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A judge called the inner workings of the Gene Spadaro Juvenile Center “concerning” after receiving a report from a court monitor for the Adjudicated Juvenile Rehabilitation Review Commission.
The Commission was established in June of 2011 to examine the operations and programs of the Division of Juvenile Services facilities across the state. Cindy Largent-Hill is a member of the commission and visited the Spadaro Juvenile Center in Fayette County Monday.
Judge Omar Aboulhosn, Marty Wright, who serves as counsel for DJS, and Lydia Milnes and Dan Hedges of the public interest law firm Mountain State Justice received copies of the report and discussed its findings during a hearing in Kanawha County Circuit Court Tuesday.
“When I read this report, when I talked with my monitor about it, I was kind of surprised to hear the staff being so vocal, saying please help us. We’re afraid someone’s going to get hurt,” Aboulhosn said.
“To hear that they’re afraid the residents are going to take over the facility? That’s pretty stunning,” he said.
When the state decided to close the Salem Industrial Youth Home and, subsequently, Aboulhosn ordered the closure of the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center this summer on the same campus, juvenile residents were transferred to facilities around the state.
Those with behavioral or mental health issues, called wellness residents, were transferred to the James H. “Tiger” Morton Juvenile Center in Kanawha County and convicted sex offenders were relocated to the Sam Perdue Juvenile Center in Mercer County.
In order to make room for the residents at those facilities, others were shifted between centers and now, Stephanie Bond, acting director of DJS, said staff members at Spadaro have to deal with new types of offenders.
“The staff is used to having lower end status offenders. Our goal was to put lower end detention kids there, but due to the crowding at our more secure detention centers we haven’t been able to move them as we wanted to do,” Bond told the judge.
Not all juvenile facilities in the state have the same security features. Higher end detention centers, like the Lorrie Yeager, Jr., Center in Parkersburg, W.Va., are called hardware secure facilities, meaning they have additional security measures at entrances and fences with barbed wire, while Spadaro is a staff secure center meant for less violent offenders and therefore doesn’t have the same security features.
“The building is not equipped appropriately and staff members know it will take time,” Hill told Aboulhosn, “but they are in dire need now.”
Bond said the state is working to upgrade the Spadaro Center to a hardware secure level, but it is taking time.
Aside from the staff learning to handle a new type of resident and upgrading security, Bond said three residents at Spadaro were acting as ring leaders, egging on their peers. Those residents are being transferred to more secure facilities, including Yeager and the Chick Buckbee Center in Hampshire County.
Wright, however, adds this is problem staff members are seeing at facilities across the state. Over the past year the court has ordered procedural changes within the DJS system and Wright says residents are starting to feel empowered.
“We noticed a trend starting to happen where there’s a belief that you can’t touch me, you can’t do anything to me,” Wright said. “I’ll go complain and get you all in trouble type atmosphere from the residents and now we’re starting to see the matriculation of that mentality going to the extreme.”
Wright told the court it is time to bring some concreteness to the matter.
“We need to bring some calm to the situation and let things start taking its course and get some finality in terms of what these are the rules,” Wright said. “Let’s start implementing them so residents see them.”
Aboulhosn agreed. He has given DJS and Mountain State two weeks to finalize an agreement on the handling of due process rights, education and recreation.
From there, he said he’ll ask counsel to submit its final fact findings and decide how to appropriately dismiss the case.