CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The superintendent of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth said Friday that he doesn't want to dismantle the youth facility, favoring instead a plan to retrain staff members and make major changes that aim to shuck its "maximum security" designation.
Superintendent David W. Jones said during a status hearing Friday in Kanawha Circuit Court that the Salem facility's architecture, which experts have said is like an adult prison, has little to do with how well its youngsters are rehabilitated.
"To say it's impossible to provide adequate rehabilitation to young people in [Salem], I find that ridiculous," Jones testified before Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn. "I think the people that we have -- they make it work."
Last year, public-interest law firm Mountain State Justice sued the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services on claims that the Salem facility was ill suited to house children and that its staff strip-searched and confined inmates in violation of state code.
Juvenile Services officials have since agreed to purge the facility of illegal and outdated practices and work with Mountain State Justice to improve the environment.
A consultant the firm hired to study Salem, however, found that a "culture of control" will always pervade the facility because of its cement floors, fixed furniture and segregation cells that do not receive natural light.
During an evidentiary hearing in November, Juvenile Services officials chose not to challenge those findings, and Aboulhosn issued an order last month that called for state lawmakers to implement major changes to the residential unit or abandon it entirely and relocate its population.
Morale among the facility's staffers has plummeted since then, Jones said Friday.
"Quite frankly, it's caused panic," he said, adding that 25 staff members have resigned since July and several of his best employees are searching for new jobs.