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Intergovernmental task force formed to study juvenile justice system in West Virginia

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An intergovernmental task force has been formed to study the juvenile justice system in West Virginia.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the task force, the first step in what he's calling a landmark, comprehensive review of the Mountain State's juvenile justice system, was formed through Executive Order No. 6-14.

The task force will work with Pew Charitable Trusts to review West Virginia's juvenile justice system and data and develop system-level recommendations to improve outcomes for youth, families and communities, enhance accountability for juvenile offenders and the system and contain taxpayer costs by focusing resources on serious juvenile offenders.

"Through our justice reinvestment efforts, we've learned data-driven and research-based programs can be successful," Tomblin said in a release announcing the group's formation. "By bringing together those in the community and working with experts like Pew, we can work together to identify ways to best serve our young people and prepare them to become contributing members of our communities."

The task force is charged with developing and offering new policies in a cooperative effort involving all branches of government as well as community leaders, representatives from local education systems, and parent advocates. Together they’ll review current date trends, evaluate the use of evidence-based programs in West Virginia, develop specific, tailored recommendations for improvements, and implement a common-sense approach to juvenile justice.

The taskforce will be chaired by the Governor or his designee and has 26 members, including: Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis; Steve Canterbury, administrator of the West Virginia Supreme Court; Victoria Jones, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Behavior Health and Health Facilities; Nancy Exline, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Children and Families; state Board of Education Superintendent Chuck Heinlein; Carolyn Stuart, executive director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs; Taylor County Prosecuting Attorney John Bord; Vanessa Welch, juvenile public defender of Harrison County; Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster; Elaine Harris, Communications Workers of America representative of Kanawha County; the Rev. Matthew Watts, CEO of HOPE Community Development Corporation; Kathy Smith, parent advocate of Barbour County; John Marshall High School Principal Rick Jones; Nicholas County Judge Gary Johnson; Mercer County Judge Omar Aboulhosn; Berkeley County Judge Michael Lorensen; Cindy Largent Hill, director of the West Virginia Juvenile Justice Commission of Morgan County; and Nikita Jackson, school-based juvenile probation officer for Cabell County.

Six members of the West Virginia Legislature also will serve on the taskforce.