April 22, 2016
Tim Ward

Nonprofits Partner to Fight Mental and Behavioral Health Issues in West Virginia Juvenile Justice System

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia along with Mental Health Matters West Virginia are partnering to bring attention to the need for community-based mental and behavioral health services as preventative care for West Virginia’s children and families. The campaign kicks off at the 2016 Our Children Our Future Policy Summit at Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont on April 22, 2016.

Both organizations have previously fought in the past to reform the juvenile justice system and promote funding for community-based programs as prevention as well as a cost-saving mechanism for the state’s juvenile incarceration rates. The campaign centers on educating both the public and legislators on the importance of funding community-based programs as well as disseminating a petition that will be submitted to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. The goal of the campaign is to create meaningful juvenile justice reform that creates sustainable programming where children and families can obtain the services they need prior to introduction to the court system.

The following statements can be attributed to members of both organizations:

Jennifer Meinig, Executive Director, ACLU of WV
"Many children sent to the criminal justice system suffer from undiagnosed mental health conditions. It is a tragic consequence of our current system that these children are only provided treatment once they are placed in court custody. Children and families should have access early on, before the criminal justice system is involved.”

"West Virginia is poised to take bold, cost-effective steps to expand and improve mental and behavioral health care and family services. Services should be available for families through schools, and as an alternative to out-of-home placement in the juvenile justice system."

“Improving access to mental healthcare as a preventative measure for children at risk of going into the juvenile justice system has been successfully implemented in other states. We are proud to partner with Mental Health Matters to form a coalition that focuses on the wellbeing of West Virginia’s children while at the same time finding cost-effective ways to reduce juvenile incarceration rates.”

Kelli Caseman, Co-Chair, Mental Health Matters West Virginia
“Mental Health Matters is a group of volunteers from diverse systems and sectors around the state who have witnessed how the lack of mental health services and the coordination between children's support systems have further traumatized vulnerable children. These systems are meant to help, not harm. The ACLU has been successful in advocating for meaningful reform in our juvenile justice system. We share a common belief that we shouldn't punish kids for being ill. MHM has grassroots support from experts in the mental health field from around the state, and the ACLU has the resources and an excellent track record. So it seems like a good idea to partner.”

Elizabeth Brunello, AFSC Appalachian Center for Equality, Tug Valley High School G.L.O.W. (Girls and Guys Leading Our World)
“Far too often, children grow up without the tools to identify or understand their own feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety.  Children without access to mental health care are more likely to act out and abuse drugs, which is a way that many youth enter the juvenile justice system.  We can choose to ignore these realities or face them head on.  Creating sustainable, community-based mental healthcare programs addresses these issues before they become bigger problems.”