The WVCBP is excited to welcome Krysta Rexrode Wolfe to the team as our new operations and event coordinator!
Before joining the WVCBP staff, Krysta served the state by leading faith communities in Morgantown and Charleston. Krysta brings a decade of administrative experience and a passion for advocacy to her work. She holds a B.A. in Communication from West Virginia Wesleyan College and attended graduate school at Vanderbilt University. In her free time, Krysta enjoys volunteering with social justice organizations who seek to elevate the voices of women. She and her husband, Adam, value family time with their two children.
We asked Krysta a few questions to give her the opportunity to share about herself. Check out her answers below.
What aspect of your work at the WVCBP are you most excited about?
I look forward to helping the Center translate its critical research and analysis work to the public through event planning, networking, and administrative support. Equipping staff to tell West Virginia’s story as they advocate for equitable policy is fulfilling to me.
What are you most proud of regarding your work prior to joining the WVCBP?
For the last decade I served West Virginia by leading faith communities in Morgantown and Charleston. I’m most satisfied by the important and lasting partnerships I helped foster with organizations like WV SOAR, Faith in Action, and United Way. The work to bring wholeness and dignity to vulnerable populations can only be done through strong collaboration.
What are three fun facts you would like to share with our supporters?
Over the last year and a half, the public has learned what people behind bars have known for years: that the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitations (DCR) consistently fails to keep people in its custody safe.
Since the beginning of 2020, 217 people have died in a West Virginia jail or prison. This translates to an appalling rate of one human being every 6.2 days.
These deaths are not new. The last decade was particularly dangerous for people behind bars in West Virginia. Between the first and second half of the decade, the number of people in prison who died by suicide tripled. At the same time, state jails were the deadliest in the country.
Two out of three people who died in jail were waiting for their trial date, meaning they had not been convicted of a crime and remained legally innocent at the time of their deaths. When the pandemic hit in 2020, our prisons had the highest death rate in the country.
Thanks to the perseverance and courage of people who have lost loved ones behind bars, and the diligence of reporters and attorneys, we now know more about what happens inside of one of our most secretive government institutions.
From sworn affidavits by correctional officers, we learned that people in jail face physical and sexual assaults, black mold and broken toilets, inadequate food portions that were regularly rotten or undercooked, and retaliation when they filed grievances.
West Virginia’s violent over-reliance on the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation is an ongoing choice. At any time, those in power could decide to lessen this dependency on the criminal system, and they could do so without making our communities less safe.
Between 2011 and 2021, violent crime incidents decreased by 27.1 percent, while property crime incidents decreased by 50.4 percent. And yet, the average daily population in West Virginia jails and prisons crept up to more than 10,000 people.
For decades, elected officials and punishment bureaucrats have turned to the criminal system to solve problems the government refuses to address. Each year the legislature creates new criminal offenses and longer punishments, despite evidence that long sentences don’t make us safer. Each year judges and the Parole Board send hundreds of people into prison for technical violations of probation and parole, despite the person having committed no new crime.
The emergency inside DCR’s death-making facilities is unlikely to end. One reason: years of mass incarceration and excessive sentences have created a growing (and vulnerable) population of older residents. In 2002, there were 445 people age 50+ in West Virginia prisons. Last year, there were 1,209.
The governor, the Parole Board, and the DCR Commissioner have the power to release people who are elderly, ill, or who do not pose a threat to the community. In 21 years, DCR has released a person by medical respite only twice. One other person was released through a conditional pardon by the governor. And not a single person has received a full pardon release.
By comparison, during that same time, 478 people have been “released by death.”
As the fact sheet below demonstrates, an aging prison population is a policy choice. It is the result of extreme sentencing policies and a lack of compassion by the people at the top.
You can learn more in Sara’s full blog post here.
You can download the fact sheet here.
West Virginia places four times as many children per capita into the foster care system as the United States as a whole. Most foster care entries in West Virginia are related to substance use or neglect—not abuse. Poverty and lack of access to substance use treatment are major drivers of foster care entry. To solve our state’s foster care crisis, we must greatly reduce the flow of children into the foster care system by prioritizing primary prevention: keeping families intact when it can be done safely.
This requires providing evidence-based concrete economic and social supports to families before they are in crisis. States’ total spending on primary supports like cash assistance, housing infrastructure, child care assistance, refundable tax credits, and Medicaid is inversely associated with all child maltreatment outcomes.
As a follow up to our report, Moving Upstream: Improving Child Welfare in West Virginia Requires Addressing Root Causes of Hardship, the WVCBP put together a series of fact sheets highlighting the importance of safety net programs in reducing economic hardship and, by extension, the stressors that come with it which are a predictor for child welfare involvement.
Our four fact sheets spotlight the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and unemployment insurance, respectively, and how improving these programs can reduce the risk of child welfare involvement.
You can view the fact sheets below and download them all here.
Last Monday, WVCBP health and safety net policy analyst, Rhonda Rogombe, and other advocates convened at the Capitol to discuss the concerning state of Black maternal and infant health in West Virginia and call for legislative efforts to improve these outcomes. A recent article, including insights from Rhonda, provides further details. Excerpt below:
The Black Infant and Maternal Health Working Group hosted a breakfast and meet and greet with lawmakers Monday at the capitol.
The event brought together advocates, affected community members, health professionals, and policymakers to address Black infant and maternal health outcomes in West Virginia.
Representatives from Black by God, the Black Voter Impact Initiative, the Morgantown/Kingwood NAACP, Morgantown NOW, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and TEAM for WV Children participated in the breakfast.
Attendees heard from experts like Health and Safety Net Policy Analyst Rhonda Rogombe with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
“The most recent multi-year data showed that Black babies were twice as likely as their white counterparts to die in their first year of life in West Virginia, and that’s an unacceptable statistic,” Rogombe said.
According to the March of Dimes the number of preterm births between 2019 and 2021 in West Virginia was higher for Black infants, at 17.6 percent compared to 12.4 percent for white babies.
Preterm birth is a high indicator of risk, but West Virginia law currently does not allow the mortality review team to interview the family of an infant or mother who dies, which limits the scope of the information they collect, according to Rogombe.
“What really started the spark to the national conversation around this is that Black and indigenous women were facing mortality rates two to three times more than their white peers in that first year after giving birth,” Rogombe said. “That has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And so, without that knowledge on the state level, we really don’t know what that looks like, but given the other health indicators that our Black population often faces, we can reasonably assume that the issue is worse for Black West Virginians as well.”
Rogombe said more data collection and the sharing of that data by race in a timely fashion would give a more complete picture of Black infant and maternal health outcomes in West Virginia.
“When controlling for variables like income, education, and other pieces, we still see Black women facing higher rates of mortality than their white peers,” Rogombe said. “All of those things mean that in West Virginia, we really, really need to address this issue and, and just ensure that moms and babies live.”
Rogombe said improvements could be made by prioritizing families in the upcoming 2024 legislative session.
“Creating pathways for midwives and doulas to be reimbursed by health insurance companies so that pregnant people have options in terms of what their care looks like,” Rogombe said. “Things like paid family and medical leave so that people can recover, you know, deepening our, the wealth of resources around mental health. There is a broad range of options and the more that we prioritize families, whatever that looks like, the better our outcomes will be.”
Read the full article.
The third annual West Virginia Black Policy Day, hosted by Black by God The West Virginian and the West Virginia Black Voter Impact Initiative, is scheduled for February 7, 2024. In addition, the event organizers are offering a series of educational webinars leading up to event.
The first webinar took place last month and provided valuable insights about Legislative Interims and Black infant and maternal health policies, as well as actionable strategies and resources for folks to make an impact in their communities.
International Restorative Justice Week is just a month away!
Please join fellow West Virginians via Zoom on Monday, November 20th from 4pm – 5pm EST for a webinar and discussion about restorative justice in the Mountain State. Following a welcome from Honorable Judge Michael Aloi and WV Restorative Justice Project Coordinator Emily Neely, participants will hear from people around the state who are using restorative justice approaches in schools, recovery homes, drug courts, communities, and more. There will be an opportunity for Q&A, as well as an announcement for a restorative justice conference in Summer 2024 at Wesleyan University.
Register for the free webinar here.
The WVCBP’s Elevating the Medicaid Enrollment Experience (EMEE) Voices Project seeks to collect stories from West Virginians who have struggled to access Medicaid across the state. Being conducted in partnership with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, EMEE Voices will gather insight to inform which Medicaid barriers are most pertinent to West Virginians, specifically people of color.
Do you have a Medicaid experience to share? We’d appreciate your insight. Just fill out the contact form on this webpage and we’ll reach out to you soon. We look forward to learning from you!
You can watch WVCBP’s health policy analyst Rhonda Rogombé and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care’s Mariah Plante further break down the project and its goals in this FB Live.
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