Charleston, W.Va. - The state is further delaying opening an adult prison facility in Salem until it is able to find a new home for youth offenders currently housed on the same property.
That could push back the opening date of the Salem Correctional Center until Sept. 30 or later, months after originally planned.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration is interpreting a recent judge's order to mean the state cannot open the adult facility until the youth facility is moved, Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said.
"That is our plan, yes," Goodwin said late Tuesday. "We are working on finding the best space for these juveniles."
Goodwin emphasized the state is trying to move quickly to fix the problem.
Last week Mercer County Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn called for an emergency hearing at the request of Charleston-based public interest law firm Mountain State Justice. The law firm called for the hearing to outline allegations of serious safety concerns at the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center, a juvenile justice facility housing sexual offenders and others with serious behavioral or mental issues.
Through witness testimony, Mountain State Justice argued staffing shortages and other issues at the Jones Center left offenders and staff in danger.
Aboulhosn agreed with Mountain State Justice's claims, and ordered the state to move offenders from the Jones center by Sept. 30.
It was the latest in a long string of actions spurred by a different lawsuit from Mountain State Justice concerning the now-closed Industrial Home for Youth in Salem.
Filed with the state Supreme Court on behalf of two offenders at the facility, the lawsuit alleged mistreatment of juvenile offenders. It alleged the state focused too much on punishment and not enough on rehabilitation.
The high court appointed Aboulhosn to oversee the case. Mountain State Justice also received permission to investigate for any other problems at juvenile justice facilities.
Last year Aboulhosn ordered significant changes at the Industrial Home.
In March, Tomblin announced the state would close the Industrial Home to use it as an adult prison. The administration said the transition would address two problems at once: the issues with the youth facility and prison overcrowding in the state.