Last sex offenders removed from Salem treatment center
With no more youth offenders housed at facilities in Salem, state officials draw closer to closing an ugly chapter in West Virginia's juvenile corrections history.
The state announced Thursday the 16 remaining juvenile sex offenders housed at the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center were sent to the Sam Perdue Juvenile Center in Mercer County.
The final three juveniles receiving behavioral and mental health services at the Jones center were transferred Wednesday to the James H. "Tiger" Morton Juvenile Center in Dunbar, said Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina.
"Throughout this transition, the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services staff has pulled together as a strong team with a positive attitude," said Stephanie Bond, the division's acting director, in a news release.
"We are all looking forward to moving our agency in a direction consistent with current trends throughout the country and continuing to help the juveniles of our state."
A court order to vacate the center was the latest in a string of judicial actions regarding youth offender facilities in Salem.
In 2012, Charleston public interest law firm Mountain State Justice filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court alleging misconduct at the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem. The state's only maximum-security detention facility for youth at the time, the lawsuit alleged the center focused too much on punishment and too little on rehabilitation.
The Supreme Court appointed Cindy Largent-Hill, a former head of the Division of Juvenile Services, to monitor the systems and Mercer Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn to preside over the case.
In late 2012 Aboulhosn ordered the state to make sweeping changes at the facility. Instead, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced in March of this year the state would close the Industrial Home and instead use the facility as an adult prison.
The Jones center is located on the same property. While the Division of Juvenile Services was able to transfer offenders from the Industrial home, the special nature of the offenders at the Jones center made finding a new location difficult.
Bond and other state officials said they looked unsuccessfully for months to find a suitable location for the Jones center offenders.
At the same time, conditions at the center deteriorated, according to a different filing from Mountain State Justice. The law firm filed an emergency petition with Aboulhosn, saying the offenders at the Jones center were not safe because of a significant lack in staffing.
The judge agreed the conditions were not up to par; in July, Aboulhosn told the state it must vacate the Jones center by September 30.
In August, the state announced a multi-million dollar shift that would send juvenile offenders to several different locations. At the same time, it pledged to change the mission of several facilities.
In addition to reserving the Perdue center for sex offenders and Tiger Morton for offenders in need of behavioral or mental health services, the Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center in Boone County will become the new medium-to-maximum-security facility. That transition includes a facility upgrade, at the tune of $2 million.
With both youth facilities clear, the Division of Corrections can move forward on opening the Salem Correctional Center. The state plans to eventually house 400 inmates at the site, which should alleviate some of the overcrowding issues in the system, said division Commissioner Jim Rubenstein.
"We are excited to bring our newest facility into operation and look forward to working closely with the town of Salem, and with Harrison and Doddridge counties," Rubenstein said in a news release.
"Warden Dave Jones and his staff are ready to operate this facility to the highest level of correctional standards. We are proud to be an integral part of the community."
The state will start moving adult prisoners onto the site in the next few weeks, Rubenstein said.