Daily Statistics (October 7, 2021)
5,413 people in WV regional jails
4,214 people in WV state prisons
Jails are 27% over capacity
13% of the prison and jail population is Black

Smart Justice Advocacy Days

Join us online and at the WV State Capitol!

In January 2021, the West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Coalition hosted a virtual Criminal Justice Reform Summit to build knowledge and awareness of the myriad flaws and prejudices currently ingrained into West Virginia’s criminal legal system. Now, we’re hoping to translate that knowledge into action. We hope you join us.

To gear up and get organized to advocate for systemic changes to our state’s criminal legal system, we are hosting a series of three virtual learning sessions providing the lay of the land and diving into some issues we’d like to tackle during the 2022 legislative session. These webinars will be followed by an in-person citizen lobbying and story-telling training in Charleston on Sunday, December 5 to prepare participants for our Smart Justice Advocacy Day that will be held on Monday, December 6 at the State Capitol during legislative interims.

We welcome you to join us in any and all ways you are able! Please know that your inability to attend any one component of this event does not preclude you from participating in the convening’s other pieces. We would love to have you fighting alongside us in whatever way makes sense for you.

Here’s the rundown:

Virtual Learning Sessions

October 25, 2021

5:30-7:00pm

Criminal Justice Policy Reform in West Virginia: A Look Back and a Look Ahead

In this kickoff session, we’ll explore the lay of the land of criminal justice policy reform in the Mountain State. We’ll take a look at where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’d like to go, as well as share some of the West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Coalition’s policy priorities for the 2022 legislative session.

November 8, 2021

5:30-7:00pm

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81215372493

The State of Reentry and Barriers for Returning Citizens

At this session, national and state advocates will outline the myriad barriers formerly incarcerated people and their families face during an individual’s transition from life behind bars to life at home, and how criminal convictions continue to hurt people long after their sentence was served. Participants will learn about recent laws that have passed that have helped people in reentry and recovery, as well as laws that have passed but have not been appropriately implemented. Finally, this session will highlight solutions like clean slate, voting rights restoration, and how American Rescue Plan Act dollars can be spent in cost-savings ways on decarceration and reentry.

November 29, 2021

5:30-7:00pm

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84088583206

Sentencing Reform in the Mountain State

West Virginia is home to some of the most excessive sentencing laws in the country. Despite the reality that long sentences are traumatic for incarcerated people and their loved ones, as well as a massive burden on taxpayers, there is zero evidence to show that harsh sentences effectively reduce crime. In our final virtual learning session, we’ll explore how we might approach the battle against needlessly extreme sentences in the Mountain State.

Citizen Lobbying and Storytelling Training (In-Person)

December 5, 2021

1:00–4:00pm

Trinity Lutheran Church
1600 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, WV 25311

The primary goal of the Smart Justice convening is to get people in the room with their legislator(s) to advocate for meaningful criminal legal reform. Whether you are a directly impacted person, a professional working in the reform space, or simply an ally looking to fight for compassionate change, we’d love for you to join us in engaging in this direct advocacy. Every meeting a legislator has with their constituent reinforces that West Virginians across the political spectrum want to reimagine our criminal legal system.

With that said, we understand that meeting with your legislator(s) can feel like a daunting task, especially if you’ve never done so before. But we’re here to help you in any way we can (including having a coalition member attend the meeting with you if that would make you more comfortable!).

During this first in-person day of our Smart Justice convening, our experts will be hosting a training to prepare participants for meetings with their legislators should they choose to pursue them. Attendees will learn the ins and outs of citizen lobbying at the West Virginia Legislature, as well as powerful ways to tell their stories in order to advocate for change.

This will be an opportunity for our participants to meet in person (many for the first time!) and we will have a delicious lunch prepared.

If you would like to meet with your legislator(s), please see the guidance here on how to schedule these meetings, as well as template language for contacting your representatives. When you have your meeting scheduled, please FILL OUT THIS FORM so that we can keep track of who is advocating to which legislators regarding what policies.

If you have any questions at all about this process, please email Lida at Lshepherd@afsc.org.

Smart Justice Advocacy Day (In-Person)

December 6, 2021

8:00am-2:00pm

McManus Room, WV State Capitol
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, WV 25305

This advocacy day at the Capitol serves as the culmination of the Smart Justice convening. The day will kick off with a meet-and-greet breakfast with legislators, followed by participants’ meetings with their representatives as scheduled and a Smart Justice press conference where we’ll highlight some of our policy priorities for the 2022 legislative session.

Speaker Bios

Photo of Lida Shepherd

Lida Shepherd works with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) where she focuses on popular education, coalition building, and policy work to advance economic justice in West Virginia. Prior to her work with AFSC’s WV Economic Justice Project, Lida directed AFSC’s youth leadership program in southern West Virginia, where young people helped advance legislative victories for juvenile justice reform. Lida serves on the boards of the American Civil Liberties Union-WV, the REACH Initiative, and Mountain State Justice, as well as the advisory committee for WV Center on Budget and Policy.

Photo of Rick Wilson

Rick Wilson is the Director of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project for the American Friends Service Committee. He is a regular contributor to the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s editorial page as well as to WVCBP reports and issue briefs. Rick serves on multiple progressive coalitions across West Virginia. He resides in Milton, West Virginia.

eli baumwell headshot | WV Criminal Law Reform Coalition | PO Box 3952 Charleston, WV 25339 United States | +1 304-345-9246 | https://wvprisonreform.org | info@wvprisonreform.org

As Advocacy Director, Eli Baumwell helps manage ACLU-WV’s political advocacy efforts and develop their policy platform and priorities. He works closely with other advocacy and community outreach staff members to direct campaigns for federal, state, and local policy efforts. Eli also serves as ACLU-WV’s chief lobbyist at the West Virginia Legislature. There, he drafts legislation and works with legislators to help safeguard our civil liberties.

jason huffman headshot | WV Criminal Law Reform Coalition | PO Box 3952 Charleston, WV 25339 United States | +1 304-345-9246 | https://wvprisonreform.org | info@wvprisonreform.org

Jason Huffman was born and raised in Buckhannon, WV. He began his career as a policy analyst for the West Virginia State Senate. He then served as the Operations Director for the West Virginia Republican Party, playing an integral role in helping Republicans capture a majority in the State House and Senate for the first time in nearly a century. Since 2015 he has served as Americans for Prosperity’s West Virginia State Director.

seth distefano headshot | WV Criminal Law Reform Coalition | PO Box 3952 Charleston, WV 25339 United States | +1 304-345-9246 | https://wvprisonreform.org | info@wvprisonreform.org

Seth DiStefano is the Policy Outreach Director at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. A native of Randolph County, WV, Seth is a graduate of Tygarts Valley High School and holds a B.A. in liberal arts and sciences from West Virginia University. Seth leads the government affairs work at the Center and is especially passionate about food security, tax justice issues, and building a better future for working families through policy change.

Jesse Kelley headshot | WV Criminal Law Reform Coalition | PO Box 3952 Charleston, WV 25339 United States | +1 304-345-9246 | https://wvprisonreform.org | info@wvprisonreform.org

Jesse Kelley is a National Campaigns Manager with the Clean Slate Initiative. She is responsible for managing state-level campaigns in an organization focused on expanding and automating the criminal record clearing process. Previously, Jesse served as Government Affairs Manager for Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties at the R Street Institute, where she advocated, researched, and drafted policy papers relating to policing reform, juvenile justice, reintegration, post-conviction life, and related topics.

Photo of Jeremiah Nelson

Jeremiah Nelson is a formerly incarcerated individual. He is an avid storyteller and communicator and will share his life’s experiences with anyone. After incarceration, he attended Concord University where he met his future wife and graduated with honors as a dual major in Business Management, Administrative Systems and Minor in Pre-Law. Jeremiah now lives in Princeton, WV and is a Reentrant Assistant and Reentry Council Coordinator for The West Virginia Council of Churches’ West Virginia Reentry Councils and The REACH Initiative. He oversees and assists multiple community reentry councils throughout the state of West Virginia. Jeremiah enjoys instilling hope in formerly incarcerated people and educating people of influence in his community to the barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face upon reentry.

bev sharp headshot | WV Criminal Law Reform Coalition | PO Box 3952 Charleston, WV 25339 United States | +1 304-345-9246 | https://wvprisonreform.org | info@wvprisonreform.org

Beverly Sharp is the Director of Reentry Initiatives for the West Virginia Council of Churches, developing programs, initiatives, and training to improve the opportunities for incarcerated people to successfully return to the community, as well as educating the public on the barriers faced by formerly incarcerated people, to reduce recidivism and to Build Bridges to a Better Community. She is also founder and Executive Director of the REACH (Restore Empower & Attain Connections with Hope) Initiative.

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