CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Earlier interventions and more community-based programming are key parts of the legislative package for juvenile justice reforms in West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is proposing at the State House.
“The idea is – how do we get involved early enough where we can stop kids from actually entering the courtroom and fix these small problems, sometimes, that cause a kid to miss school,” said Joey Garcia, legislative liaison for the Tomblin Administration.
West Virginia saw the largest percentage increase in youth confinements of any state in the U.S. between 1997 and 2011, according to previous information from Tomblin.
A December report from the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice showed 40 percent of all juveniles in court in 2012 were there because of truancy and many ended up being housed in juvenile facilities.
Garcia, who served as Tomblin’s representative on that Intergovernmental Task Force, said that’s why Tomblin’s proposals are focused on keeping kids in school. “Truancy, a lot of times, is just a symptom when what’s really happening is trying to figure out what’s that trigger point for that child,” he said.
“The truancy can be for many reasons,” said Del. Carol Miller (R-Cabell, 16). “A lot of it depends upon the age of the child that is being truant.” She said the first step is identifying students who are missing school early. “Then you start to work with them in the school and it can grow from there,” she said.
Tomblin is proposing a $4.5 million legislative package that includes a list of initiatives aimed at improving the juvenile justice system to keep the state’s children out of the courtroom and in the classroom.
Those provisions include placing truancy diversion specialists in all 55 counties to provide early intervention services to children who need them most; introducing a two-step diversion process that expands community-based alternatives prior to the filing of a juvenile petition for a status offense or misdemeanor and adding to youth reporting centers across the state to integrate services and education to provide in-home programs instead of out-of-home placements.
Also, new investments are proposed for substance abuse recovery services, mental health programs and family therapies.
Both Garcia and Miller were guests on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The 2015 Regular Legislative Session continues through March 14.