West Virginia has stopped using solitary confinement to punish juvenile offenders in response to a lawsuit by two inmates at the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem.
Division of Juvenile Services director Dale Humphreys tells the Charleston Daily Mail that he ordered an end to the practice this week.
Mountain State Justice contacted the division last week and filed the lawsuit Tuesday with the state Supreme Court, claiming inmates are illegally placed in solitary confinement, denied adequate access to exercise and educational materials, and strip searched.
The case was filed on behalf of two inmates sentenced for crimes at age 17. Both remain at Salem now as young adults.
State attorneys believe it’s possible that a law prohibiting solitary confinement for juvenile offenders has been violated for years, Humphreys said.
All Salem residents, including those who are violent, should be back in the general population by week’s end, he said. Though he fears for the safety of staff and other inmates, Humphreys said he’s committed to following the law.
“Sometimes the law doesn’t understand all the circumstances,” he said. “However, we’re bound to comply with the laws, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Salem’s young 130 offenders, who currently range in age from 12 to 20, include killers, drug dealers and repeat offenders.
An attorney for one of the young men who sued wouldn’t say why her client is in Salem but said it wasn’t for a violent offense.
The lawsuit argues juveniles are being treated too much like adults, even though state law distinguishes between the two and emphasizes reform and rehabilitation for young offenders.
It calls Salem’s tactics “repressive,” saying they deny young inmates adequate exercise and access to bathroom facilities, sometimes leading to urinary tract infections.
Together, the lawsuit says, the home’s policies and practices hinder the ability of inmates “to develop appropriate social skills and to reintegrate effectively and safely into society.”
The lawsuit also claims guards illegally read inmates’ mail, including communications with their attorneys, and that they eavesdrop on conversations between juveniles and their families.
Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court announced it was hiring a monitor to review concerns that the juvenile justice system focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation.
Cindy Largent-Hill, a former director of the Division of Juvenile Services, will work with circuit courts and their probation staffs, visit facilities, review files of juveniles at the Salem and Davis facilities and talk with residents.