CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has tapped some of the state’s top leaders to form a task force focused on reviewing and making needed changes to the state’s juvenile justice system.
The West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice was formed through an executive order. The Pew Charitable Trusts has signed on to assist. It’s similar to the Justice Reinvestment Act that Tomblin launched in 2012 to find better ways to run the state’s entire justice system.
“Through our justice reinvestment efforts, we’ve learned data-driven and research-based programs can be successful. By bringing together those in the community and working with experts like Pew, we can work together to identify ways to best serve our young people and prepare them to become contributing members of our communities,” said Tomblin.
One of the members named to that juvenile task force Thursday was Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster. He said he’s honored the governor chose him to join the effort.
‘It’s a big issue to work on. It’s broad and it affects everybody,” Webster said.
The chief said he’ll be calling on his officers to help him. He’ll want to get their opinions and thoughts on what can be done to create a system where juveniles aren’t just locked up but are given the help they need.
“The key to juveniles is that we have to intervene very early,” explained Webster.
The chief recalled his time on the beat dealing with troubled youth. He said how children mature has a lot to do with their situation at home.
“If kids are subjected to violence or mistreatment or malnourishment, that affects everything else. They can’t be a good student in school. They can’t stay focused to learn. Then they end up becoming an adult with no skill set,” said Webster.
He stressed making sure children have positive adults in their lives is a must. However, that’s not where it stops.
“Everybody has an idea of what we have to do but it’s just not working. So we’ve got to keep thinking and trying something that does work,” according to the chief.
Also appointed to the task force are judges, prosecuting attorneys, community leaders and six members of the West Virginia Legislature.
Those appointed include:
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis,
• Steve Canterbury, administrator of the West Virginia Supreme Court,
• Stephanie Bond, director of the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services,
• Victoria Jones, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Behavior Health and Health Facilities,
• Nancy Exline, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Children and Families,
• Chuck Heinlein, superintendent of the West Virginia State Board of Education,
• Dr. Carolyn Stuart, executive director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs,
• John Bord, prosecuting attorney of Taylor County,
• Vanessa Welch, juvenile public defender of Harrison County,
• Chief Brent Webster of the Charleston Police Department,
• Elaine Harris, Communications Workers of America representative of Kanawha County,
• Rev. Matthew Watts, CEO of HOPE Community Development Corporation,
• Kathy Smith, parent advocate of Barbour County,
• Rick Jones, principal of John Marshall High School
• Judge Gary Johnson of Nicholas County,
• Judge Omar Aboulhosn of Mercer County,
• Judge Michael Lorensen of Berkeley County,
• Cindy Largent Hill, director of the West Virginia Juvenile Justice Commission of Morgan County
• Nikita Jackson, school-based juvenile probation officer of Cabell County.
Six members of the West Virginia Legislature also will serve on the taskforce.