The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 19, 2014

Juvenile justice system being revamped

By Pamela Pritt
Register-Herald Reporter

— On the heels of reporting that the state’s adult prison population has been reduced by 5 percent, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin stood with other state leaders Wednesday to announce the juvenile justice system is going to be reviewed.

“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,” Tomblin said.

The governor said the juvenile system must also embrace community-based treatment.

Pew Charitabl e Trusts will do the review of the system including services provided through the Division of Juvenile Services, Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Education.

All three branches of government were represented at the press conference.

Chief Justice Robin Davis said she is happy for the higher court to participate in the effort to improve the juvenile justice system.

“We mean business,” she said.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the juvenile justice system is an important issue.

Kessler said West Virginia leads the country in low workforce participation among 16-to-26 year olds, and drew some correlation between that and the number of juveniles in the corrections system.

House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said it is time the Legislature focus on something besides penalties for crimes.

“We lose sight of the fact there is life after punishment,” Miley said.

Jake Horowitz from Pew Charitable Trusts said other states have taken this direction, which focuses on public safety and improving outcomes for youth which would turn tax burdens into taxpayers.  

The state’s juvenile systems costs more than $33.5 million annually.

— Email: ppritt@register-herald.com