As the Putnam County sheriff, I know the best way to be truly “tough on crime” is to be smart on crime. That’s a key reason why I’m among more than 1,200 sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors who’ve signed a letter urging Congress to support programs that steer teens and young adults toward productive lives free of the criminal justice system.
Our letter called on lawmakers to commit resources to ensure that the recently reauthorized Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act fulfills its potential to do so through several proven approaches. One allowable use of the funding that’s crucial for West Virginia — which has the highest age-adjusted rate of opioid-related drug overdose deaths — is a provision that allows communities to apply JJDPA funding to programs and services that discourage use by juveniles.
Other JJDPA provisions support mentoring and counseling, to foster behavioral changes as an alternative to expensive and often-ineffective detention centers. With investment from JJDPA funds, three communities in West Virginia have been able to implement Functional Family Therapy, an intervention that has proven to help reduce recidivism by over 50 percent. Without this federal investment West Virginia cannot implement this approach in other communities. These proven programs are what all of West Virginia needs.
According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, in fact, the number of court referrals for status offenses — such as underage drinking, skipping school or violating curfew laws — rose nearly 124 percent between 2002 and 2012. That began to change in 2015, when state lawmakers wisely chose to expand the availability of FFT, and recidivism has been dropping.
As one of many law enforcement leaders throughout the nation who know these efforts are far more effective and more fiscally responsible than incarceration, I’ll be very frustrated if West Virginia — like other states — doesn’t have the resources to implement them. That’s why our letter asks the House and Senate to provide enough funding through State Formula Grants, and Youth Promise Grants to ensure these options are available. Investment now means not only better outcomes for our young people but, ultimately, a savings of taxpayer dollars, as well.
I’m an elected official who manages a budget, so I understand how difficult it is for lawmakers to heed competing interests in allotting federal funding. Fortunately, these proven interventions make wise use of public money. According to a study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, interventions that address the root cause of criminal behavior can save the public up to $24,000 for every youth who’s involved — a stark contrast to the $112,555 annual average cost for one youth in juvenile custody, as reported by the Council of Economic Advisers.
That’s good news for everyone who wants a fair shake for taxpayers. I appreciate Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, who have shown great leadership in their commitment to funding of federal programs that allow communities to launch interventions to deter juvenile crime and reduce recidivism. With their support, we can ensure the JJDPA has the resources to deliver on its proven promise to create safer communities nationwide.