Earlier this week, I was pleased to announce the latest round of funding to establish new and expand existing substance abuse treatment services in West Virginia. On Monday, February 29, we awarded more than $1.5 million in grant funding to establish treatment and recovery services in areas where options were formally limited or non-existent – demonstrating our ongoing commitment to the fight against substance abuse. With the help of this grant funding, we are adding inpatient treatment beds, establishing new and expanding inpatient and outpatient treatment programs and hiring the professional staff needed to help those struggling begin the road to recovery
This funding is also a fresh sign of progress from West Virginia’s justice reinvestment initiative. Through our landmark justice reinvestment efforts, West Virginia is on track to invest $9 million to support substance abuse treatment and recovery services by helping those who have served time for drug-related crimes transition back into their communities. Since 2013, hundreds have received supported through available treatment and recovery services, and these programs are helping former offenders return to their families, communities and workplaces.
Through these treatment supervision programs, we can take a smart-on-crime approach. We know that substance abuse plays a major role in criminal activity. We know our state’s substance abuse epidemic is the root problem that has led to overcrowding in so many of our state’s jails and prisons. Over the past several years, we’ve worked hard to increase community-based options and improve the transition process to help those who have served a prison sentence find a fresh start.
Drug and alcohol use and abuse have been cited in nearly eight out of every 10 cases where an individual returned to prison for violating parole. These treatment supervision efforts target those situations and has shown promise to reduce both the first-time and reoffender crime rate.
The state’s drug courts are designed with the same goal in mind. Drug courts are court-supervised and offer nonviolent offenders an alternative to incarceration. Under justice reinvestment, the West Virginia Supreme Court has expanded the drug court concept to serve all state judicial circuits by later this year.
Today, West Virginia’s crime and incarceration rates are both lower than the national average. However, just a few years ago, our state was facing one of the nation’s fastest-growing rates for its prison population. Since implementing justice reinvestment, these reforms have helped reduce that rate by 20 percent, and we’re doing even better than initial projections.
Justice reinvestment and its companion reforms have also reduced our regional jail backlog by 30 percent, greatly relieving overcrowding in many of our jails. We are also ensuring offenders receive the rehabilitative and vocational programs they need to help make them eligible for parole hearings.
During these challenging fiscal times, justice reinvestment has played a crucial role in strengthening our state’s budget. West Virginia once faced a$350 million project in operational and construction costs to build a new prison. With the help of justice reinvestment, we have been able to avoid that costly route. Overall, these reforms have saved West Virginia an estimated $20.3 million in savings related to criminal justice system operations within the first two years of enactment.
Justice reinvestment also shows what West Virginians can achieve when we work together. When I first proposed justice reinvestment, I reached out to all three branches of government and across party lines. The result was bipartisan-supported reforms that reflected input from all key players in government. I’m confident that our continued cooperation will make all the difference as justice reinvestment continues to take hold and make for a safer and stronger West Virginia.