October 21, 2017

The two step budget shuffle

Congress just voted to engage in a grossly irresponsible two step maneuver which will cut taxes mostly for the rich in the short term and make everyone else pay for it long term. For a quick look at just how the tax cuts will hurt people who need housing, health care, food, and education, check out these posts by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For a look at what the two step will do to people in West Virginia--and what would make much more sense--check out this report from the Coalition on Human Needs and the WV Center on Budget and Policy.

October 18, 2017

More work to do

In recent years, WV has made progress in juvenile justice reform. We've take a few steps away from locking up kids at $100,000 or more per year for truancy...but there's still more to go. The missing piece is the mental health angle.

We as in AFSC  and the WV Center on Budget and Policy recently released a report on where things are and where we need to go. Here's a link to the full report.

And here's a summary of the key findings. We hope to work with folks in the coming year to move things along:

Every year in West Virginia, around 4,000 juveniles will appear before a judge. Pending the judge’s decision, a juvenile may be given an improvement period to address the behavior, put on probation, referred to a special court, or committed to some form of out-of-home placement. However, the state’s juvenile justice system can be confusing and data is often difficult or impossible to obtain.

This report provides an overview of West Virginia’s juvenile justice system, including historical background, recent reforms, and recommendations for improvements. It also suggests looking at the system through a mental health lens could lead to more constructive solutions and positive outcomes for the state’s youth offenders.

“When West Virginia confines a young person for a minor, non-violent offense, too often it puts him or her at risk of being drawn more deeply into the criminal justice system,” said Sean O’Leary, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Interim Executive Director. “While the state has recently embarked on the path of juvenile justice reform, there is still more work to be done. A greater focus on juvenile mental health would help West Virginia build on its recent progress.”

Key Findings

*West Virginia bucks the national trend with its high confinement rates. It was one of only five states where the rate of detention increased, despite a drop in both crime and population.

*In 2013, West Virginia confined juveniles at a rate of 510 per 10,000. By contrast, Massachusetts, with nearly four times the population of West Virginia, had just 393 youth in confinement.

*African American youth were nearly three times as likely to be confined as their white counterparts. West Virginia’s youth confinement rate for African Americans was 1.5 times higher than the national average.

*West Virginia was second only to Wyoming to confining young females. With a rate of 175 per 100,000, the Mountain State far exceeded the national rate of 47.

*Incarceration or other forms of detainment early in life are a major life disruption in the ordinary life course, which can have ripple effects into the future. Prior incarceration was a greater predictor of recidivism than carrying a weapon, gang membership, or poor parental relationships.

*In 2013, only one out of every eight committed youth in West Virginia was locked up based on a violent crime, such as homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, or sexual assault.

*Community-based programs were more cost-efficient and effective with recidivism rates than DJS facilities.

*In 2014, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin convened the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, which brought together legislative and judicial leaders as well as system experts to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the state’s system and to produce policy recommendations.
West Virginia’s juvenile justice system has made real progress, however, it continues to face significant problems, particularly in the area of juvenile mental health.

*Looking at the system through a mental health lens could lead to more constructive solutions and positive outcomes for youth offenders. Some next steps include: creating a task force to address juvenile mental health; build the infrastructure to help public schools address mental health issues before a student is suspended or sent to court; and a long-term goal should to build an infrastructure which would ensure that students in danger of entering the system are assessed and referred to appropriate community-based programs whenever possible and appropriate.

West Virginia’s communities, families, and youth will benefit if the only young people who are confined or detained in out-of-home facilities are those who constitute a threat to the public or themselves.

October 15, 2017

Sometimes screwing up the world just isn't enough

Apparently screwing up climate, health care and the international situation just isn't enough for some people. Now they want to go after meals for school kids in order to make things just a bit cushier for the very rich.

A federal program, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), passed in 2010 by Congress as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, made it an option for school boards to offer free breakfasts and lunches to all students in schools where 40 percent or more of children are low income.

The idea is to improve child nutrition and academic performance, save schools paperwork and money, and give a break to working parents. And it's worked really well around the country and especially in West Virginia, where 49 counties participate, including 510 schools and over 190,000 students.

I recently spoke to a school board member in Pocahontas County, which recently implemented CEP countywide. She said more kids were eating, the county was saving money AND test scores were going up.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the majority of House Republicans, including Congressmen Evan Jenkins and Maryland Alex Mooney, voted to drastically cut the program, which would end free meals for hundreds of schools and thousands of kids in the Mountain State. 

The Senate is expected to take up the budget next week. So far the cuts aren't part of the Senate plan but these days all threats are best regarded as credible. Senator Manchin has come out against the cuts, while Senator Capito's office has said something like they'll be watching it or whatever.