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Plan aims to revamp juvenile justice system

Aug. 11, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm, deserves a lot of the credit for its role in a decision made by West Virginia's Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety to implement a new multi-million dollar plan to address legitimate concerns about the current juvenile justice system in West Virginia.

Lawsuits and other court documents filed by this Charleston-based public interest law firm alleged wrongdoing at the Industrial Home for Youth and the Jones Center, both located near Salem. The lawsuit contends that the Industrial Home for Youth -- then the state's only maximum-security facility for juveniles -- focused too much on punishment and not enough on rehabilitation.

Secretary Joe Thornton of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said the state's juvenile justice system has been going through some changes in recent months and this lawsuit gives that agency the ability to "stabilize the system ... and start treating the kids system-wide like we're designed to do." The plan affects seven of this state's 11 juvenile justice facilities and may cost more than $2 million.

According to a Charleston newspaper report, the proposed plan would move juvenile sex offenders from the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center in Harrison County to the Sam Perdue Treatment Center in Mercer County. The Perdue Center, located in the Bluefield area, is a regional detention facility now.

It needs a new educational building but will not require any security upgrades to become the new home for juvenile sex offenders, according to Thornton. The cost to construct a new educational building is about $100,000. The Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center in Boone County would become the new maximum-to-medium security facility for juvenile offenders, and that is where the $2 million would be needed.

The state announced back in March that it would close the Industrial Home for Youth and convert it into an adult prison. And Mercer County Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn, who was assigned to the case by the state Supreme Court, has ruled that the Jones Center must be vacated by Sept. 30.

The latest plans call for current inmates from the Jones Center to be moved to two separate locations. Sexual offenders will go to the Sam Perdue Juvenile Center in Mercer County while juvenile offenders with behavioral or mental issues will move to the James H. (Tiger) Morton Juvenile Center in Kanawha County.

There is already money in the department's budget for the $2 million upgrade, Thornton said. And he is confident that he can meet the court's Sept. 30 deadline for moving the offenders at the Jones Center.

His department's plan has already been explained to leaders at the affected locations and Cindy-Largent-Hill, a monitor appointed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. It also figures to be a critical part of the discussion in Judge Aboulhosn's scheduled hearing for a status update scheduled this week.

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A state legislator is continuing an uphill battle to make it more difficult to obtain pseudoephedrine -- a critical element in the making of addictive methamphetamine -- by requiring a prescription to purchase it.

Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said last week he has asked Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to either initiate litigation or investigate wholesalers and manufacturers of 15 common cold and allergy medications -- all of them containing pseudoephedrine, which is required to cook methamphetamine.

Recently Keith Humphreys, the onetime drug czar under Presidents Bush and Obama, said he believes 50 to 80 percent of all medications with a pseudoephedrine base are diverted to making illegal meth.

Perdue said he's waiting to see if Morrisey will take action. But if there is no move by the Attorney General to launch an investigation, he likely would sponsor another bill in the Legislature in an effort to accomplish this goal. State Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, has also introduced this legislation in the past but it has never passed .

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Former House of Delegates Speaker Richard Thompson, who is now Cabinet Secretary for the state's Department of Veterans Assistance, has wasted no time in his new role. He's already working with the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Community and Technical College System to alert veterans to the benefits they are eligible for after military service.

Thompson said last week he is trying to "make the veterans more aware of the services that are available." And an agreement between these three agencies was signed on Aug. 6. Chancellor James Skidmore of the state's Community and Technical College System described it as a "win-win" for the state schools and the veterans. He said this cooperative venture is certain to cause more veterans to further their education and training.

Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.

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