The West Virginia Supreme Court is leading an investigation into the state’s only maximum security correctional center for juveniles following an unexplained death at the facility more than two years ago.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman is establishing a commission to investigate the Feb. 23, 2009, death of Benjamin Hill at the Industrial Home for Youth. An autopsy and various investigations have not determined how Hill died.
“I want to know what happened to this child,” Workman told the Sunday Gazette-Mail. “And there is no reason that the system should not have an answer to why he died.”
Workman, who will lead the Adjudicated Juvenile Rehabilitation Review Commission, said she wants to work with other branches of the state government to bring about reforms or improvements.
The commission initially will look at the Industrial Home for Youth located on the Harrison-Doddridge county line and the Kenneth “Honey” Rubenstein Juvenile Center in Davis, but it could expand its scope, she said.
Dale Humphreys, director of the Division of Juvenile Services, said the commission would get full cooperation. “We have absolutely nothing to hide,” he said.
“We don’t have Boy Scouts, we have criminals that have committed very serious and dangerous crimes,” Humphreys said. “I think what they will find is that we have had incidents, no more or less than any other facility across the country.”
He said he believes problems inside DJS institutions are handled properly.
Workman said children ordered by a state court to the Industrial Home for Youth or another secure facility are wards of the state.
“I can’t sleep well at night thinking that it’s by my hand, at least in part on this level, that somebody gets put away if they’re not being treated humanely, in a safe manner and in a way that’s going to be the most effective in getting their problems corrected,” Workman said.
Hill’s death was investigated by the West Virginia State Police. The DJS conducted an internal investigation.
Nancy Szilvasi, Hill’s grandmother and legal guardian, said she is hopeful the commission will find out why her grandson died.