Salem facility to close, then reopen to house adult prisoners
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The juvenile correctional facility in Salem will close its doors to youth offenders in order to eventually house adult prisoners, according a new agreement announced Friday.
The plan is a joint effort between Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office, the Division of Juvenile Services and the Division of Corrections.
It comes as a result of a court case filed against the division and the Industrial Home for Youth, alleging youth offenders were treated too much like adults prisoners.
"After a review of all of our facilities as well as the issues that are facing juvenile correctional facilities and the overcrowding in our regional jails, a decision was (made to change) the vision of the Industrial Youth Home from a medium to maximum juvenile facility to a light to medium adult facility at Salem," said Rob Alsop, Tomblin's chief of staff.
In last December, Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Omar Aboulhosn determined the conditions at Salem were "counterproductive to the goals of juvenile rehabilitation mandated by law" and ordered the state to make changes.
Attorneys for the state argued that reopening the facility as an adult prison and sending youth offenders elsewhere could solve the problems for the juveniles at Salem without a heavy financial burden.
"This plan, I think, would go a long way in alleviating those concerns," Aboulhosn said Friday morning.
There are 49 youth offenders still at Salem, Alsop said, which is a fraction of the hundreds of offenders in the facility at this point last year. The state will assess each of the remaining offenders in Salem and place them at one of the remaining juvenile facilities.
The J.M. "Chick" Buckbee Juvenile Center will serve as the new maximum to medium juvenile facility. The Donald R. Kuhn Center in Boone County will "modify its mission" to take on the Behavioral Health Unit at Salem.
Both of these facilities and others across the state have empty beds, Alsop said. The Kenneth "Honey" Rubenstein Juvenile Center has 84 beds and 35 offenders.
"We believe we can do a great job of rehabilitating our juveniles at our existing facilities, and -- for much less cost than it would take to comply with the judge's order -- we'll be able to get well in excess of 300 adult inmates into Salem," Alsop said.
The facility has 178 beds for youth now, Alsop said. There is a different standard for housing adults, though. Changes, including the ability to use bunk beds, will allow the state to house more adult offenders in Salem.
"Rehabilitation" versus "correction" has been at the crux of Salem's problems.
In April 2012 the state Supreme Court appointed Cindy Largent-Hill, a former director of juvenile services, to monitor the facility. Last month she said she thought that led to the firing of the most recent director, Dale Humphreys.
"It seemed as if consistently there was a lack of leadership from the central office helping the field work with the teams who were there," Largent-Hill said in February. "I believe the field teams were trying and it was an inadequate leadership from the top."
Alsop is confident no one will lose his or her job in the shift. Employees at Salem who wish to stay at the facility can train on-site for the transition, something Alsop said the state has done before. If employees wish to work at other juvenile centers, the state will try to find them a job elsewhere, he said.
"Obviously there's a lot of discussion that has to go on with the community for what's going to happen. There will be town hall meetings next week and some meetings with those employees," Alsop said.
He didn't know how many people were employed at the facility right now, but he said the community "doesn't deserve" a job loss.
The goal is to make the transition complete by July. Between now and then, legislation needs to pass that will allow the state to officially change the function of the facility, Alsop said. There also need to be budgeting changes made so that the employees at the new facility could legally be paid.
In addition to the main building at the Salem facility now, there is a unit that houses youth sex offenders known as the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center. The state hasn't figured out a plan for those offenders yet.
We do not have at this time a suitable location for those individuals. We're working on that," Alsop said.
If the state can find somewhere for youth sex offenders to go, the entire Salem facility will be used to house adult offenders. If not, the youth offenders will have to stay on the grounds too.
Other buildings on the site could be "dual-purpose" centers if the sex offender treatment facility remains in Salem.
Charleston public interest law firm Mountain State Justice brought the original lawsuit against the state on behalf of two offenders at Salem. Attorneys with the firm said Friday they still want to proceed with determining whether there are violations of due process at the facility between now and any planned changes.
Aboulhosn agreed. Attorneys for the state said they were happy to cooperate and were working on providing documentation to Mountain State Justice.
Stephanie Bond, acting director for DJS; Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the state DOC; and other officials were visiting with Salem employees Friday morning, Alsop said.