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Multiple groups push for criminal justice changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Multiple advocacy groups have come together in asking West Virginia lawmakers to make changes with the state’s criminal justice system.

Representatives of the groups on Monday urged lawmakers to tackle multiple issues connected to a problem facing the state’s jails and prison: overcapacity.

“We’re talking about folks that have paid their debt. They’ve paid their debt to society,” said Jason Huffman, state director for Americans for Prosperity.

“The fact of the matter is the folks that end up incarcerated are going to be released one day. It’s in everyone’s best interest that these folks come out better than they went in.”

Americans for Prosperity and other organizations are asking state lawmakers to take steps to reduce the state’s prison population, including transitioning to a pretrial system not based on bail fees, utilizing sanctions already on the books and establishing forfeiture reporting procedures.

The coalition notes the state’s correction facilities are at more than 25% overcapacity, and the prison population has increased by 50% since 2000.

“We believe that West Virginia should meet its overcrowding crisis head-on with a comprehensive criminal justice package that protects due process, ensures proportionate punishment, and better supports successful reentry, to reduce the number of individuals who are unnecessarily trapped in the justice system.,” the groups stated in a Jan. 23 letter.

Huffman was joined by leaders of the ACLU of West Virginia, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, American Friends Service Commission, the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, the West Virginia Citizen Action Group. Mountain State Justice, the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, the Catholic Conference of West Virginia and the Office of the Kanawha County Public Defender.

The groups are also requesting to allow individuals to petition for their charges to be expunged as a result of a plea arrangement.

Huffman noted West Virginia already has expungement, but the policy should be broader.

“When people are re-entering society, they are seeking to become active and a contributing member to society,” he said. “We want to see that expungement expanded.”

The groups are also pushing for the expansion of the Fresh Start Act, a federal law allowing people to expunge certain nonviolent offenses from their records.

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