Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury announced Jan. 22 that The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has issued a new policy that, prior to sentencing, give circuit court judges more information about those who are found guilty of felonies.
This policy directive was approved by The Supreme Court at its January Administrative Conference and, beginning Aug. 1, each circuit court felon, before sentencing, will be administered a risk and needs assessment test known as the LS/CMI (Level of Service/Case Management Inventory). The results of this test will then be available for circuit court judges to consider.
"This change in policy is largely due to the work of the Justice Center," said Canterbury, a member of the Justice Reinvestment Work Group. Canterbury apprised the justices of the findings of the Justice Center's on-going research during the last several months. That research helped the court reach the conclusion that judges should have more information when making sentencing decisions; LS/CMI results will be included in pre-sentence investigation reports that are handled by probation officers.
"Since probation officers currently carry out investigations about felons and have contact with them and, often, their families, it's the best use of the court's resources to have probation officers administer the LS/CMI," said Canterbury. "Every felon will have this base-line assessment, however, whether there is a pre-sentencing investigation or not."
The LS/CMI tests cost approximately $3 each. There were approximately 8,000 findings of guilt in 2011 in West Virginia. Training probation officers to administer the LS/CMI will cost the court system about $25,000.
Wetzel County Chief Probation Officer John D. Lantz confirmed that he would be headed to the State Police Academy the first week of March for his training in the new procedures. He added that after his training, he would then be required to train the other five probation officers in the Second Judicial Circuit, including Wetzel County Juvenile Probation Officer Bryan E. Hostetler.
Lantz compared the new assessment to psychological examinations that are sometimes ordered of a defendant; not in that they exactly compare the same things, but in that the new tests will now delve into "questions of backgrounds and history." Lantz said the new assessment is basically another tool for judges to use in determining whether or not the offender may be a better candidate for probation or for prison time.
The Honorable David W. Hummel Jr., chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit that includes Wetzel, Tyler, and Marshall counties, confirmed that the results of the LS/CMI will be incorporated into pre-sentence reports. "The information will serve as an additional tool available to me as a Circuit Court Judge in determining the appropriate sentence to hand down which will serve justice and work to decrease the likelihood that the defendant will re-offend. . . In other words, craft the sentence in order to address the defendant's criminogenic profile in order to promote public safety."
The Justice Center's work stems from a June 2012 request made by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, former Chief Justice Menis Ketchum, legislative leaders from all four caucuses, and other state policy-makers, to the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The request involved employing a "data-driven 'justice reinvestment' approach" to form policy framework throughout the state that would reduce spending on corrections; then, these saved funds could instead be invested in strategies to increase public safety and reduce repeat offenses.
These state leaders established a bipartisan, inter-branch Justice Reinvestment Working Group which included state lawmakers, corrections, and court officials, and others involved in the criminal justice system. This group met five times between June 2012 and January 2013 to review findings by the CSG Justice Center and to discuss policy options that would increase public safety and slow prison population growth.