West Virginia’s “Upfront Reinvestment” in Substance Use Treatment Services Aimed at Improving Supervision Outcomes

Sarina Rosenberg Asher, Policy Analyst

The number of people on supervision who were revoked to prison in West Virginia increased by 47 percent between 2005 and 2011, representing the single largest driver of the state’s then-rapidly growing prison population.

Gov. Tomblin

Gov. Tomblin (D-WV)

As part of West Virginia’s “justice reinvestment” approach to controlling prison growth, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced in May the award of $1.26 million in grants to expand substance use treatment and services for individuals at risk of failing on probation or parole. The state also expects to award additional grants later this year.

This funding is part of West Virginia’s Treatment Supervision Grant Program, one of several provisions of the state’s justice reinvestment legislation designed to reduce recidivism among individuals on probation and parole. Substance use issues are a leading factor for those failing to meet the conditions of supervision, and services provided through the grants are prioritized for people most likely to reoffend.

“We know treatment programs help reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood that people will overcome addiction and become productive members of society,” Gov. Tomblin, who is also president of the Council of State Governments, said in a statement in May. “This is an important step in our continuing efforts to stop drug use.”

The Treatment Supervision Grant Program is the result of a yearlong collaborative planning effort between the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources, the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, and the Supreme Court of Appeals. Organizations applying for funding were asked to demonstrate partnerships between local behavioral health care providers and criminal justice stakeholders. Partnerships varied by community, but included day report centers, drug courts, county commissioners, and community groups. Organizations awarded funding will also receive staff training in risk assessment, cognitive-behavioral interventions, motivational interviewing, and other core correctional practices.

The grants announced in May are slated to fund inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment programs and the hiring of counselors and recovery support specialists in seven counties around the state. These grants are the first in a multi-phase rollout of funding for treatment, and lessons learned from the pilot sites will inform implementation for additional sites across the state in the future.

“This funding is the first step in our plan to reinvest money to fight substance use in the Mountain State,” the governor said during a June Capitol Hill briefing in Washington, DC. “By identifying and putting common-sense solutions in place, we are protecting public safety and our state’s finances at the same time.”

Gov. Tomblin signed West Virginia’s justice reinvestment legislation—Senate Bill (SB) 371—into law in May 2013. The intent of SB 371 is to enable West Virginia to avert a projected $287 million in prison construction and operating costs by FY2018.

These projected savings positioned the state legislature to reinvest upfront in community-based substance use treatment services. The legislature dedicated $3 million to the Treatment Supervision Grant Program in FY2014, and an additional $3.22 million in FY2015. Future levels of reinvestment in this program are set at $5 million per year through FY2018.