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W.Va. begins overhaul of juvenile detention system

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia officials are shifting inmates and overhauling juvenile detention facilities to address concerns about how young offenders are treated.

The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety plans to move juvenile sex offenders from the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center in Harrison County to the Sam Perdue Treatment Center in Mercer County. While that facility needs an educational building, state officials say it does not require any security upgrades.

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.

Meanwhile, the Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center in Boone County will become a new maximum- to medium-security facility, at a cost of about $2 million.

"This gives us the best ability -- a great ability -- to stabilize the system quickly and start treating the kids systemwide, like we're designed to do," department Secretary Joe Thornton said.

The planned overhaul of the juvenile justice system will affect seven of the 11 facilities and follows recent court rulings involving the system. In July, Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn ordered the state to relocate the Jones center or its residents by Sept. 30. Earlier, the judge condemned conditions at the former Industrial Home for Youth in Salem, and the state closed the high-security facility.

Mountain State Justice, a public-interest law firm, sued over conditions at Salem that Aboulhosn determined were too prison-like for young offenders and focused too little on rehabilitation.

The Salem facility has since been turned into an adult prison. It was set to open Monday but has been delayed until all the young offenders at the Jones center have been relocated.

Thornton said his department also wants to resume control of the Gene Spadaro Juvenile Center in Fayette County, which the Department of Health and Human Resources uses as a short-term detention facility for juveniles who repeatedly have run away or committed nonviolent crimes.

That property needs more fencing and other security upgrades that Thornton estimates will cost about $140,000.


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