Juvenile system upgrade planned
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.
Right now it's used by the state Department of Health and Human Resources as a short-term detention facility for juveniles who have repeatedly run away or committed non-violent crimes. The DHHR contracted with Thornton's department to use the building. Now Thornton and juvenile services need it back.
"As you look at internal resources and the best way to maximize our resources, repurposing Spadaro for our needs is what's able to make us implement this plan," Thornton said.
DHHR will move the juveniles at the Sparado Center to other facilities it runs, Thornton said. The facility needs more fencing and other security upgrades in order to accommodate the new population. The state estimates the security upgrades will cost about $140,000.
Changes at the Kuhn Center are expected to cost the most and affect the most offenders.
When the state closed the Industrial Home, it moved those offenders to the J.M. "Chick" Buckbee Juvenile Center in Hampshire County.
But the Buckbee Center isn't ideal for maximum or medium security offenders, Thornton said.
"It was a quick place to place kids, because we had agreed to shut down the Industrial Home," Thornton said. "But we knew we were going to have to make some modifications if that facility were going to remain a long-term facility. With this adjustment ... we can save money by not making those adjustments at Chick Buckbee."
The facility allows for segregation of units and is generally better suited for juveniles with longer sentences, Thornton said. It's split into a "diagnostic" area and a small detention area. Most juvenile offenders go to the diagnostic area so the state can assess which facility would best suit their rehabilitation needs, Thornton said. It's a fluid population, with most offenders staying no more than 60 days.
There's also a 10-bed detention facility. There are already plans created for an addition to that portion of the facility: when the state built the Kuhn Center, architects designed an additional section the state decided not to build, Thornton said.
The addition will house up to 24 offenders. A 300-foot secured hallway will separate the diagnostic area from the proposed long-term commitment area, Thornton said. It's unlikely the two populations will mix, he said. The Buckbee Center will return to its use as a regional detention facility.
Construction at the Kuhn Center is expected to take about one year. The project still needs to go to bid, and there could be some changes to the decision, so Thornton said there's no final completion date.
Thornton expects to meet the court's September 30 deadline for moving the offenders at the Jones Center. The associated shifts should be completed by then as well: The state is already working on the facility upgrades needed at the Perdue and Sparado centers, Thornton said.
There's already money in department's budget for the $2 million upgrade, Thornton said. Money allocated for offenders will move with those offenders to their new facilities, he said.
The new Salem Correctional Center was slated to open Monday. The opening is pushed back until after the offenders are moved from the Jones Center. Thornton didn't know exactly when the new adult prison would open.
Last week Thornton told leaders at the affected centers and the Cindy Largent-Hill, a monitor appointed by the Supreme Court, about the plan.
The plan could play a central role in the next court hearing in the Mountain State Justice case. In his ruling to close the Jones Center, Aboulhosn ordered a status update on it and other facilities. The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 13.