CHARLESTON — A bill to make it easier for some former offenders to get back their driver’s license after serving their time is heading to the governor’s desk.
The West Virginia Senate on Friday concurred and passed the House’s amended version of Senate Bill 678, which waives all monetary penalties, costs, assessments, forfeitures, fines and fees associated with their criminal convictions in order to obtain a driver’s license if the ex-offender has successfully completed the Getting Over Addictive Lifestyles Successfully Program (GOALS) in the state’s regional jails.
GOALS is an approximately six-month program started in the Western Regional Jail in early 2019 that teaches qualified inmates life skills and accountability, focusing on topics like criminal thinking, addictive thinking and relapse prevention.
Successful completion means a reduced sentence, supervised release or some other form of alternative sentencing. Candidates are referred to the program by judges and must be nonviolent offenders.
The program complements the state drug court system.
The program is only operating in the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville and the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville, though judges from all over the state can refer inmates to those two programs. The end goal is to have the program in all 10 regional jails in the state.
At the end of 2019, according to the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, there had been 109 admissions to the program and 39 successful completions — meaning the offender did not end up re-offending or back in jail.
A 2007 Justice Department study found that among nearly 1,000 former prisoners interviewed about their post-release lives, 83% reported lacking a driver’s license, making it among their top-ranked needs. The Census Bureau reports that 86% of American workers drive to their jobs, and having a car and a license is often a prerequisite for finding and keeping a job, especially in places lacking widespread public transit, such as West Virginia.