stays away from home
Status and juvenile offenders in DHHR-funded residential facilities also were spending more time away from
home. From 2003 to 2013, the average length of stay rose 22 percent (to 14.5 months) for status offenders,
23 percent (to 16 months) for misdemeanants, and 22 percent (to 19.7 months) for those adjudicated guilty of
felonies. (See Figure 4.) In 2013, youth spent an average of 12 months at in-state facilities—about the same as a
decade earlier—while those sent to state-funded out-of-state facilities spent an average of 23 months, up
40 percent from a decade earlier.
High costs for out-of-home placement
In fiscal 2015, the average cost of placing a youth in a DHHR out-of-home facility was $289 per day, or about
$105,000 per year, and in a DJS facility was $278 per day, or about $101,000 per year.7
Inadequate community services for youth and families
Many communities lacked services for youth in the juvenile justice system. In a survey of probation officers,
80 percent of respondents reported gaps in treatment or other services in their counties. According to the
respondents, the greatest need for additional services was in education, substance abuse treatment, family
conflict, mental health, and anger management. In addition, youth reporting centers—DJS-operated programs
that provide community-based services and treatment to juveniles—operated in only 12 of West Virginia’s
55 counties, with only seven of the centers offering education services. Also, privately run comprehensive behavioral health centers, which are partially state-funded regional service providers, were located in only
13 counties, and respondents reported long wait times and limited access.
Inconsistent use of risk and needs assessments
In jurisdictions that use evidence-based practices, risk and needs assessments allow authorities to match
offenders with appropriate sanctions and services. Across West Virginia, jurisdictions were using risk and needs
assessments inconsistently. DHHR, for example, did not use the same tool as DJS and juvenile drug courts,
and no tool had been validated for West Virginia’s juvenile population. In addition, the state had not provided
structured, statewide guidance about how assessment results should inform decision-making.
Lack of reliable outcome data
West Virginia agencies gathered outcome data inconsistently, and as a result, the state did not have sufficient
information about recidivism rates for youth exiting residential facilities or those on probation or parole. State
agencies also often failed to share data.
Legislative reform package
The task force reached consensus on a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to be considered by the
Legislature. Lawmakers incorporated most of the proposals into S.B. 393, which passed the state House and
Senate unanimously. The law is projected to reduce the number of youth in residential placement within DHHR
and committed to DJS custody by at least 16 percent by 2020, avoiding $20.1 million in expected costs. The state
also appropriated $4.5 million in the 2015 state budget to fund truancy diversion programs, additional youth
reporting centers, evidence-based pilot programs, and improved data collection and training.
Lawmakers did not adopt the task force’s recommendations to eliminate out-of-home placement for first-time
status offenders, lower-level misdemeanants, and technical probation violators and to provide alternatives such
as community-based programs to improve outcomes. Had those measures been implemented, the entirety of the
task force’s recommendations would have cut juvenile residential placements by at least 40 percent by 2020,
while avoiding $59 million in expected costs.
Broad Support for S.B. 393
- West Virginia Chamber of Commerce
- West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition
- The Education Alliance
- TEAM for West Virginia Children
- Logan County Family Resource Network
- West Virginia Nurses Association
- Our Children, Our Future Campaign
- American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia
- Human Resource Development Foundation
- Charleston County Public Defender’s Office
Strengthen effective community supervision and services
- Require a greater share of spending to be directed toward evidence-based practices. The law requires that
at least half of program expenditures by state agencies and contracted service providers fund evidence-based
practices by 2017. The state may re-evaluate this percentage in 2017 to determine if it can be increased.
- Allow for truancy intervention programs. The law authorizes truancy diversion specialists, such as schoolbased
probation officers and social workers, to work with schools, youth, and families to address problem
behavior before a juvenile’s actions result in a court appearance.
- Permit the diversion of certain youth to restorative justice programs. The law allows prosecutors and courts
to divert status and nonviolent misdemeanants to a restorative justice program, such as victim-offender
mediation, restitution, and community service, before adjudication.
- Provide more community-based options for judges. The law authorizes the opening of more youth reporting
centers across the state, giving judges additional community-based options for less serious offenders. These
programs are subject to the evidence-based standards referenced above.
- Authorize the courts to adopt a system of community-based sanctions for probation violators. The law
allows the courts to create a new system to discipline juvenile probation violators, which would ensure that
youth are swiftly held accountable and would encourage compliance with probation conditions.
- Mandate regular review of probation cases. The law requires probation officers to update the court
every 90 days on a youth’s progress while on probation. If the juvenile is compliant and no longer in need
of supervision, the officer may recommend discharge and the court can terminate the probation without
a review hearing.
- Empower courts to conduct and consider the results of a validated risk and needs assessment before
disposition. The law authorizes courts to adopt an assessment tool to help guide decision-making, establish
appropriate supervision levels, and influence referrals to programs or services.
The results of these reforms cannot be overstated: stronger families,
safer communities, and more youth on track toward becoming
contributing members to West Virginia’s future.Senator Chris Walters (R), task force member, Feb. 23, 2015
Prioritize state resources for the most serious youth offenders
- Expand and improve the use of early interventions by creating a two-step, pre-court diversion process for
status offenders and nonviolent misdemeanants. The law requires youth who are sent to court for a status
offense—or, at the prosecutor’s discretion, a nonviolent misdemeanor—to be referred by a caseworker to
community services. The service provider must make contact with the youth or family within 72 hours of
referral. If the youth or the family does not complete the diversion or is noncompliant, the case must be
reviewed by a multidisciplinary team made up of a range of stakeholders and officials, including the family, a
clinical expert, the youth’s attorney, and the county superintendent or a representative. This two-step process
will divert a significant proportion of low-level offenders from court involvement, helping them change their
behavior while saving resources for more serious offenders. The traditional court process remains an option
for youth who do not comply with the diversion program.
- Restrict out-of-home placement of first-time lower-level offenders to certain instances. The law prevents the
placement of first-time status and nonviolent misdemeanor offenders in residential facilities, with exceptions
for cases of abuse and neglect; when the court finds clear and convincing evidence of a significant and
probable risk of harm to the juvenile, a family member, or the public; and when continued residence in the
family home is contrary to the juvenile’s best interests. The bill requires the state to collect data about how
frequently these exceptions are invoked. In addition, status offenders may no longer be placed in secure DJS
facilities, only high-risk youth or those with a violent offense may be confined in the juvenile diagnostic center,
and stays in the center may not exceed 30 days.
- Limit how long youth can remain in DHHR-funded facilities and mandate re-entry planning for all youth,
starting at admission. The law requires that youth who are placed out of home by DHHR begin the transition
to community services within 30 days of commitment and conclude the process within 90 days. The time
frame can be extended if the court finds clear and convincing evidence that it is in the rehabilitative interest
of the youth offender. Before juveniles return to the community, they must have an aftercare plan outlining
future services to ensure effective transition.
- Require improved data collection to measure outcomes. The law requires state agencies and contractors to
collect a broad range of performance measures, including data about recidivism, diversion, community service,
drug and teen courts, disproportionate minority contact, and the use and quality of evidence-based practices.
- Create a state juvenile justice oversight committee. The law establishes a bipartisan, interbranch oversight
committee to monitor the progress of the reforms, explore additional areas for improvement, review
performance measurement data, and assess opportunities for investing cost savings.
Concerned citizens from both sides of the political spectrum have
led the effort for juvenile justice reform in West Virginia. They are
to be commended for S.B. 393, which is an important step toward a
better juvenile justice system.Charleston Daily Mail editorial, March 5, 2015
West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice
|Joseph D. Garcia, governor’s director of legislative affairs (chair and designee of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin)
||Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-District 55)
|Michael B. Lacy, director, Division of Probation
Services (designee of Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis)
||Delegate Carol Miller (R-District 16)
|Steven Canterbury, administrative director,
Administrative Office of the Courts
||Delegate Bill Hamilton (R-District 45)
|Stephanie Bond, director, Division of Juvenile Services
||Judge Gary Johnson, 28th Judicial Circuit
|Victoria Jones, commissioner, Bureau for Behavioral
Health and Health Facilities
||Judge Omar Aboulhosn, 9th Judicial Circuit
|Nancy Exline, commissioner, Bureau for Children and
||Judge Michael Lorensen, 23rd Judicial Circuit
|Chuck Heinlein, former deputy superintendent,
Department of Education (designee of Superintendent
||Cindy Largent-Hill, director, Juvenile Justice
|Dr. Carolyn Stuart, executive director, Herbert
Henderson Office of Minority Affairs
||Nikita Jackson, school-based juvenile probation officer,
|Former Senator Donald Cookman (D-District 15)
||John Bord, prosecuting attorney, Taylor County
|Former Senator Clark Barnes (R-District 11)
||Vanessa Welch, juvenile public defender,
|Senator William Laird (D-District 10)
||Brent Webster, chief, Charleston Police Department
|Senator Chris Walters (R-District 8)
||Elaine Harris, vice president, AFL-CIO, and
representative, Communications Workers of America
|Senator John Unger (D-District 16)
||The Rev. Matthew Watts, president and CEO, HOPE
Community Development Corp.
|Delegate Tim Manchin (D-District 50)
||Kathy Smith, parent advocate, Barbour County
|Delegate Stephen Skinner (D-District 67)
||Rick Jones, principal, John Marshall High School,
- For the decline in commitments, see Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement:
1997-2013,” last updated Oct. 1, 2015, http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp. For the decline in arrest rates, see Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Juvenile Arrests 2006,” Juvenile Justice Bulletin (November 2008), https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ ojjdp/221338.pdf; and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Juvenile Arrests 2011,” Juvenile Offenders and Victims
National Report Series Bulletin (December 2013), http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/244476.pdf. Commitment data from 2011 were the most
recent available during the formulation of West Virginia’s policy reforms.
- Ibid. West Virginia commitment figures include youth in the custody of the Division of Juvenile Services (DJS) and the Department of
Health and Human Resources (DHHR).
- The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Re-Examining Juvenile Incarceration” (April 2015), http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/assets/2015/04/ reexamining_juvenile_incarceration.pdf.
- Unless otherwise noted, analyses in this report were conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, based on data from West Virginia’s
Administrative Office of the Courts, DHHR, and DJS.
- Delinquent youth and status offenders in West Virginia can be placed out of home in the custody of DHHR or DJS. DHHR facilities
include emergency facilities, group home staff secure facilities, and psychiatric facilities, as well as in-state and out-of-state facilities. DJS
facilities are located only in West Virginia and include detention, diagnostic, and hardware secure facilities, as well as one staff secure
facility for status offenders (youth are in DHHR custody but placed in a facility operated by DJS).
- The estimate of prior history is based on the proportion of youth who score low or moderate on the Youth Level of Service prior history
- Cost estimates for DHHR facilities are based on average per diems for emergency shelters and all in-state and out-of-state group