CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state is implementing a multi-million dollar plan to address concerns within the juvenile justice system.
The shift affects seven of the state's 11 juvenile justice facilities and could cost more than $2 million.
"The idea is the division has been going through some changes for a few months, and this gives us the best ability, a great ability to stabilize the system quickly and start treating the kids system wide, like we're designed to do," said Joe Thornton, Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety secretary.
The plan involves moving juvenile sex offenders from the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center in Harrison County to the Sam Perdue Treatment Center in Mercer County.
The state also plans to make the Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center in Boone County the new maximum-to-medium security facility for juvenile offenders, anticipated to cost $2 million.
The plan comes as a result of alleged wrongdoing within juvenile justice facilities. Lawsuits and other court documents filed by Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm, alleged wrongdoing at the Industrial Home for Youth and the Jones Center, both on the same property near Salem.
The lawsuit argued the Industrial Home, then the state's only maximum-security facility for juveniles, focused too much on punishment and not enough on rehabilitation.
In March the state announced it would close the Industrial Home and turn it into an adult prison. The state pledged to find a new location for offenders at the Jones Center, currently housing juvenile sex offenders and the state's "wellness program." In a recent court hearing, Mountain State Justice alleged understaffing led to dangerous circumstances at the Jones Center.
Mercer Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn, assigned to the case by the state Supreme Court, agreed and ruled the Jones Center must be vacated by Sept. 30.
The state's plan is in response to that ruling, but also moves offenders once held at the Industrial Home and at other facilities. The deadline made moving the Jones Center offenders to a facility already owned by the state a more feasible option, Thornton said.
The new state plan moves offenders from the Jones Center to two different locations.
The sexual offenders will shift to the Sam Perdue Juvenile Center in Mercer County. The wellness program, created for juvenile offenders with behavioral or mental issues, will move to the James H. "Tiger" Morton Juvenile Center in Kanawha County.
The Perdue Center, located in the Bluefield area, is a regional detention facility. It needs a new educational building -- but no security upgrades -- to become the new home for juvenile sex offenders, Thornton said.
Construction of the educational building is expected to cost about $100,000.
There are five offenders in the wellness program right now, so Thornton said the Tiger Morton facility wouldn't need any upgrades. The facility is close to health services that could benefit offenders in the program and the staff has a good reputation for dealing with juveniles who have behavioral issues, Thornton said.
The Perdue Center was the only one of its kind in the region, so Thornton said the state needed to find a replacement. They choose the Gene Sparado Juvenile Center in Fayette County, about 30 minutes away from the Perdue Center.