The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

July 11, 2013

Judge orders Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center closed

CHARLESTON — Testimony alleging sexual assaults and other problems at a West Virginia facility for juvenile offenders helped prompt a judge Wednesday to order its shutdown.

Following a hearing in Kanawha Circuit Court, Judge Omar Aboulhosn told state officials to relocate the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center or its residents by Sept. 30.

The Harrison County facility is on the same Salem campus as the now-former Industrial Home for Youth. Aboulhosn earlier condemned conditions at that high-security facility for juvenile offenders, leading the state to close it to youths as of July 1 and convert it to an adult prison.

But the Division of Juvenile Services has yet to identify a replacement facility or sufficient spare beds at other centers for the 21 sex offenders and seven juveniles with mental and behavioral health issues at Harriet B. Jones. The judge suggested several options during the morning hearing, said Lydia Milnes, a lawyer with Mountain State Justice.

“It’s clear that he wants them out by the 30th,” Milnes said following the hearing, adding that the judge may give state officials some leeway with that deadline.

A public interest law firm, Mountain State Justice filed the lawsuit that spurred Aboulhosn’s ruling against Industrial Home for Youth. Milnes said Wednesday’s witnesses include correctional officer Troy Stephenson, who testified that a 20-year-old sex offender allegedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old from the behavioral health unit over the weekend.

Young offenders can remain at juvenile facilities past their 18th birthday, depending on their sentences. While the two groups of juveniles were kept apart and had separate staff, that changed July 1 amid the state’s conversion plan for the campus, Milnes said. As a result, Stephenson and just three other officers were on duty at the time of the alleged assault, she said.

Milnes said Stephenson testified that he also witnessed a senior correctional officer sexually assault a 19-year-old officer. Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Joe Thornton said his department takes all such cases seriously. It oversees both Juvenile Services and the Division of Corrections for adult offenders.

“Every incident that has been alleged is being investigated,” Thornton said after the hearing.

Citing Wednesday’s testimony, Milnes also alleged that top brass at Harriet B. Jones failed to heed the judge’s earlier ruling that targeted the Industrial Home for Youth — even after the state announced the conversion plan in March.

  State officials said they are trying to address the latest issues raised in the case.

“There are a number of challenges we continue to address in our comprehensive restructuring of juvenile services,” Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said after the hearing. “While hurdles still exist, we will diligently work to meet the deadline set by the court, while remaining focused on providing the best treatment programs and facilities for our youth.”

Staffing issues play a key role in the lawsuit, with Milnes and firm leader Dan Hedges arguing that juveniles are vulnerable to abuse because of insufficient staff. Residents have been confined to their rooms for longer periods than allowed, for instance, and are not always allowed their weekly, 15-minute phone calls, the lawsuit alleges.

While Aboulhosn stopped short of ordering the staffing changes sought by Mountain State Justice, Milnes noted that the judge called agency acting Director Stephanie Bond as a witness and told her that “the buck stops” with her.

“I think he made it clear that he sees that as the responsibility of DJS,” Milnes said, regarding the staffing issues. She also said, “The judge went beyond what we were seeking (with the Sept. 30th deadline), but we do think that is, ultimately, a necessary step.”

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • West Virginia chemical safe level following spill based on two weeks

    When federal officials decided what chemical levels West Virginians could safely consume in water tainted by a January spill, their standard assumed people would be exposed for two weeks, not 100-plus days.

    April 23, 2014

  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads