Currently 75 percent of West Virginia’s juvenile incarcerated population is housed by the state because of misdemeanor or status offenses. Status offenses are crimes that are only crimes because of the age of the offender, such as truancy or drinking. This means that the state is responding to many minor offenses with harsh and expensive retribution that frequently perpetuates the problem.
Thankfully, the state is soon going to be responding differently. SB393 has passed both houses and is being signed into law today by Governor Earl Tomblin. The bill was designed after a study group was created by the Governor to examine the issue.
The bill uses policies that are designed to keep juveniles closer to their communities and families and place a greater focus on lowering recidivism among youth. It was found in a recent poll that 91 percent of West Virginians support decreasing the use of incarceration among juveniles except for the more serious offenses.
The bill also attempts to streamline the court process, which has slowed after being flooded with the many cases involving juveniles, particularly the high number of truancy cases.
Analysis predicts that the reforms will result in 16 percent fewer youths being committed and savings to taxpayers of 20 million dollars.