The ACLU of West Virginia today released a report that outlines how West Virginia can cut incarceration in half by pursuing reforms to accessibility of mental health and substance abuse services, reducing and normalizing sentences, and eliminating cash bail.
The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half.
The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The West Virginia report can be found here: https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org/states/west-virginia/
The report highlights the explosion of the WV prison population, up 470 percent from 1980 to 2016. It explores how non-violent and drug offenders make up a significant portion of the West Virginia prison population. The report also highlights significant racial disparities and the growth of the female prison population. Finally the report makes policy proposals that, if implemented, could result in over 3,500 fewer people in prison, and $375 million dollars in savings by 2025.
The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints is the first-ever analysis of its kind and will serve as a tool for activists, advocates and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices.
The 51 reports (covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia) will be released in multiple phases, beginning with an initial rollout of 24 state reports, including West Virginia. The state reports provide a snapshot of how reformers cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to ending mass incarceration.
The blueprint includes an overview of West Virginia’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long.
The Blueprints offer a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and overall prison population and progress towards a 50% decarceration goal.
Eli Baumwell, policy director for the ACLU of West Virginia explains, “Our criminal system is broken. We’re incarcerating far too many people, and it’s only exacerbating our state’s problems. West Virginia is struggling in the midst of an addiction epidemic, an economy in transition, and chronic budget shortfalls. We need a justice system that focuses on recovery and rehabilitation, not expensive, long-term incarceration.”
“Mass incarceration is a nationwide problem, but one that is rooted in the states and must be fixed by the states,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “We hope that the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints provide necessary guideposts for activists and policymakers as they pursue local solutions that will address the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system and dramatically reduce their jail and prison populations. Some of the reforms contained in the blueprints are readily achievable, while others are going to require audacious change. But all are needed to prioritize people over prisons.”
The website and the reports were created by utilizing a forecasting tool developed by the Urban Institute, which can be viewed here: https://apps.urban.org/features/prison-population-forecaster/
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We are working in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is fighting in the legislatures, the courts, and in the streets to end mass incarceration.
For more information about the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice: https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice