State’s Juvenile Justice System Under Landmark Review


By Jennifer Smith

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Wednesday what he calls landmark action into solving the problems within the state’s juvenile justice system.

State government is teaming up with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew researches will review what the state is doing right and what needs to be changed when it comes to rehabilitating juvenile offenders.

Members of the West Virginia Supreme Court and state legislature were on hand for the announcement at the state capitol.

“By looking at this in a realistic manner, we’ll be better able to better serve our juveniles, the kids of our state, to be able to turn them into productive citizens and hopefully keep them from ever going into our penal system,” said Tomblin.

West Virginia has one of the highest rates of juvenile offenders per capita. While surrounding states like Ohio are seeing juvenile crimes drop, it continues to increase here at home.

Tomblin said the juvenile review will be similar to the Justice Reinvestment Act of the adult prison system. That review was conducted two years ago. The results from that research and programs put into place have decreased the adult prison population by 1,000 in the past year.

Jake Horowitz, with Pew, said they’ll be looking at ways to overcome problems currently plaguing the juvenile system.

“This is about achieving more public safety. It’s about improving outcomes for kids. It’s about enhancing accountability and doing all those things while curtailing the taxpayer burdens of the correction’s system,” Horowitz explained.

The cost to the state is zero. Not one taxpayer dollar will go toward the research. All of the cost is picked up by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman, who lead the state’s first Juvenile Justice Commission, said it’s going to take a team effort to solve the problem.

“I am so thrilled that all three branches of the government have come together because juvenile justice is just too important not to.”

Gov. Tomblin said the research will take less than six months.

“We should have our final report back by the first of December of this year. If we need to make any statutory changes, that will give us time to get that legislation ready before the legislative session starts in 2015,” stressed Tomblin.

The governor said he’s not sure what sort of issues and problems Pew will find but that the state is ready to tackle them head-on.