Public Safety in West Virginia

Public Safety in West Virginia

West Virginia enacted comprehensive juvenile justice reform legislation in 2015 that is expected to reduce the number of youth in residential placements by at least 16 percent and avoid at least $20 million in costs over five years. S.B. 393 passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously, and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed it into law April 2. The bill prioritizes expensive residential facilities for youth who pose a public safety risk and reinvests a portion of the savings into evidence-based community programming. The reforms were based on recommendations from the bipartisan Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, which received technical assistance from Pew.

"While much of our initial justice reinvestment efforts have focused on addressing our adult corrections system, we must also make every effort to better meet the needs of our youth and prevent them from ever entering our prison system."

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin

The juvenile justice reforms follow the passage in 2013 of adult sentencing and corrections legislation that included policies to keep communities safer, hold offenders accountable, and reduce recidivism while controlling costs. In 2012, facing high recidivism rates, an adult prison population that had increased by 50 percent over the past decade, and projections for 24 percent more growth by 2018, West Virginia formed a bipartisan, interbranch working group of policymakers and other criminal justice stakeholders to develop recommendations for adult corrections. The working group received technical assistance from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which is part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership between Pew and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The policies are expected to avoid up to $200 million in prison construction and $87 million in operating costs from 2014 to 2018. The reforms also will allow the state to reinvest $3 million of the projected savings in substance abuse treatment for adult offenders under community supervision in fiscal year 2014. In the first six months, the reforms helped reduce overcrowding in the regional jail population by 600 inmates and lowered the overall prison inmate population by 300.