Background of Senate Bill 393
(Per the Pew Charitable Trust)
On April 2, 2015, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a set of policies designed to protect public safety; improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities; enhance accountability for juvenile offenders and state agencies; and contain taxpayer costs by prioritizing resources for the most serious offenders. The reforms were expected to reduce the number of youth in residential placements.
The law was based on policy recommendations from the bipartisan Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, which was established in June 2014 after passage of criminal justice reinvestment legislation the previous year. The 30-member task force conducted a comprehensive analysis of West Virginia’s juvenile court and correctional systems to determine how state resources were being used and whether taxpayers were getting a sufficient public safety return on their investments.
The task force, which received intensive technical assistance from Pew, found that West Virginia was sending many lower-level juvenile offenders to residential placements at a cost of up to $100,000 per person per year. Youth sent to state-funded facilities in 2012 for status offenses—infractions such as skipping school or violating curfew— increased by 255 percent since 2002. The task force also discovered that juveniles were staying longer in residential facilities than in the past.
Based on its analysis, the task force reached unanimous agreement on fiscally sound, data-driven policy recommendations for improving West Virginia’s juvenile justice system. The recommendations served as the basis for S.B. 393, which passed with unanimous bipartisan support in both legislative chambers. The law stipulates that a portion of savings be reinvested in evidence-based community programs that reduce recidivism and improve other outcomes for youth and their families.
Truancy Diversion Grants
As part of Senate Bill 393, the West Virginia Legislature appropriated funds to the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) to distribute to Local Education Authorities (LEAs). Counties used the grant funds to hire a Truancy Diversion Specialist (i.e., School Based Probation Officer with the Supreme Court of Appeals or a Truancy Social Worker through the LEA). To date, twenty-seven LEAs have received funding from this initiative.
In year two and three of the initiative, the WVDE added several innovative pilot projects to address the issue of truancy through student engagement. Additionally, they implemented collaborative Option Pathway classrooms in five counties to provide judges with educational options without placing the student outside their home when addressing low level offenses like truancy.