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Judge ends juvenile homes lawsuit, orders parties to work together

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The judge presiding over a lawsuit that resulted in the closure of two state juvenile homes wants attorneys to continue a working relationship to carry out changes at other state Department of Juvenile Services facilities.

Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn on Monday issued a final order in the case, which started from a lawsuit filed by Mountain State Justice on behalf of juveniles at the now-closed Industrial Home for Youth. In March last year, Aboulhosn ordered the Industrial Home for Youth and the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center in Salem closed after receiving testimony about safety issues and allegations of sexual assault.

Alboulhosn approved an undisclosed settlement in the case and Mountain State Justice and the DJS agreed to work together to address further issues at other facilities. The lawsuit eventually expanded into an overall assessment of the DJS.

Lydia Milnes, an attorney with Mountain State Justice, said Monday's order wrapped up several issues that were raised after the two facilities' closures. It also cemented the working relationship between her organization and the DJS.

Alboulhosn ordered both parties to report to the State Adjudicated Juvenile Rehabilitation Review Commission, which was appointed in 2011 to examine conditions at the now-closed juvenile homes. Representatives from the commission visit DJS facilities to ensure compliance with recommended changes in the initial settlement.

"The resolution of this case allows us to continue our focus on improving the services we provide to these youths as well as the facilities meant to safeguard both them and the public," Stephanie Bond, acting director of the DJS, said in a statement. "We recognize the judge has directed further monitoring, and note that the reports that have emerged from this process have been very helpful."

Alboulhosn also asked the DJS to continue sending email updates to Mountain State Justice about youth offender room detentions.

"He wants the Division and us to continue in this relationship that we've developed to continue making sure that things are going as well as possible and juveniles are being offered their rights," Milnes said.

In Monday's order, Alboulhosn addressed issues raised by three juveniles at Northern Regional Juvenile Center in Ohio County and the Kenneth Honey Rubenstein Juvenile Center in Tucker County.

They complained that meals have decreased in size, leaving them feeling hungry throughout the week. They also said young offenders were made to stay quiet for about 20 minutes while meals were being served.

Alboulhosn said the DJS is following federal guidelines that are standard throughout the state. However, he ordered the DJS to end the practice of silence during mealtimes because it's counterproductive to the youth offenders' rehabilitation.

Juveniles also complained there was not enough space at the Northern and Sam Perdue Juvenile Center to play group activities like basketball. Alboulhosn wrote in Monday's order that DJS officials were making due with limited space and all juveniles received adequate exercise opportunities required by law.

Young female offenders at Northern Regional Juvenile Center said they were not receiving the same post-graduation classes or vocations classes offered to juveniles at other facilities.

"The Court finds that the Division has no legal duty to establish unilaterally or create unilaterally an educational or vocational programming for its residents," Alboulhosn wrote in Monday's order. "Rather, that discretion and duty lies with the Department of Education."

Finally Alboulhosn said the DJS was doing enough to address frequent staff turnover. DJS officials said pay for correctional officers is not competitive enough to attract long-term employees.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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