The official blog of the WVU Clinical Law Program

The number of women in prison is rising. Why?

Tags: Re-Entry

Between 1980 and 2014, the number of incarcerated women rose more than 700 percent. Professor Valena Beety speaks about how women are punished for mental health and addiction issues, rather than treated.

Incarcerating US Panel

Screening of "Incarcerating US" and re-entry panel

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a film screening of the documentary Incarcerating US, an event sponsored by the Black Law Student Association and WVU Law’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter. The film explored many aspects of the American criminal justice system, but focused primarily on our nation’s growing prison problem. With a prison population of 2.3 million people, the United States of America has the largest prison population in the world today. While the United States represents only about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, our nation houses 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. These statistics should alarm us all.

Incarcerating US attempted to explain the causes of American prison overpopulation by highlighting the failures of two major policies crafted during the 1970s – the “War on Drugs” and the implementation of mandatory minimum sentences. The film featured a multitude of persuasive examples that argued that the “War on Drugs” unjustifiably shifted the attention of law enforcement investigation from high-level drug producers and suppliers to common drug users. Further, by statutorily requiring judges to sentence drug offenders to a mandatory minimum sentence, the film argued that the legislature removed the ability of judges to evaluate sentencing on a case by case basis. Coupled together, these two policies resulted in the increase of non-violent drug offenders being sentenced to lengthy prison terms in numbers that have grown exponentially over the past forty years.

Jim Fogle Tiger Painting

Presentation of Exonerated Artist Jim Fogle and Innocence Project Attorney Karen Thompson.

Jim Fogle served 34 years in prison for a heinous crime he did not commit. The Indiana County, PA native developed an interest in art early in life, and as he served time in prison, he continued to pursue his passion. The West Virginia Innocence Project and the Monongalia Arts Center (MAC) are proud to welcome Jim Fogle to the Davis Gallery and share both his art and unique story of injustice. This exhibition celebrates his one-year anniversary of freedom.

In conjunction with the exhibit, we hope you can join us on Sunday, September 11 at 2:00 p.m. for a discussion with Jim Fogle and his attorney from the Innocence Project, Karen Thompson, at G20 Ming Hsieh Hall. The exhibit and the discussion are WVU Campus Read event for Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy.

WVU Clinical Law Program Hosts Ex-Offender Re-Entry Exercise

On August 25, 2016, the WVU Clinical Law Program hosted an Ex-Offender Re-Entry Exercise. The Exercise was operated and facilitated for our clinical law students by First Assistant United States Attorney Betsy Jividen and a team of professionals from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia, the U.S. Office of Probation for the Northern District of West Virginia and the Federal Correctional Institute, Gilmer. The purpose of the Exercise was to heighten student awareness regarding the considerable legal, social and economic barriers that ex-offenders face while attempting to successfully reintegrate into society. Specifically, students attempted to navigate simulated real-word re-entry challenges related to transportation, employment, housing, benefits, voting, parenting, and drivers’ licenses.

According to General Practice Clinical Law Student Anna Casto, “The Exercise provided great insight regarding the significant obstacles ex-offenders faces while attempting to reintegrate into our communities.” Veterans Advocacy Clinical Law Student Kirsten Lilly similarly observed that “while [she] was aware that re-entering ex-offenders had to overcome challenges, [she] was entirely surprised to learn the enormous scope and breath of the legal and economic issues with which they are confronted immediately upon release.” The WVU Clinical Law Program extends a sincere thank you to the selfless professionals who volunteered to come to the WVU College of Law to operate and facilitate the Ex-Offender Re-Entry Exercise for our clinical students.