CHARLESTON, W.Va. -Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin today announced a data-driven policy framework was presented to a bipartisan panel of state cabinet members, lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, and other state and local leaders, along with results of a comprehensive analysis of West Virginia's criminal justice system. The plan was created to make West Virginia's communities safer and its criminal justice system run more effectively. This proposed policy framework is estimated to save taxpayers more than $140 million and reinvest $25.5 million in substance use and addiction treatment for people on community supervision.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin applauded the 22-member panel's efforts: "When I asked the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to come together to tackle the issue of prison overcrowding, I made it clear that any policies developed must directly address the criminal behavior that ends up putting more and more people behind bars. They took this request to heart and developed a public safety package that provides a set of solutions designed to change offender behavior and reduce recidivism. Equipped with a framework that maximizes correction dollars and improves public safety, I am going to work closely with the legislature to act on these recommendations so that our state can share in the success experienced in states across the country that have implemented similar policies to cut crime and reduce spending."
In June 2012 state leaders from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches established the panel to review a comprehensive analysis conducted by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center staff, in partnership with the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance. The comprehensive approach, called "justice reinvestment," has been applied in states across the country, including Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina.
Analysis found that, over the past ten years, the number of people in West Virginia's prisons rose three times faster than the national average. The growth has been a significant factor in forcing approximately one-quarter of people sentenced to state prison to spend those terms in regional jails, which are now operating above capacity. If the state does not take action, in the next five years the prison population is expected to increase 24 percent, costing taxpayers at least $200 million in construction costs and $150 million in projected operating costs.
"These policies are the product of a major bipartisan undertaking to analyze our system and provide the legislature with a set of policies that tackles issues that our state has grappled with for years," Senator William Laird (D-Fayette County) said. "What's different now is we have the data analysis and a consensus-based process, inclusive of system stakeholders, making it possible for these system improvements to be fully realized."
The policy framework: (1) adopts risk assessment to identify a person's likelihood of re-committing crime, (2) provides community supervision agencies with tools and resources to hold offenders accountable in meaningful ways through using swift and certain responses to violations, and (3) ensures that no one will be released from prison to the community unsupervised.
Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the Supreme Court of Appeals commended the use of risk assessment by decision-makers at key points in the criminal justice system: "At its January Administrative Conference, the Supreme Court determined that each and every person found guilty of a felony will receive a risk assessment test -- the LS/CMI -- before sentencing. The Court's decision is a direct result of the information the Justices received from the justice reinvestment process. Judges now will have objective, invaluable information to help inform their decisions."
Over the last six years, the number of people on community supervision who were revoked to prison increased 47 percent. These policies allow for a swift response to minor violations, ensuring that misbehavior is addressed before it moves on to more serious crime. This more rigorous approach to supervision has has helped jurisdictions across the country to lower recidivism and the costs associated with it.
Of the revocations from community supervision to prison for "technical violations," drug or alcohol use was involved in nearly 80 percent of cases, yet there is no state funding to treat people on community supervision for addiction. The policy framework calls for a significant reinvestment from the savings produced by other policies to provide addiction treatment focused on people under supervision with high needs.
"The combination of policies rooted in what works to lower recidivism and reinvestment in treatment will ensure our supervision agencies have the right tools to hold offenders accountable in meaningful ways when they return to the community," State Senator Mike Hall (R-Putnam County) said. "We need to align our policies and investments in order for the criminal justice system to produce the public safety outcomes our constituents expect. This framework gets us where we need to be."
In 2011, 28 percent of people released from prison returned to the community with no one watching them. In an effort to ensure more effective transition to the community, the policy framework requires that every person released from prison go directly onto a period of community supervision.
"The success of this effort relies in equal parts on increasing public safety and being smarter with how recidivism-reduction strategies are carried out," West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) Secretary Joe Thornton said. "The justice reinvestment process used data analysis and stakeholder input in order to identify both the drivers of prison growth as well as opportunities to maintain or increase public safety."
"State leaders across the country are finding bipartisan consensus on a new set of policies aimed at nonviolent offenders that can reduce recidivism and cut costs to taxpayers," said Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project. "West Virginia leaders have shown through their commitment to the justice reinvestment process that they are serious about protecting public safety while keeping corrections costs in check."
"The data-driven justice reinvestment approach works to achieve cost savings and public safety improvements at the same time," said Denise O'Donnell, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the U.S. Department of Justice. "With this public safety framework, West Virginia has set out to utilize the most current strategies in criminal justice that are tailored to the unique issues facing the state."
The full report can be accessed by visiting the CSG Justice Center webpage at www.justicereinvestment.org
The CSG Justice Center's Justice Reinvestment Initiative to address corrections spending and public safety is a partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Center on the States, with additional support to CSG from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. These efforts have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 16 other states.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies-informed by available evidence-to increase public safety and strengthen communities.
Amy Shuler Goodwin