Please provide some basic information about yourself.
Name Kathy Ferguson
Office Sought Delegate in the 35th District -WV
Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org
From 1980 to 2016 the West Virginia state prison population has increased by 470%. What, if anything, would you change to reverse this trend?
In my opinion, this increase is overwhelmingly due to the 'war on drugs' and the criminalization of not just drug dealers, but unfortunately drug users. The crack/crank epidemic swept through WV communities in the late to mid 80's followed by Meth use in the late 90's to 2000's, and of course most recently communities have been plagued with opioid abuse. The Reagans edict was to 'just say no' to the use of drugs without anything like jobs, education and access to other positive opportunities to say yes to. So meaningful economic engagement is important...we need to create jobs and diversify the economy for better opportunities. Part II would be to build healthier citizens. Many people often turn to drug use because of adverse childhood experiences and they commit crimes to maintain habits that allow them to cope. Appropriate screening throughout school and referrals for therapy would help prevent possible future drug use and therefore the risk of criminal behavior. The school to prison pipeline is another contributor to the increased prison population and one that disproportionately affects African-Americans. Kids erroneously ID'd and labeled 'problematic', 'difficult', 'threatening', 'defiant', 'disrespectful' or are simply seen as 'disposable' suffer suspensions and expulsions without due process, exposing them to idle time and lack of necessary supervision which in turn lends itself to deviant behavior/petty offenses and perhaps later significant crimes. I believe teachers and school administrators should be trained in implicit bias first off. Secondly, I believe that task forces/review boards should be implemented to help stop help the trend of student expulsion, as would making commitments to connect correctly identified youth with wrap around services and adopting Restorative justice programs to assist in the re-direction of behavior. Generally, I advocate for Restorative Justice programs across the board for misdemeanor offenses and low level felonies as a way to reverse the high prison rates. Additionally, I believe that the privatization of jails/prisons is something that should be thoroughly examined and in fact discouraged as they make money from bodies in their facilities and often individuals are sentenced to disproportionately longer sentences to meet overhead and of course make profit. As part of criminal justice reform, I further believe that there should be review and commutation of lengthy sentences of individuals that were incarcerated for low level drug offenses and those who received more time for crack vs. cocaine. That marijuana use be decriminalized and that individuals who exit prison participate in reoffender entry programs. These are the primary things that come to mind.
Civil asset forfeiture is a process where police can seize any property "related" to criminal activity and later can file a civil case to forfeit the property to either be used or auctioned for money which is shared between the police department and local prosecutor. This can happen regardless of whether there is a criminal conviction or even criminal charges brought against a person.Proponents say this is a useful tool for taking ill-gotten gains from criminals and funding police work, and that legal protections adequately prevent abuse of the system.Critics say the system amounts to theft, that many people cannot afford the legal costs to challenge a forfeiture action, and that it creates a perverse incentive for police.Do you support or oppose the practice of civil asset forfeiture? What, if any, reforms would you make to the practice?
I absolutely oppose the practice of civil asset forfeiture. I would support legislation and work with community advocates and others to end these unfair practices.
More than half the population of West Virginia's regional jails are pre-trial. That means they haven't been found guilty of any crime yet. Most are there because they could not afford bail, though some are there because they were denied a chance to post bail. What changes, if any would you make to our pretrial and/or bail system to balance concerns about safety and court efficiency with ensuring we are not incarcerating people without due process?
This is tricky in that as stated in the question there can be concerns of safety especially where issues of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse is involved. There could easily be a re-evaluation of detention guidelines, a formula if you will similar to federal guidelines in sentencing that would ensure that those at most risk of flight or harming someone continue to be remanded. Others may be required to wear electronic monitoring, or go to treatment centers, weekend jail or some type of mid-level supervision while others may be able to pay bail as you go, a payment plan of sorts while out. I think for low level non-violent offenses in particular, we must take into consideration the fact that the wages in this state are low and so, our bail amounts should be in a sense comparable to the type of revenue that one can reliably amass. I have worked in collaboration with pre-trial services in other states and no it can work well.
In 2015 West Virginia passed significant reforms to the juvenile justice system. Despite these reforms, the State still utilizes out of home placement at a high rate for system-involved youth. What, if anything, should West Virginia do to reduce out-of-home placements for system-involved juveniles?
Again, I believe that Restorative Justice programs can help reduce out of home placements. I believe these youth should receive wrap around services and that we should help equip parents with tools and training to help children modify their behavior and of course screen for ACE. Advocating appropriate therapy's for all in those homes.
West Virginia has a very low voter participation rate. What changes, if any, would you make to increase voter participation?
Make sure educators accurately impart info on how individual voting and the electoral college works. Too many high school students feel like their votes don't count...which is wrong, and subsequently feel disenfranchised before they can even vote....or just offer a voters education seminar for HS juniors and seniors for which they can get a credit or certificate. Make it easier to register online; Increase early voting polling sites; Allow people to register the same day as the voting day; Allow seniors to become permanently registered as absentee; Allow any formerly incarcerated individuals to vote (regardless of probation status); Stop the purging of living voters from the rolls (lifetime registration); Allow registered voters to vote at any precinct. Mandate everyone in Pre-trial detention be given access to register and/or vote should they be detained during the election time period. Just some ideas...any would help.
Over the past few years, there has been legislation aimed at requiring the Bible to be taught in public schools, allowing a Bible-based elective, or faith-based drug prevention electives. What is your stance on incorporating religion into the public schools?
That would be a no from me. So, theology 'could' be considered as an elective, in that it would include the study of the nature of God and religious belief but that would then have to include all forms of religion, both predominate and lesser known religions as well as allow for the examination of non-belief or disbelief. Electives that allow for only a Christian or Biblical perspective in these two cases lends itself to being discriminatory if others aren't afforded similar elective options based on their belief or lack thereof.
At least 20 states have passed laws prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 13 West Virginia municipalities have similar protections. Do you support or oppose a statewide law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in West Virginia? Why?
Yes, I support a statewide law prohibiting such discrimination. Personally, I believe these groups should be considered protected classes of people and as such they should be allowed fair, affordable and equal housing. It is absurd to think that ones own gender identification or who they choose or don't choose to have a relationship with would preclude them of the rights and privileges that any persons are entitled to under the law in the United States of America.
In December 2019, Governor Justice announced that West Virginia would continue accepting refugees. Do you support or oppose accepting refugees in West Virginia? Under what conditions? Why?
Yes, I support this. People are fleeing from dire circumstances in their home country's and are seeking refuge and relief here. Immigration has made the U.S. what it is and we have always (eventually) demonstrated a spirit of good will in helping those who come in need. Further I would argue that foreign born immigrants add to the fabric of our WV collective. Their presence helps diversify our demographics and lends itself to increased economic diversity, both of which I am a huge advocate of. Considering that people are leaving the state in droves, I don't think any conditions should be set to bar entry here.
Over the past few years, some states have continued to erode protections and access to abortion care. Other states have done the opposite and codified abortion rights that had previously been defined by courts. Do you favor further restrictions to abortion, expanding or codifying abortion rights, or taking no action on abortion?
I am not in favor of further restrictions. I also do not believe there needs to be an expansion, but codifying this now constitutional right may be the best protection of a woman's individual and perhaps most difficult choice, should for some inexplicable reason Roe no longer be the law of the land. I offer no action on this at present other than to be an ally and supporter of a woman's right to choose.