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Opening delayed for Salem adult prison facility

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.

The Jones Center is on the same campus as the Industrial Home. At the time of the March announcement, the administration vowed to move the center.

It hasn't found a suitable new location, said Stephanie Bond, interim director of the Division of Juvenile Services, at the recent hearing. Secretary Joe Thornton, head of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said recently they've looked all over West Virginia and haven't found the right fit yet.

In a footnote of his recent order to vacate the Jones Center, Aboulhosn said, "juveniles may not be incarcerated within sight or sound of adult prisoners." There are also federal laws that prevent such an arrangement, he wrote.

All of the youth offenders were out of the Industrial Home by June, when the Department of Corrections took control of the facility. The state originally planned to open the Salem Correctional Center July 1, but decided it wouldn't be ready until Aug. 1.

The state had planned to operate the adult and youth facilities side by side. The state would build a temporary wire fence covered by mesh to obstruct the view from the Salem Correctional Center, Goodwin said.

"With the recent ruling noting the juvenile must be relocated from (the Jones Center) there is no longer a need for that construction to take place," Goodwin said in a message to the Daily Mail.

In the footnote, Aboulhosn said the law "provides another impetus" for the state to vacate the Jones Center.

Last week Thornton said there were 25 offenders at the Jones Center, adding that the number fluctuates frequently.

The state plans to eventually hold up to 400 adult prisoners at the Salem Correctional Center and employ a few more than 200 correctional officers. The officers have been training at the site since it closed as a juvenile facility, Department of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein told the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram in June.

The state planned to have about 200 prisoners and about 140 correctional officers at the prison when it opened Aug. 1.  

"We are working with Secretary Thornton and Commissioner Rubenstein on the best plan for those employees in the interim."

Aboulhosn scheduled a hearing Aug. 13 in Charleston for an update on the Jones Center transition.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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