CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia officials say they want to convert a Harrison County juvenile facility into an adult prison, believing that should resolve a lawsuit targeting conditions there while easing crowding in the state's regional jails.
Officials and lawyers for the Division of Juvenile Services expected to outline their plan for Salem's Industrial Home for Youth on Friday to Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn. The judge is overseeing the lawsuit and previously agreed with many of its allegations. Officials also planned to brief Salem staff about the proposal today.
"It certainly addresses the concerns in the lawsuit, at least we believe it does,'' Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Joe Thornton told The Associated Press ahead of the court hearing.
Under the plan, the 49 juveniles now in Salem's main building would move to other agency-run facilities. That would likely fill up remaining beds at those facilities, said Thornton, whose department includes Juvenile Services as well as the Division of Corrections and the regional jails.
Officials then hope to transfer at least 300 minimum- to medium-security inmates who have been sentenced to prison but are serving their sentences in regional jails. West Virginia's prisons are at capacity, while the 10 regional jails are either full or have more inmates than they were designed to hold. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has proposed legislation drawn from a recent study of the crowding crisis by the nonpartisan Justice Reinvestment Initiative. But that measure, if passed, would mostly blunt the projected growth in the state's inmate population.
Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein told the AP he expected needing few upgrades to convert Salem. Aboulhosn has condemned prison-like conditions at the facility, which houses juveniles convicted of murder and violent crime while the plan would place lower-risk adult offenders there.
But officials must still find a suitable facility for 23 juvenile sex offenders housed in a separate building on the Salem campus. Stephanie Bond, the new acting director of Juvenile Services, told AP that these offenders require a secure setting that can offer rehabilitation along with conditions and programs appropriate for juveniles.
Rubenstein said that building at Salem, the Dr. Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center, appears the ideal site for a long-term, in-patient substance abuse program for adults.