CHARLESTON – House Speaker Tim Miley has appointed five delegates to serve on the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice.
“West Virginia has one of the lowest juvenile crime rates in the country, yet between 1997 and 2011, we experienced the largest increase in the juvenile commitment rate of any state,” Miley said in a press release. “This broad group representing all three branches of government is going to work with the experts at Pew Charitable Trusts to examine what can be changed within our juvenile justice system to reduce that incarceration rate.
“They will be looking at what the Legislature can do to improve outcomes and accountability while containing costs.”
Miley said House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, has agreed to represent the House of Delegates in this effort.
“Having served as a Chair and member of the House Judiciary Committee, I have overseen the examination of many laws related to juvenile justice and incarceration,” Manchin noted. “Our court system is struggling to provide juveniles with alternative dispositions and sentences that will result in rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, thereby lowering the cost to society and taxpayers. That’s going to be our focus. ”
Miley also appointed Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, and Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, to serve on the task force.
“Both Delegates Skinner and Sponaugle have brought their first-hand knowledge from working within West Virginia’s judiciary system to the House Judiciary Committee,” Miley said. “I believe they will bring some fresh ideas to this process.”
Skinner said his work with the West Virginia Our Children, Our Future coalition has been eye opening.
“West Virginia has the highest rate of 16-19 year-olds who are neither in school, nor in the labor force, while 30 percent of children under the age of six are living in poverty – the odds are stacked against them,” Skinner said. “We must provide effective case management, and expose at-risk youth to instruction and reinforcement for proactive, acceptable social behaviors.
“At the same time, we must look for reasonable, responsible steps to rehabilitate those children who end up in the court system, and give them every opportunity to become a productive member of society.”
Sponaugle serves on the Supreme Court of Appeals’ Community Supervision Committee, which is charged with facilitating the exchange of information among probation officers, parole officers, day report centers and others providing community supervision for adults.
“I am pleased that this task force will be taking a comprehensive, data-driven, and evidence-based review of the state's juvenile justice system,” Sponaugle said. “Juvenile crime factors have become more complex, but appropriate development of resources has not kept pace with need. That has to change.”
Noting that the task force is a bi-partisan effort, Miley has asked Delegate Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell to serve.
Hamilton is a respected, hard-working member who has consistently championed reform of the state’s drug laws, Miley said.
“I am deeply concerned about the scope of West Virginia’s drug abuse problem, particularly how it affects juveniles,” Hamilton said. “Rather than simply incarcerating kids who are addicted to drugs, we have to consider treatment options to help them stay away from such substances once they return to society.
“I am honored to have been chosen to work with this group on such an important project.”
Miley pointed to Miller’s experience as founding member of the House Select Committee on Crimes Against Children and as an advocate in the fight against substance abuse.
“Throughout the past two sessions, members of the House Women’s Caucus have met regularly and discussed issues related to children living in poverty and the plague of substance abuse, two major causes of juvenile crime and delinquency,” Miller noted. “These are issues I feel strongly about and I look forward to expanding on my work with this task force.”