Daily Statistics
5,798 people in WV regional jails
4,054 people in WV state prisons
Jails are 35% over capacity
13% of the prison and jail population is Black

Criminal Justice Reform Summit: Poverty and the Criminal Justice System

Hosted by the American Friends Service Committee, WV Center on Budget and Policy, WV Council of Churches, and Appalachian Prison Book Project.

January 27–30, 2021

We’re excited to welcome you to the state-wide (virtual) summit on criminal justice reform in West Virginia!

Over the course of four days, participants will attend sessions exploring the significance of poverty before, during, and after incarceration. In addition to a wide variety of panels, there will be skill-building workshops as well as ample opportunity for participants to connect with one another. The conference will feature national and state-level experts, including people who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system.

Our hope is that every participant leaves feeling more informed about the problems and solutions, more equipped to take action, and more connected. Together, we are a powerful force for change.

Schedule

January 27

5:30pm – 6:30pm

Evening Keynote

The conference will commence with an address from Bruce Western, the Co-Director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University. Dr. Western is an expert on criminal justice policy, incarceration, and the effects of incarceration on poor communities. Lida Shepherd will provide a brief welcome to the conference before Dr. Western’s address. Download the presentation.

Session Recording


January 28

4pm – 5pm

Afternoon Keynote: Why Criminal Justice Reform Should Be Important to All of Us

There is a saying in the recovery world that the opposite of addiction is community. If we leave criminal justice reform to the courts alone, it will never be whole. It takes a community to respond to the underlying issues that often lead to incarceration, such as poverty, substance abuse, mental illness and trauma. In addition, it takes a community to care for those who are incarcerated and those who have been released or there will be no hope for them. Not only is this a moral imperative, it is a social good for all who live in a community. Join Judge Michael Aloi for a presentation on these ideas and more, followed by time for Q&A.

Session Recording

Day 1 concurrent sessions will look at common factors impacting the likelihood of someone experiencing incarceration in the first place, including poverty, addiction, and trauma.

5:15pm – 6:15pm
Concurrent Sessions

Criminalization of Addiction 

This panel, led by Jennie Hill, will include people with lived experience with Substance Use Disorder and involvement with the criminal justice system, both state and federal. Participants—including Amy Wilkinson, Josh Cordwell, and Jordan Dennison—will tell their stories including living in recovery housing programs and/or working in the recovery field. Each person will be asked, “How can we reduce the likelihood that addiction leads to incarceration?” Solutions such as harm reduction programs, medical screenings, and safe and stable recovery housing programs will be discussed, as well as barriers to recovery that are in the current system.

Session Recording

Juvenile Justice Reform 

Public defenders and community advocates—including Teresa McCune, Pastor Matthew J. Watts, Ashley Batten, and Joshua Edwards—will illustrate the school-to-prison pipeline in West Virginia, the ways it disproportionately impacts Black students and poor White students, and strategies for dismantling it.

Session Recording

6:30pm – 7:30pm
Concurrent Sessions

Policing in an Age of Reform

In recent years, the police establishment has been forced to consider the prospect of reform. Across the country, this has taken many forms, including improved accountability structures, mandated body cameras, the prohibition of chokeholds and “no knock” warrants, and the establishment of citizen review boards. Although these changes are well intentioned, they fail to prevent excessive violence and discrimination or improve the outcomes of police action. This is because the problems in American policing are misdiagnosed as deviance rather than conformity. Using research and community surveys, this session with Dr. James Nolan presents a sociological view of the problem to show how and why poor communities are disproportionately policed and why contemporary law enforcement strategies fail to make communities safe. It will also help participants reimagine policing in ways that achieve better outcomes for both police officers and community members. Click here to download the presentation.

Session Recording

‘What Happened?’ Adverse Childhood Experiences, Substance Use, and the Criminal Legal System

Many people who are incarcerated have experienced adversity and trauma in childhood. This session with Stephanne Cline Thornton, Mallory Sutphin, and Theresa Jordan will discuss why it is important to understand and intervene in trauma as it relates to childhood adversity, substance use, and the criminal legal system. Click here to download the Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire.

Session Recording


January 29 

Day 2 concurrent sessions will explore how poverty impacts a person’s experience once they have been charged with a crime.  

10:15am – 11:15am
Concurrent Sessions

The Flawed Nature of the Money Bail System 

Many of us think of correctional facilities as places to hold people who have been convicted of a crime. However, in 2019, more than 50 percent of people incarcerated in West Virginia’s regional jails were there pretrial, meaning they had not yet been convicted but are too poor to afford bail or hadn’t even been offered a chance at pretrial release. Incarcerating these individuals costs West Virginia counties about $44 million. As little as two to three days in jail can lead to someone falling behind on their rent or mortgage, or even cause them to be terminated from their job. This session—featuring Quenton King and Ashley Spalding—will explore the fundamental unfairness of our bail system, state-level progress to reduce pretrial incarceration, and where we go from here.

Session Recording

Restorative Justice: From Harm to Healing

Restorative Justice is a response to harm that restores relationships rather than focusing or the rule or law being broken, which we often experience in Retributive Justice. A practice of Restorative Justice, the Restorative Circle, is currently being used in schools as a way to decrease suspension and increase understanding of troubled students; in the criminal justice systems as a process to bring healing between those harmed and those responsible for the harm; and in communities as a way to build understanding and connections. You are welcome to join Reverend Ron English and Rose Ann Hefner to learn more about the use of Restorative Practices.

11:30am – 12:30pm
Concurrent Sessions

The Trouble with Fines and Fees 

It’s impossible to have a conference on the criminalization of poverty without discussing the over-reliance upon fines and fees in the criminal legal system. The use of fines and fees to fund courts has increased in recent decades across the United States, and some jurisdictions even use them as a mechanism to backfill budgets. But fines, fees, and court costs do not impact everyone equally; low income people and people of color are more likely to be saddled with court debt and face a higher chance of being jailed for inability to pay. Steep fines can trap individuals in endless cycles of debt. This panel with Quenton King, Damion Shade, and Autumn McCraw will discuss the moral implications of this “criminal collection system” and solutions to make it more just.

Session Recording

The Need for Sentencing Reform

West Virginia has some of the harshest, most outdated sentencing laws in the country. This session with Professor Robert Bastress and Professor Melissa Giggenbach will be led by legal experts who will explore how excessive sentencing laws lead to high incarceration rates, how poverty and race often impact the sentence someone receives, and what specific policies and practices need to change.

Session Recording

1:30pm – 2:30pm

Skill-Building Session: Policy Advocacy How-To

How can we be as effective as possible getting good policy passed and also stopping bad policy? It doesn’t have to be guess-work: when the problem, politics and policy streams align, a window of opportunity opens! This session will be led by Rick Wilson, Lida Shepherd, and Greg Whittington.

Session Recording


January 30

Day 3 concurrent sessions will explore the challenges people face while incarcerated and also after incarceration.  

10:15am – 11:15am
Concurrent Sessions

Cost of Incarceration on Families 

While incarcerated people are often forgotten, so too are the families they leave behind. This is a chance to hear from family members of people who are either formerly or presently incarcerated, who will share stories about the challenges they face and what gives them hope.  Participants include: Greg Whittington, Joseph Cohen, Lora Whittington, Emily Mullins, James Boyd, and David Morgan.

Zoom Link & Call-in Number
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89540619664
+1 301 715 8592 US
895 4061 9664

Freeing Minds, Building Community

This session will briefly outline the inflated prices incarcerated people and their families pay for everyday necessities. Dr. Katy Ryan and Rayna Momen of The Appalachian Prison Book Project will discuss the importance of initiatives that provide free books and college classes inside. Renaldo Hudson, recently released after 37 years in prison (13 on death row), will describe a model peer education program he created and his work with the Illinois Prison Project. Other speakers include Dr. Joseph R. Scotti.

Zoom Link & Call-in Number
https://aclu.zoom.us/j/81939028512
+1 301 715 8592 US
Meeting ID: 819 3902 8512

11:30am – 12:30pm

Stories of Hope in Reentry 

Join us for an informative panel on reentry. Listen to the stories of those who have worked in the criminal justice system and hear the experiences of formerly incarcerated people that helped them chart a successful path to reentry and overcome the myriad collateral consequences of having a criminal conviction. Professor Jeri Kirby will lead the session.

Session Recording

1:30pm – 2:30pm

Skill-Building Session: How to Be an Effective Citizen Lobbyist

So now that you’ve been through most of this conference, you want to take action to change our unjust criminal legal system. Great! This is a workshop you don’t want to miss. Learn from Sammi Brown, a former member of the WV House of Delegates, and Joseph Cohen, an ACLU lobbyist, the basics of our legislative system and how to most effectively convince lawmakers to do the right thing. By the end of this workshop, you’ll be ready to change the system.

Session Recording

2:45pm – 4pm

Legislative Panel 

Members of the WV State Legislature—including Delegate Brandon Steele, Delegate Michael Pushkin, Delegate Moore Capito, Delegate Danielle Walker, and Delegate Barbara Fleischauer—will discuss criminal justice reform policy priorities for the 2021 legislative session.

Session Recording


Speaker Bios

Photo of Dr. Bruce Western

Bruce Western is the Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice and Co-Director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University. His research has examined the causes, scope, and consequences of the historic growth in U.S. prison populations. Current projects include a randomized experiment assessing the effects of criminal justice fines and fees on misdemeanor defendants in Oklahoma City, and a field study of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania state prisons. Western is also the Principal Investigator of the Square One Project that aims to re-imagine the public policy response to violence under conditions of poverty and racial inequality. He was the Vice Chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel on the causes and consequences of high incarceration rates in the United States. He is the author of Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison (Russell Sage Foundation, 2018), and Punishment and Inequality in America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar, and a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. Western received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was born in Canberra, Australia.

Photo of Lida Shepherd

Lida Shepherd is the co-director of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project, American Friends Service Committee / Charleston Office. She works statewide on issues affecting low-income and working families. Her work focuses on popular education training, policy advocacy, criminal justice reform, and building effective coalitions in support of economic justice for all people.

Photo of Judge Michael Aloi

Michael John Aloi grew up in the small coal mining town of Farmington, WV, the grandson of Italian immigrants. He graduated from WV Wesleyan in 1980 with honors. He is also a 1983 graduate of the WVU College of Law where he was the only member of his class to be named to The Order of the Coif, The Order of the Barristers and to receive the Patrick Duffy Koontz Award for character, leadership and scholarship. Upon graduation he entered into the private practice of law with his cousin and partner, Timothy Manchin and practiced with Manchin and Aloi for the next 28 years. He was one of the original mediators selected for the national pilot settlement week program in the Northern District of West Virginia and thereafter mediated over 2500 cases. In 2011 he was appointed a Circuit Court Judge for Marion County and elected in 2012. He started the first Drug Court program in Marion County. Thereafter he was appointed as a US Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia where he presently serves and presides over one of only 15 federal pre-sentence drug court diversion programs in the country. He has been an adjunct professor at the WVU College of Law for nearly 20 years and also served as a lawyer supervisor in their clinic program. He understands that the public rightfully expects that the courts be a place of accountability and consequences, but he believes that the courts must also be a place of hope and second chances. His work as a mediator has influenced his conviction that unless we address the underlying issues involved, the matter will never be resolved in a meaningful and lasting way—the same with our criminal justice system. Unless we address the underlying issues of poverty, substance abuse, mental illness and trauma, then we will never approach any semblance of true justice.

Photo of Jennie Hill

Jennie Hill is the Assistant Director for the West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences (WVARR), the certification agency for all levels of recovery programming in WV. Working first as a peer recovery coach and then as leadership at the largest peer-run women’s program in the state, she built strong professional relationships within the community with the goal of improving the quality of life for those with Substance Use Disorders. She is reliable, creative, and passionate; with 7 years’ experience working in the recovery field and 9 years in her personal recovery, she fiercely advocates for the healing space created by recovery housing. Her educational background is in Interior Design, with a BA in Art from West Virginia State University. She also achieved her Yoga Alliance 200-hour yoga teacher certification in 2018 and researches the evidence-base for mindfulness and yoga’s role in healing traumas in her spare time.

Photo of Jordan Dennison

Jordan Dennison grew up in Huntington, WV and currently works as a Peer Recovery Coach for Help4WV/First Choice Services. He assists individuals who are just starting the process of recovery navigate through treatment options and resources. Jordan has been in recovery two-and-a-half years. He uses his story of addiction and recovery as a tool to advocate for those individuals society has often counted out.

Photo of Teresa McCune

Teresa McCune attended Marshall University and Antioch School of Law. She served as Chief Public Defender for Mingo County, West Virginia for 29 years, before stepping back to the role of Senior Counsel last year. In her current role there, she exclusively represents children. Teresa has been awarded the West Virginia State Bar’s Lawyer Citizen of the Year, Young Lawyers‘ Mentor of the Year and was chosen by West Virginia Executive Magazine for their Lawyers and Leaders program in 2019. She is a certified JTIP trainer by the National Juvenile Defender Center and serves on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center.

Teresa is also involved in many areas of community service and is the founder and director of On Track for College, an award winning volunteer counseling program which helps students with college and scholarship applications and is Chair of the Board of Directors of Christian Help, a charitable organization which provides direct aid to folks in need in Mingo County, WV.

Teresa is the proud mother of Ryan McCune Donovan and grandmother of Lincoln Milo Donovan.

Photo of Rev. Matthew Watts

Rev. Matthew Watts has been the Senior Pastor of Grace Bible Church in Charleston, West Virginia, for over 17 years. Prior to that, he worked as an engineer, small business consultant, and CEO of a broadcasting corporation.

In 1997, he established the HOPE Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization with the mission of empowering the inner city through spiritual renewal, education, employment and training, and economic development.

Rev. Watts is recognized as a community leader who understands the importance of economic development to the empowerment of the African-American community.

He has been married to his wife Pamela for 33 years and they have five children and five grandchildren.

Photo of Ashley Batten

Ashley Batten has been a Public Defender with the 23rd Judicial Circuit since February of 2016. Since starting with the Office, her entire practice has been working with Juvenile Respondents in both Berkeley and Morgan Counties handling an average of over 100 Juvenile Defense cases a year. Along with her work with kids in the Courtroom, she is also a member of the Public Defender Service’s Juvenile Task Force. A 2015 Graduate of WVU LAW, she is an alumni of the WV Innocence Project and graduated with Pro Bono distinction. In 2019, Ashley was voted as one of the “Top 40 under 40” in the area of Law in WV, MD, and PA by Verstadig Media.    

Photo of Joshua Edwards

Joshua Edwards started his professional career as a middle school and high school teacher. Somehow his plans for a career in education went awry, and he ended up attending law school. While in law school, Mr. Edwards focused on Criminal and Juvenile Law. After law school, he returned home and entered private practice where he again focused on Criminal Defense and Juvenile Law. In 2008, Mr. Edwards left private practice to become a public defender in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. He is currently the Chief Defender for the 11th Judicial Circuit where he maintains an active caseload, including juvenile defense. In his spare time Mr. Edwards coaches mountain biking and serves on the Lewisburg City Council. He resides in Lewisburg with his wife, Lara, and three sons.  

Photo of Dr. James J. Nolan

James J. Nolan is a Professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at West Virginia University. His research and teaching has focused on police policy and reform, psychodynamic processes in communities, crime measurement, and hate crimes. He is the co-author of a new book Policing in an Age of Reform: An Agenda for Research & Practice (Palgrave Macmillan) and the book The Violence of Hate: Understanding Harmful Forms of Bias and Bigotry, 4th edition (Rowman & Littlefield). His research publications have appeared in the Journal of Quantitative CriminologyPolicing & SocietyCriminal Justice StudiesHomicide StudiesJournal of Criminal JusticeThe British Journal of Criminology, and The American Sociologist. Dr. Nolan’s professional career began as a police officer in Wilmington, Delaware USA. In 13 years with that department, he worked in a variety of divisions, including patrol, community policing, organized crime and vice, and planning and research. He is a 1992 graduate of the FBI National Academy. Dr. Nolan earned a Ph.D. from Temple University where his graduate work focused on the study of group and social processes. 

Photo of Stephanne Cline Thornton

Stephanne Cline Thornton is the Criminal Justice Specialist for Public Defender Services’ Public Defender Corporation Resource Center, where she assists public defenders across the state with research and mitigation. Ms. Thornton also conducts mitigation trainings and writes grants on behalf of Public Defender Corporations to further the holistic mission of indigent criminal defense. Through her grant writing efforts, Ms. Thornton was able to create recovery coach positions embedded within Public Defender Corporations to assess and link pretrial criminal defendants to substance use treatment to reduce overdose risk and recidivism. Ms. Thornton provides training and guidance to the recovery coach project and analyzes data collected from the project.

Ms. Thornton holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Furman University; a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University; and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Georgia. She began work as a mitigation specialist for death penalty and aggravated felony cases in Georgia and has managed an outpatient dual diagnosis clinic in Denver, Colorado, and a felony drug court program in Athens, Georgia. 

Ms. Thornton has been clinically licensed as a social worker and addictions counselor since 2004 and currently holds a Master Addiction Counselor certificate, is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, a Certified Addiction Counselor Level III, Certified Sex Offender Treatment Provider, and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. Ms. Thornton is also trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and somatic treatment for trauma. Ms. Thornton sits on the National Association for Public Defense Steering Committee and serves on the Boards of Laotong Yoga (a nonprofit prison yoga project in West Virginia), the West Virginia Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, and the REACH Initiative. She serves as an appointee to the West Virginia State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Photo of Mallory Sutphin

Mallory Sutphin is a certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist with Public Defender Services, serving four counties in West Virginia: Boone, Lincoln, Cabell, and Wayne. She has four years of sobriety and is working towards her bachelors degree in Psychology. Mallory has an awesome son who is the light of her life. She is outgoing, adventurous, loves being outside, and helping others any way she can.

Theresa Jordan has been in recovery for four years. Unlike a lot of the horror stories you hear from other people struggling with addiction, she did not have a terrible childhood. Theresa grew up in a family who loved her to the absolute best of their ability, even though they weren’t always great at showing it. By the time she was in her early 20’s, Theresa had a mortgage, a nice home, a solid career as a Correctional Officer, and a newborn son. After a surgery, she was prescribed pain medication that gave her the energy to live life, be a mom, work as many hours as she could, and still feel great. After a few years, that did not last, and things started to spiral. Theresa found the strength and opportunity to begin the adult drug court program in Fayette County in March of 2017 and began taking the steps to fix her life. It’s been a little over three years since she made that choice, and she has continued to grow. Most recently, Theresa worked as a Recovery Coach for the Public Defender Corporations in the 10th, 11th, and 12th Judicial Circuits; she facilitates two different groups at a local Day Report Center, and she serves on the treatment team for an adult drug court. Theresa and her son have lived in the same apartment for three years and her journey is far from over. Soon, she will begin work as a legal assistant for the 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Corporation as she transitions out of her recovery coach position.

Photo of Quenton King

Quenton King is the criminal justice policy analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. Before joining WVCBP, Quenton worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program as a field organizer and policy specialist. Most recently he served as the Policy Director for a mayoral campaign in Baltimore, MD. Quenton is a native West Virginian and holds bachelor’s degrees in criminology and Spanish from West Virginia University and a Master of Public Health in Sociomedical Science from Columbia University.

Photo of Ashley Spalding

Ashley Spalding is Research Director at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy (KyPolicy). She joined the staff in October 2011. Ashley has conducted research on social and economic policies affecting low-income families for over 15 years. Her doctoral and postdoctoral research projects at the University of South Florida focused on low-income housing and education, respectively. At KyPolicy, Ashley’s policy analysis and advocacy primarily focus on criminal justice, education funding and the state budget. In 2019, she authored the report: “Disparate Justice: Where Kentuckians Live Determines Whether They Stay in Jail Because They Can’t Afford Cash Bail.” Ashley holds a PhD in Applied Anthropology from the University of South Florida, an MA in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina and a BA in English from Samford University. She was named one of the 2019 Notable Women in Kentucky Politics and Government by The Kentucky Gazette. Ashley is a Kentucky native.

Photo of Reverend Ron English

Rev. Ron English is a native of Atlanta Georgia and grew up in the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he served as ministerial assistant to Dr. Martin Luther Sr. and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and offered the prayer at Dr. King’s funeral. In 1972 he was called to pastor First Baptist Church of Charleston where he served for 21 years and was also employed as a Unit Manager at the Mt. Olive Correctional Center maximum security facility when it opened in 1996. He is a Substitute Teacher for Kanawha County schools and President of the NAACP.  He serves as a Restorative Justice facilitator with the American Friends Service Committee. 

Photo of Rose Ann Hefner

Rose Ann Hefner, CSJ, is a licensed Professional Counselor, a Licensed Social Worker and a spiritual director at WV Institute for Spirituality. She completed the Restorative Justice Circle Process training with Kay Pranis, and Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resiliency (STAR I) program at Eastern Mennonite University.  She is currently working for the American Friends Service Committee as a Restorative Justice Practitioner. Valuing the circle process as a tool to build and heal relationships, she works for ways to include it in schools, churches, and community gatherings.

Photo of Autumn McCraw

Autumn McCraw has a wealth of lived experience in many areas. She is a formerly convicted person, a person in long term recovery from Substance Use Disorder, a survivor of domestic human trafficking, and a person living and thriving with a mental illness diagnosis.  Autumn works for the West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences (WVARR) as part of their certification staff team where she ensures residents are receiving safe and high-quality care as they begin their journey to wholeness. She has a beautiful daughter, Baiyanah, and is a dog mom to Nova. She is passionate about recovery, human trafficking awareness, and is an advocate for mental health and wellness.

Photo of Damion Shade

Damion Shade joined Oklahoma Policy Institute in July 2018 as the criminal justice policy analyst. He grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and has lived in Oklahoma since the late 90s. Prior to joining OK Policy, he was an educator at Jenks Public Schools and the Oklahoma School for the Performing Arts. He’s written education and justice features as a contributing writer for the Tulsa Voice since 2016, and he was awarded the best Education and General News Reporting features by the Society for Professional Journalists in 2017. Damion earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Oral Roberts University and started several voter registration and political advocacy initiatives during his time on campus. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Rachel and their daughter.

Photo of Robert M. Bastress, Jr.

Robert M. Bastress, Jr., is the John W. Fisher, II Professor of Law at the West Virginia University College of Law, where he has taught since 1978. He holds B.A., J.D, and L.L.M. degrees from Wesleyan, Vanderbilt, and Temple Universities, respectively. Bastress’s teaching and scholarly interests have concentrated on constitutional law, employment law, and local government law. His publications include THE WEST VIRGINIA CONSTITUTION (Oxford University Press 2nd ed. 2016) and (Greenwood Press 1995); INTERVIEWING, COUNSELING & NEGOTIATING: SKILLS FOR EFFECTIVE REPRESENTATION (Little, Brown 1991) (with Joseph Harbaugh); and CASES AND MATERIALS ON WEST VIRGINIA CONSTITUTIONAL LAW (W.V.U. Press e-book 2019). Among the awards that he has received are statewide and university recognition for public service and university recognition for scholarship and teaching.

Photo of Melissa Giggenbach

Melissa Giggenbach has been affiliated with the West Virginia Innocence Project since 2013 when she joined the clinic as an adjunct lecturer. After graduating from WVU College of Law, Melissa initially had a general solo practice until joining the Preston County Public Defender Office to focus on criminal law. Melissa now exclusively handles post-conviction matters in both state and federal court. Since joining the clinic, Melissa and the clinical law students have been successful in overturning convictions for clients wrongfully convicted of shaken baby syndrome and murder.

Photo of Rick Wilson

Rick Wilson is the co-director of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project, American Friends Service Committee Charleston Office. The West Virginia Economic Justice Project (WVEJ) works statewide on issues affecting low income and working families. The project helps people get the best possible deal from the current system, engages in campaigns to gain or defend economic rights for workers and low-income families, and builds effective coalitions in support of economic justice for all people. Rick has been director of WVEJ since 1989, and in his spare time hangs out with his goats and one-eyed cat on his farm in Milton, WV.

Photo of Greg Whittington

Greg Whittington is the Criminal Law Reform Campaign Director at the ACLU of WV. A native of Sissonville, Greg describes himself as the poster child for criminal law reform.

Arrested in 1995, Greg was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison. At the time of his incarceration, Greg read at a third-grade level but upon his release in 2010, he was the first prisoner in West Virginia history to earn a Regent’s Bachelor of Arts degree while in prison.

Since his release, Greg has helped mentor dozens of formerly incarcerated individuals, managed his own business, and became an advocate by writing numerous articles, speaking at national civil rights gatherings, state legislative committees, and more.

He and his wife Lori have developed programing including Nuday Recovery Home, Shaking Off Prison (A how-to guide for former inmates), and Project Normal (a program to aide in transitional issues for former inmates and family).

Photo of Lora Whittington

The experience of being a wife of a reentering person, Greg Whittington, led Lora Whittington to become an advocate for criminal justice reform in 2012. Driven by her reflection on what support services she wished she, Greg, and their six children would have had access to during her husband’s incarceration and navigation of reentry, Lora and Greg have developed programming to support recently incarcerated individuals. Their work includes including Nuday Recovery Home, Shaking Off Prison (a how-to guide for former inmates), and Project Normal (a program to aid in transitional issues for former inmates and family). Lora’s passion for helping families of incarcerated individuals fuels a support system that has touched countless lives.

Emily Mullins is a 22-year-old serving her community as a parent educator for a home visitation service. She is also the mother of a joyful, wonderful one-and-a-half-year-old son and lives a stable life that she is proud of for herself and her child. This stability was not a guarantee, however, as Emily is also the daughter of an addict who was previously incarcerated.

Emily was 6 years old the first time she visited her father in jail. Under the care of her grandmother while her father was repeatedly arrested, she visited him in prison weekly for several years, making many of her best family memories inside the prison’s walls. Her father’s incarceration created many obstacles: leading her to fear of abandonment, a diagnosis of depression, and an attempt to end her life at only 14 years old. The topic of the cost of incarceration on families is incredibly important to Emily, and she looks forward to sharing her full story during this panel. 

After spending 45 years in West Virginia prison, 65-year-old David Morgan walked out of incarceration on August 16, 2020, to a profoundly changed world. David had access to very few resources upon his release, but through his involvement with AA, NA, and a close relationship with Greg and Lora Whittington, he is finding behavioral support, practical skills, and a community that is showing him how to pick his life back up and maintain his 25 years of sobriety. 

Along with helping provide David with life and emotional regulation skills, he credits the Whittingtons for getting him involved in advocacy. Only six months out of prison, David is involved with voting rights and plans to be trained by WV Family of Convicted People to become a community leader. David also now volunteers at the mission and works with local folks experiencing homelessness. David knows how important it is for previously incarcerated individuals to have the support of people who have similar experiences—he wants folks to know that there is a family of convicted people who do care about you.

James Boyd is a Peer Recovery Support Specialist and a native of WV. He currently resides in Newark NJ, with his wife, but makes the commute back to WV weekly to work at the facility where he is a long-term recovery coach. James has been out of prison for 29 years, served in Vietnam and returned to WV, where he had lived experience as a heron addict and a convicted person. He now has been free from addiction for over 9,000 days and as a result of changed behavior, a clear vision and strength of character he decided to apply himself to helping other families find a clear and personal pathway to recovery. His experience with recovery and treatment includes 2,300 volunteer hours with Grace (Greater Resource and Community Empowerment, Blue Ridge Resource Center).

Photo of Katy Ryan

Katy Ryan is an English professor at West Virginia University. Her research focuses on the history and literature of imprisonment in the United States. She also teaches college classes inside prisons. In 2004, she founded the Appalachian Prison Book Project, a nonprofit that sends free books to people imprisoned in six states, creates prison book clubs, and provides tuition support for incarcerated college students. 

Photo of Rayna Momen

Rayna Momen is a Morgantown, WV native pursuing a Ph.D. in Sociology at WVU. Their research focuses on the criminalization of transgender people and mass incarceration more broadly. Momen is an abolitionist who believes we can begin to repair the harms of the criminal legal system through restoration. They are a longtime volunteer with the Appalachian Prison Book Project and a trained Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program Instructor, helping to expand access to books and higher education for currently incarcerated people.

Photo of Renaldo Hudson

Renaldo Hudson is an educator, minister, and community organizer, and focuses his work on ending perpetual punishment in Illinois. After being sentenced to death row, Renaldo worked for 37 years while incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections, founding groundbreaking programs including the prison-newspaper Stateville Speaks and the Building Block Program, a transformational program run by incarcerated people within the Illinois Department of Corrections. Renaldo’s work and life have been featured in media outlets throughout the state, and are the subject of the documentary Stateville Calling.

Photo of Dr. Joseph R. Scotti

Joseph R. Scotti, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist with over four decades of clinical work and service in schools and large institutional settings for persons with disabilities and serious mental and behavioral health concerns. As a university faculty member for 25 years, he also did clinical work and research with individuals exposed to severe trauma.  More recently, Dr. Scotti has been working with people incarcerated in a large state prison, addressing mental health needs, and fostering the development of educational and therapeutic programs that reach beyond the prison walls.

Photo of Jeri Kirby

Professor Jeri Kirby earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from West Virginia University and is currently an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Chair of the Social Science Department at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia. Dr. Kirby has a 20-year history of life and studies in incarceration, beginning with her own incarceration in the federal system from 1992–1994. After Dr. Kirby’s release, she quickly began her education with the focus of understanding and changing correctional policy. After being introduced to Inside-Out Program in 2008, she became certified and started her career as an educator behind the walls of prisons. She currently serves as the WV State and Federal Coordinator for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, is a member of Convict Criminology, as well as serving on the WV Advisory Board to the Civil Rights Commission.

Photo of Joseph Cohen

Joseph Cohen is the Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that seeks to protect and expand civil liberties for all people in the Mountain State. Joseph is responsible for managing all aspects the organization. Prior to joining the ACLU, Joseph was the General Counsel of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), where he coordinated the union’s legal activities nationwide and advised the union’s leadership and staff on organizing, negotiation and representation strategy. Early in his career, Joseph represented public housing tenants associations and individuals facing housing crises as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and Staff Attorney at Florida Rural Legal Services. Joseph graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and summa cum laude from Washington and Jefferson College, where he was valedictorian. Joseph lives in Charleston with his wife, two young sons and a moody cat.

Photo of Brandon Steele

Delegate Brandon Steele represents the 29th District which comprises the Southwest portion of Raleigh County.  He currently serves on the Judiciary Committee, Rule Making Review Committee, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Committee, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and the WV Law Review in the West Virginia House of Delegates.  Delegate Steele is an attorney working primarily in the Transportation Industry and operates his practice in Beckley, WV.  He has previously served as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Raleigh County, and as a Mental Hygiene Commissioner in Fayette County.  Delegate Steele served in the United States Marine Corps, graduated from Mountain State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice, and earned his Juris Doctorate from Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He resides in Mabscott with his wife, Brianne, and five children.

Photo of Delegate Danielle Walkder

Delegate Danielle Walker has lived in West Virginia for eleven years and counting raising her two sons, taking care of her mother, and breaking barriers in many communities. She has never met a stranger without pouring her first message of One Love. She will continue to inspire, empower, and motivate ALL. Despite being a widow, mother of two disabled kids, community advocate, volunteer, and mother of the movement, she will always exclaim “Words without Works are a Waste”. Let’s celebrate our works and worth.

Photo of Delegate Barbara Fleischauer

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer is in her 25th year of service in the West Virginia House of Delegates. A graduate of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa, and the WVU College of Law, Delegate Fleischauer has sponsored and passed several pieces of important legislation affecting women, children, civil rights, veterans and disabled West Virginians. She is the female member with the longest tenure currently serving in the West Virginia House.

In 2021, Delegate Fleischauer was appointed to serve on the House Health & Human Resources. Government Organizations, and Rule-Making Review Committees, and serves as Minority Chair of the House Veterans Committee. In past years, Delegate Fleischauer served as Chair of the House Constitutional Revision Committee, Vice Chair of Health & Human Resources, Co-Chair of the Select Committee on Juveniles & Children, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans Affairs and Co-Chair of the Joint Equal Pay Commission. A twenty-two year member of the House Judiciary Committee, she also recently served as Minority Chair of that Committee.

During the 2020 session, she successfully championed legislation lowering the cost of co-pays for insulin, establishing a system for families to inform law enforcement that someone has a communication difficulty (for example, autism or mental illness), and ending Driver’s License suspensions for failure to pay court fines and fees.

Delegate Fleischauer represents Monongalia County and lives on the Evans family farm with her husband, WVU Law Professor Bob Bastress. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.


Questions?

Contact Renee Alves at ralves@wvpolicy.org.

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