WELLSBURG, W.Va. -On a visit to recognize the first adult drug court in West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ceremonially signed Senate Bill 371, the Justice Reinvestment legislation, which is designed to increase public safety and improve the effectiveness of West Virginia's criminal justice system by expanding the use of these types of drug courts throughout the state, among other changes. Joined by West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Justice Brent Benjamin, legislators, community leaders and representatives from the Council of State Governments, Governor Tomblin praised the achievements of the First Judicial Circuit Northern Panhandle Adult Drug Court, which serves Hancock, Brooke and Ohio counties, for its efforts to divert non-violent offenders facing drug-related charges from the criminal justice system to treatment.
"This court has helped our people and communities thrive by addressing the root cause of many crimes-substance abuse. West Virginia's first adult drug court can serve as a model as we expand our Justice Reinvestment effort, establishing new drug courts across the state," Gov. Tomblin said. "This past year I've worked with national experts, state law enforcement, and legislators in a bi-partisan effort, across the three branches of state government, to study the causes of our prison overcrowding problem and I'm proud to say we've developed a plan of action. This research-driven plan, known as Senate Bill 371 or 'Justice Reinvestment,' will increase public safety by strengthening supervision of offenders on probation and parole, and expanding access to evidence-based substance abuse treatment. Through this legislation, we will reduce recidivism, decrease corrections costs and, most importantly, increase the safety of our hometowns for our families."
Policies implemented as a result of Senate Bill 371 are projected to generate savings of over $100 million during the course of the next five years while preventing released inmates from committing new crimes. Highlights of Senate Bill 371 include the following:
- The bill creates a new sentencing option that pairs intensive supervision with effective community-based drug rehabilitation treatment.
- The bill requires all judicial circuits to participate in a drug court or regional drug court by July 1, 2016.
- The bill holds individuals released on probation and parole accountable by responding to violations of probation or parole with graduated sanctions, otherwise known as "shock incarceration, instead of automatic revocation"
- The bill mandates that all people convicted of violent crimes receive intensive supervision in the community after serving time in prison.
"Public safety is at the heart of this legislation. We are showing that we can be tough on crime, but also be smart about how we go about doing that," said West Virginia Senate President Jeffrey Kessler. "This legislation will usher in a new era of how we handle substance abuse in our state. No longer will we simply lock people up and pretend the problem will go away. We will combine treatment with effective supervision to hold offenders accountable and break the cycle of crime and addiction."
"There are two important things about Justice Reinvestment. First, Justice Reinvestment is about safety, accountability, economy, and humanity," said West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Justice Brent Benjamin. "It is a smarter way of approaching the punishment of crime and has proven itself in states like Texas where recidivism is down and millions of dollars of the public's money has been saved. We have seen this type of success already in West Virginia's court system with our Drug Court program and our Community Corrections program where recidivism for adults is less than 10 percent and millions have already been saved. Second, this year West Virginia saw in Justice Reinvestment what all three branches of government can do when they work in a bi-partisan manner for West Virginia."
In June 2012, Gov. Tomblin, former Chief Justice Menis Ketchum, and senior legislative leaders solicited help from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, to participate in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and reinvest savings in strategies that increase public safety.
"West Virginia leaders were able to break through paralyzing partisan rhetoric on crime and punishment and find solutions through a data-driven process that brought key stakeholders to the table," said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew's Public Safety Performance Project. "This legislation demonstrates that West Virginia's policymakers 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 approval of this legislation, 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 Northern Panhandle Adult Drug Court and DUI Court were implemented on August 1, 2005, and was the first adult drug court in West Virginia.
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.
The CSG Justice Center's work in justice reinvestment is done in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance. These efforts have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 16 other states.
Amy Shuler Goodwin