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Governor Tomblin Announces Review of West Virginia's Juvenile Justice System

Location: Charleston, WV

Good morning.

Thank you for being here for this important announcement regarding the future of our state. I'd first like to recognize Chief Justice Robin Davis, Justice Brent Benjamin, Justice Margaret Workman and court administrator Steve Canterbury from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Thank you for your commitment to justice reform in West Virginia.

I'd also like to recognize Senate President Jeff Kessler, House Speaker Tim Miley as well as my friends from both the Republican and Democrat parties, especially House Republican leaders Delegate John Ellem and Delegate Patrick Lane who were instrumental in our justice reinvestment efforts. I'd also like to thank Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, who is out of town and regrets he can't be with us, for his commitment to our efforts.

I'd like to welcome our friends from Pew Charitable Trusts who are with us today, Jenna Moll and Jake Horowitz. Thank you for being here.

The communities we live in are more than just places where we put down roots, start a new business, or watch our children grow up. They are the places we call home and they should be places where we feel comfortable and safe.

West Virginia is blessed with great communities and it is up to us to make every effort to protect our hometowns, improve public safety and give those who break the law opportunities to eventually become contributing members of society.

Last May, with the assistance of the Council on State Governments Justice Center, we took bold steps to improve public safety. Through a collaborative effort of West Virginia's three branches of government and with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Legislature, we enacted the West Virginia Justice Reinvestment Act. With the help of CSG and the Pew Center on the States, we've developed a research-driven, financially sustainable plan to rehabilitate individuals released into the community - maximizing our correction dollars and lowering the financial burden of our overextended corrections system -- all while improving public safety.

For the first time in 16 years, our corrections system has reduced the overall number of inmates and the number of individuals in jails while awaiting transfer to prison has been cut in half. Today, we have more than 1,000 fewer people in our prisons than what was projected just a few years ago.

While much of our initial effort has focused on addressing our adult corrections system, we must also make every effort to better meet the needs of our youth and prevent them from ever entering our prison system. In 2013, we closed the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem and re-established the facility to be used for the purpose for which it was designed -- to house adult inmates.

The closure of the Industrial Home for the Youth triggered changes in facilities across the state. Young people once housed at Salem were transferred to our juvenile centers where they are receiving better educational opportunities in an environment that better promotes rehabilitation.

With this change we're joining a national movement toward a more effective approach for juveniles and one that embraces community-based treatment and tells our children -- we care about you and your future.
We can and we must do more to redirect our young people before they become part of our adult corrections system.

Between 1997 and 2011, West Virginia experienced the largest increase in youths confined to juvenile facilities of any state in the country and was one of only four states in the U.S. to increase commitment rates even as others were able to reduce both juvenile crime and commitments.

Over the past several years, we've taken a number of steps to improve our juvenile system including the closure of the Industrial Home in Salem and establishing juvenile drug courts, truancy courts and community-based programs, but we must do more to put our kids on the right track.

Through our landmark justice reinvestment efforts, we've learned data-driven and research-based programs and practices work. Today, we're announcing our partnership with Pew Charitable Trusts to help us engage in a comprehensive review of our state's juvenile justice system ultimately improving outcomes for our youth, their families and communities, increasing accountability for juveniles and the justice system and protecting public safety and our state's finances at the same time.

With Pew's support, we can take a comprehensive look at all aspects of our juvenile system including services provided through the Division of Juvenile Services, Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Education. We will encourage collaboration and cooperation and develop data and research-driven policies to better serve our kids and prepare them to become contributing members of society. We are committed to working with Pew to spearhead these efforts.

By bringing together the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government, teachers and school administrators, victims' advocates, parents of children in the juvenile system, prosecutors and public defenders, and law enforcement officers, we can develop consensus-based recommendations and identify best practices that have been proven effective in other states while reducing juvenile offenses and recidivism in West Virginia.

As Governor, I am committed to improving the opportunities for young people in West Virginia and making sure they are part of our state's bright future. That opportunity starts today.

In the near future, we will establish the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare -- a cooperation of bipartisan leaders from all branches of government -- to look at current data trends, evaluate the use of evidence-based programs and practices in West Virginia, develop specific, tailored policy recommendations and implement a common-sense approach to juvenile justice.

Thank you.

At this time, I'd like to welcome those with us this morning to join me in signing today's letter inviting Pew Charitable Trusts to partner with West Virginia as we give our kids every opportunity to succeed.

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