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Juvenile Services plan falls short, attorney says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Educational programs must be maintained as residents of state juvenile facilities are shuffled around after the court-ordered closure of the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center, Daniel Hedges, an attorney with Mountain State Justice, told a judge Tuesday.

Hedges, an attorney with the public interest law firm that sued over the treatment of juveniles in state facilities, told the judge that a plan from the state Division of Juvenile Services to rearrange residents lacked details.

"We don't consider this a plan. What's called a comprehensive plan isn't just a list of musical chairs. Yeah, we're going to move people all around, in some cases moving kids from a facility that has a broad-based education program to a tiny building with two or three rooms for educators and not enough space to accommodate a long-term mission," Hedges said.

"The educational pieces and the space pieces and the other details that should go into really what's called a comprehensive plan are not there."

The Division of Juvenile Services plans to move juvenile sex offenders from the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center to the Sam Perdue Treatment Center in Mercer County. Juvenile offenders with behavioral or mental issues will be moved from the Harrison County facility to the James H. "Tiger" Morton Juvenile Center in Kanawha County.

About $2 million will be spent to convert the Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center in Boone County to a new maximum- to medium-security facility.

A vocational building and classroom space will be added to the Mercer County facility at a cost of about $100,000, Marty Wright, with the state Attorney General's office, who is representing the Division of Juvenile Services, told Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn.

Security upgrades will be made to the Gene Spadara Juvenile Facility in Fayette County as it will replace the Mercer detention center.

The state officially closed the Industrial Home for Youth, formerly the state's only maximum-security juvenile center, on July 1 as a result of Mountain State Justice's lawsuit.

Last month, the law firm filed an emergency motion in Kanawha Circuit Court to look into problems at Harriet B. Jones, which is on the same site in Salem as the Industrial Home. Some of the inmates at the Industrial Home were moved to Harriet B. Jones in April, creating new problems.

Amid widespread safety problems and allegations of sexual assaults committed by inmates and a senior official, Aboulhosn ordered the Harriet B. Jones facility also shut down.

Aboulhosn said Tuesday that more details should eventually be provided about the educational components during the changes.

"At least we have an outline," the judge said.

Wright said education is being considered.

"Be mindful, we're only four weeks into this process and we're making tremendous steps forward. Education is 100 percent a part of this," he said.

Aboulhosn warned of the lack of mental heath services in Mercer County, where he is a judge, and asked state officials what that would mean for the sex offenders at the Sam Perdue Treatment Center.

"If I had to say what the gaping hole is in West Virginia when it comes to juvenile justice, it is mental health treatment for youthful offenders. It's hard to find good mental health services -- psychiatric, psychological services -- anywhere in West Virginia, but particularly in Southern West Virginia," the judge said.

"So how do you anticipate having the sex offenders being treated? Who is going to provide the mental health services to the residents there? I can tell you in Mercer County we don't have a whole lot available for adults much less for children."

Wright said the division is working with outside contractors to address staffing concerns.

"We recognize those issues need to be addressed," he said.

Another status hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 12 in Princeton.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

 

 


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