Changing juvenile facility to adult prison requires statute
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Closing the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem and reopening it as a prison for adult offenders can't happen without changes to West Virginia code.
Changes to the state's lone maximum-security center for youth offenders will happen with the help of legislation, said Peter Markham, general counsel for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
"It's really going to be a simple statute. I don't see it being much at this point," Markham said Friday afternoon.
The actions might be simple: the statute would change the name of the Industrial Home for Youth to the Salem Correctional Center, Markham said. Code needs to be tweaked so that the center falls under the purview of the state Division of Corrections instead of the Division of Juvenile Services, which oversees the facility in Salem and other juvenile centers.
The ramifications of the statute are widespread.
The move shifts the 49 remaining juvenile offenders to other facilities while freeing up the Salem location for 300 or more adult prisoners.
"We believe we can do a great job of rehabilitating our juveniles at our existing facilities, and - for much less cost than it would take to comply with the judge's order - we'll be able to get well in excess of 300 adult inmates into Salem," Rob Alsop, Tomblin chief of staff, said Friday morning.
The judge's order Alsop referenced came as a result of a 2012 lawsuit from Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm. On behalf of two inmates, the lawsuit alleges offenders at Salem are treated like adult prisoners and not juveniles, a violation of state code.
It's the difference between rehabilitating offenders and punishing them, something with which the Division for Juvenile Services has reportedly struggled. In February, then-division director Dale Humphreys was fired.
"It seemed as if consistently there was a lack of leadership from the central office helping the field work with the teams who were there," said Cindy Largent-Hill, appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor the facility, in February.
"I believe the field teams were trying and it was an inadequate leadership from the top."
After investigations into the facility, Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Omar Aboulhosn ordered alterations. At a court hearing Friday, attorneys for the state announced it would be better for everyone involved to send the offenders at Salem to other facilities and re-open the center as an adult prison.
Although the actual change is a joint effort with the governor's office and several corrections agencies, Tomblin needs help with the legislation. While governors can never introduce a bill, the executive is not allowed to have the leadership from either chamber introduce legislation on his or her behalf after the first 10 days of any legislative session, Markham said.
"Our immediate goal will be to find sponsors for the legislation," Markham said.
He didn't mention any legislators in particular, or say whether the bill would be introduced in the House or Senate.
Alsop touted the bill as, among other things, a way to address the problem with overcrowded jails and prisons in the state. Legislation from the governor that also aims to alleviate some of those concerns remains in the Senate.
Wherever the Salem bill is introduced, Markham expects it to happen sometime this week.
"As long as we can get this legislation passed, we hope to have the facility closed as a juvenile facility and reopened as a correctional facility as soon as possible," Markham said.
The switch is slated for completion by July 1.
Another facility, the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center for juvenile sex offenders, will remain open on the property for now. Alsop said the state was still working on a plan for the facility, but it could continue to function on the site even after the Salem Correctional Center opens. The state hopes to eventually incorporate the treatment center into the adult facility, Alsop said.
Markham said he did not think this legislation would address how the Jones center would become a part of the adult facility.
Employees at the Salem facility were told Friday about the decision. They have the option to remain at the center and receive the training needed to work at an adult facility or transfer to other juvenile corrections locations, Alsop said.
The state is working on individual assessments for the 49 remaining offenders at Salem in order to determine the best new location within the state juvenile system for each person, he added.