The West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Coalition hosted an advocacy day at the Capitol to bring awareness to the issues constituents hope to see addressed during the 2022 legislative session.
“West Virginia’s criminal legal system is urgently in need of reform. Not only is it a huge expense to taxpayers, but it also perpetuates poverty and trauma. We are all poorer for it.” said Lida Shepherd, program director at the American Friends Service Committee. “The coalition organized Smart Justice Advocacy Day as a way for members of the community and legislators to come together to discuss the most pressing issues, along with possible solutions.”
The event featured a meet-and-greet breakfast with legislators, meetings between participants and their representatives, and a press conference highlighting the coalition’s present policy priorities which was co-chaired by Autumn McCraw with the WV Family of Convicted People and Kenny Matthews with the WV Recovery Advocacy Project.
“As a person in long-term recovery who has also been incarcerated, I can say first hand that locking people up and criminalizing addiction is only making problems worse,” said Matthews. “What helped me get to where I am today was programs like Jobs and Hope and people that believe I’m a part of the solution to the problems facing West Virginia.”
Like both McCraw and Matthews, many of the speakers at the press conference were formerly incarcerated or had been personally impacted by the criminal justice system in a significant way.
“The legislature must stop spending millions of dollars on a system that simply does not work. This system discards West Virginian lives and tears our families and communities apart. Many justice-involved people and people in recovery are working relentlessly every day to build a life they can be proud of,” said McCraw. “With just a few resources and an opportunity, I have built my life on a strong foundation. I am able to pour life back into my state. Investing in more restorative systems can only produce a restored West Virginia.”
The coalition urges the state’s legislators to take immediate action on the issues raised at Smart Justice Advocacy Day when session recommences in January.