Criminal justice reform is one of the few issues that enjoys bipartisan support among legislators. As the 2020 session got underway, key legislative leaders indicated parole and other reforms would be a priority as a way to reduce prison overcrowding, save the state money, and help with the state’s workforce participation rate, in addition to giving those who have been incarcerated a second chance.
The House of Delegates has already passed a bill to establish a state Sentencing Commission to jumpstart criminal justice reforms, and is poised to pass bail reform legislation this week. On Monday, a broad coalition of organizations held a policy briefing and press conference to help ensure that the positive momentum continues.
The coalition members include Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the American Friends Service Committee, the Catholic Conference of West Virginia, The West Virginia Citizen Action Group, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, and the West Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, among others.
The coalition members all signed onto a letter urging lawmakers to support a comprehensive criminal reform package that includes the following:
- Mandatory reporting of all civil asset forfeitures conducted in West Virginia
- Allowing presumptive parole for individuals convicted of non-violent offenses once they reach their parole eligibility debate
- Probation reforms that encourage the use of graduated sanctions for technical violations of probation
- Ending the suspension of driver’s license for overdue fines and fees and restoring those licenses.
- Bail reform that transitions West Virginia to a pretrial system based on a defendant’s risk, not his or her financial resources
- Raising West Virginia’s felony theft threshold, joining the more than 40 states that have done so since 2000
- Allowing individuals to petition for expungement of charges dropped as the result of a plea agreement
- Expanding the Fresh Start Act of 2019 so that more licensed professions will no longer exclude people from licensure simply for having a criminal record—unless it relates to the occupation at hand
You can read the coalition letter here.