A coalition of organizations working to reform West Virginia’s outdated, costly, and ineffective system of criminal laws is optimistic for the possibility of continued bipartisan cooperation ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session.
The West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Coalition has also launched a new website that will serve as a hub for the many ongoing reform efforts. The website will provide in-depth information on key policy proposals in addition to other tools like a blog section, volunteer sign-up and a policy simulator that will help visitors see just how much money could be saved by reducing incarceration.
“During what is a deeply divisive time in our country, criminal law reform is one issue that both sides of the political spectrum agree can have a positive impact,” said Lida Shepherd, co-director American Friends Service Committee, WV Economic Justice Project (AFSC). “We hope this new website will be a useful resource for people, including lawmakers and the public, to get informed and especially get involved in the movement for criminal law reform.”
Lawmakers enacted an historic number of reform bills in 2020. The ten bills passed in this year’s legislative session will help make West Virginia’s criminal laws more humane and less burdensome to taxpayers, said Eli Baumwell, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV)
"West Virginia is finally waking up to the reality of our criminal system,” Baumwell said. “With bipartisan support in the Legislature and a growing coalition of activists and organizations, this platform will serve as the hub for much-needed reform efforts.”
Now more than ever, policymakers must focus on decreasing the number of people in West Virginia’s crowded incarceration facilities, said Greg Whittington, president of the WV Family of Convicted People (WVFCP).
“Most of the people sitting in our jails have not been found guilty of any crime,” Whittington said. “They are in jail because they are too poor to purchase their freedom as they await trial. Because it is impossible to adhere to social distancing guidelines in these facilities, we have seen simple misdemeanor charges become death sentences.”
The Rev. Jeff Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches (WVCC), said: "We are excited about this initiative that will look for ways to help make the criminal justice system in West Virginia fairer, more just, and redemptive."
Quenton King, criminal justice policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (WVCBP), said: “The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy is proud to be a founding partner of the West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Coalition. The advocacy and research of the coalition is a long-overdue step toward shining light on the disparities and injustices that occur at all levels of our legal system.”
The website address is www.freedomwv.org.