Amended bill to expand juvenile eligibility for restorative justice heads back to West Virginia House

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A substitute version of legislation to expand West Virginia’s restorative justice program for juveniles passed the West Virginia Senate and is headed back to the House to consider the change.

In the original language, House Bill 2094, sponsored by Del. Diana Graves, R-Kanawha, would have expanded access to the program for juvenile offenders for all crimes, including violent misdemeanors and felonies. The Senate substitute would expand access to violent misdemeanors, but not for violent felonies.

The original language passed the House with unanimous support and the amended language passed the Senate unanimously.

With consent of the victim, the program allows juveniles to meet with the victim and discuss the crime in the presence of a mediator. Together, they are permitted to develop a plan in which the juvenile provides restitution for the crime. Completing the program can lead to a dismissal of all charges.

“HB 2094 is a good step in moving away from the medieval mindset of punishing all behavior by putting people in cages,” Billy Wolfe, the communications director for the state’s ACLU chapter, told The Center Square.

“It emphasizes making victims whole and creating accountability by making people face the harm they caused,” Wolfe said. “Although we are disappointed that the Senate has decided to limit the applicability of restorative justice programs, we hope this will be one step into expanding these programs, not only to all juvenile offenders, but to adults as well.”

As the bill is currently written, a juvenile could only participate in this program once. Any incriminating evidence gathered during the program would not be admissible in court.

If the House agrees to the substitute version of the bill, it will head to Gov. Jim Justice’s office for his signature. If the House does not agree on the legislation, lawmakers from both chambers would need to reach an agreement before sending it to the governor.

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