Officials Discuss Juvenile Justice Reform

Jun 25, 2015

State officials joined with members of the juvenile justice community in Huntington Thursday to examine Senate Bill 393.

Credit Clark Davis / WVPublic

Senate Bill 393 which reforms the state’s Juvenile Justice system was signed into law on April 2nd. One of the many objectives is to reduce the number of status offenders, those who are charged with an offense that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. Much those offenses have to do with running away from home or what occurs often in West Virginia, being truant from school.

The reforms are expected to reduce the costs to the state that are incurred when kids are housed in residential homes or juvenile facilities – sometimes out of region, sometimes out of state.. The goal is to keep juveniles at home – and treated locally. It’s estimated this could save as much as $20 million that could be reinvested into community services. It’s those services, said Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and others, that can better help the kids.

“So basically we’ll have interveners in each of the counties now, because of the law passed that basically says when a student starts to be tardy or truant we can get to that child and work with them and their family and give them the kind of help they need in their communities and keep them out of the custody of the state,” Tomblin said.

Those interveners or counselors that Tomblin speaks of in each county will serve much in the same way as Cabell County School based probation officer Nikita Jackson. Jackson is a member of the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force that worked on Senate Bill 393. She’s there for students that need that extra guidance. When kids are repeatedly truant, Jackson gets involved with the entire family.  

“Our main concern is to get them through school and graduate and if you’re not in school and missing school then you're not going to get an education so that’s my job, to make sure they’re getting to school and getting the education they need to be able to advance in life,” Jackson said.

The state hopes to have the program up and running this fall.