West Virginia criminal justice reform gaining support from both sides of the aisle

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – Over the last 30-years, the number of West Virginians put in jail or prison has grown substantially. Ironically the rate of incarceration is growing at the same time the state’s overall population is declining. Now a move is underway to reform the state’s criminal justice system.

The coalition looks at both the human and economic sides of justice reform, taking down barriers for people who are working for a second chance at life so they can rejoin and be productive members of the community.

“I want to be a recovery coach in Jackson county for Drug Court,” Brittany Myers, who is currently at Recovery Point after being incarcerated on drug charges.

She tells 13 News that her goal seems distant because she is unable to pay fines to get her driver’s license back, which is stopping her from reentering the workforce.

” I couldn’t get a job so I resorted to selling drugs and that’s my old behaviors,” Myers adds.

That is one of the cycles state leaders talked about breaking on Monday, to stop overcrowding in jails and allow for easier re-entry into the world.

Jason Huffman, the State Director of Americans for Prosperity tells 13 News, “We are holding people back from reaching their full potential and lawmakers have … responsibility to the taxpayer that we are not having undue burden from our jail bill.”

With the state’s current incarceration rate, the coalition for justice reform says reform now – or build more jails and prisons in the future.

“Point being that we want to make sure people who are nonviolent offenders get back on their feet, we are taking the barriers out of the way,” adds Huffman.

The criminal justice reform package would ideally include:

  • Mandatory reporting of all civil asset forfeitures conducted in West Virginia
  • Allow for presumptive parole for individuals convicted of non-violent offenses once they reach their parole eligibility debate
  • Probation reforms that encourage the use of graduated sanctions for technical violations of probation
  • End the suspension of driver’s license for overdue fines and fees and restoring those licenses.
  • Bail reform that transitions West Virginia to a pretrial system based on a defendant’s risk, not his or her financial resources
  • Raise West Virginia’s felony theft threshold, joining the more than 40 states that have done so since 2000
  • Allow for individuals to petition for expungement of charges dropped as the result of a plea agreement  
  • Expand the Fresh Start Act of 2019 so that more licensed professions will no longer exclude people from licensure simply for having a criminal record—unless it relates to the occupation at hand

“Having my license will give me the ability to work my program of recovery which is first and foremost in my life and it’s important that I be able to get to meeting and do service work secondly I need to get a job and have employment so I can support myself,” says Danni Dineen, who is currently in treatment at Recovery Point.

Currently, two bills have been introduced in both the house and senate to eliminate the ability of a person’s driver’s license to be suspended for the failure to pay court fines and costs.

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