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.