Emily Allen Published

Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Kicks Off Session With Restorative Justice, Re-Entry Goals

Capitol, West Virginia State Capitol

On Monday, advocacy groups and lawmakers held a press conference pushing to decrease the state’s reliance on incarceration, and to keep people who have served their time from falling back into the system.

“There’s not enough programs within the correctional facilities to help deal with the issues that those who offend, and potentially can re-offend, come into,” said Kenny Matthews from the West Virginia Family of Convicted People.

Matthews is a formerly incarcerated person. He says before being paroled, he was able to make connections with people who helped him with transitional services.

He wants these programs to be introduced to others sooner.

“The reason why a lot of people reoffend is because they don’t feel like they have a place, have a sense of purpose, within the community, within the state society in general,” Matthews said.

In the last couple of years, lawmakers have recognized challenges that incarcerated people face when re-entering society, with an expungement act in 2019, and a bill last year to restore driver’s licenses.

This year, Del. Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, is reintroducing a bill for juvenile restorative justice programs.

In criminal justice circles, restorative justice seeks to rehabilitate the community by connecting people who have committed a crime to their victims. The program only works if victims participate voluntarily.

“We find that all humans are the same,” Graves said. “You know, we all have some kind of level of empathy, and when you face the victim of a crime, and you see their suffering, you don’t want to do it again.”

Last year, the House of Delegates voted to pass Graves’ first attempt at a restorative justice bill for juveniles. The bill died when it reached the Senate, where the Judiciary committee there didn’t schedule it on their agenda for consideration.

Graves said her messaging this year about a restorative justice program is the same.

“If you want to be tough on crime, the best way to do that is to prevent crime in the first place,” Graves said Monday. “And restorative justice programs have shown that that’s what happens.”

The Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform, which organized Monday’s press conference, said they are also working to advance legislation dealing with fairness in employment, voting rights for people on parole and sentencing reform.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.