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Reducing Truancy Top Concern of Juvenile Justice Study

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Ashton Marra
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Governor Tomblin's Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice released its final report Thursday which includes some 20 recommendations on how to reduce the state's incarcerated youth population. The report focuses heavily on preventative measures to deal with status offenders, or juveniles who commit offenses that would not be considered crimes for an adult. 

Tomblin said at the press conference implementation of the recommendations could reduce the population of incarcerated juveniles by at least 40 percent by the year 2020 with a project cost savings of $59 million. 

One way the group suggests the state could realize those savings is by requiring each county have a probation officer or social worker assigned to work with truancy cases within the schools. 

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Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Gov. Tomblin announced the recommendations Thursday.

  Those officers are estimated to cost around $60,000 a year, but would be a significant savings compared to the estimated $100,000 per bed per day cost of youth incarceration.

"What we’re attempting to do is wherever possible head that off. Let’s give them the services they need in their communities and hopefully save those millions of dollars,” Tomblin said Thursday.

Jennifer Meinig, Executive Director of the West Virginia ACLU, applauded the governor for his efforts, but said the report doesn't go far enough when it comes to reducing the number of truant students in the state.

State statute requires any student in West Virginia who receives five unexcused absences in a school year be referred to the court system, but before 2010, Meinig said that number was 10 absences. By the current standard, Meinig said one in three students in the state is truant.

She said her group will work to lobby lawmakers during the upcoming session to change the threshold back to ten absences helping to reduce the number of juveniles who come before a judge.

Tomblin said Thursday he's not worried about working with the state's new Republican legislative leaders to get some of the initiatives passed during the upcoming legislative session. 

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael attended the press conference Thursday and said he looks forward to working with the governor to advance legislation that will help ensure the success of West Virginia families. 


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