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Judge takes up Salem juvenile center case

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Photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Education / A school on the grounds of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth Photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Education / A school on the grounds of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth
Photo courtesy W.Va. Division of Juvenile Services / A look inside Unit 1 of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth Photo courtesy W.Va. Division of Juvenile Services / A look inside Unit 1 of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth
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Closure of Building A of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth in Salem is not "immediately necessary," and the decision to close the facility is up to officials in the executive and legislative branch, a specially-appointed circuit judge ruled Dec. 21.

Mountain State Justice, which represents two residents of the facility, originally filed the emergency petition for writ of habeas corpus and writ of mandamus in the state Supreme Court against Dale Humphreys, director of the Division of Juvenile Services, and David Jones, the superintendent of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth.

The case later was transferred to Kanawha County Circuit Court for factual development, and Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Omar Aboulhosn was appointed to oversee the case.

The petition alleged several incidents of what petitioners called "repressive policies" including confining the petitioners to their cells for long periods of time, using solitary confinement as punishment, leaving bathroom and shower breaks up to staff's discretion, requiring residents to wear prison uniforms, limiting contact with families and limiting educational and physical exercise opportunities.

Aboulhosn's Dec. 21 memorandum opinion also said the state's executive and legislative branches must develop or adopt recommendations. Otherwise, the court will mandate necessary changes.

The order denied plaintiffs' motion for habeas corpus, determining mandamus the appropriate avenue.

The opinion granted mandamus on the allegations that physical conditions at Building A are "counterproductive to the goals of juvenile rehabilitation mandated by law with respect to those offenders who can be better served by DJS in other, less restrictive environments."

Lastly, the court ordered respondents to conduct individual assessments on Building A residents to determine if they would be better suited in another Department of Juvenile Services facility.

Aboulhosn also recently ordered youths under 14 to be relocated from the Industrial Home for Youth to a more "age-appropriate facility."

"It is also of great concern to the court, that the unrebutted evidence taken during the evidentiary hearing that the welfare of residents aged 14 and younger is in peril, and that these younger residents should not housed within the same facility as the older residents," Aboulhosn's order states.

In addition, Aboulhosn's order appointed West Virginia Supreme Court juvenile justice monitor Cindy Largent-Hill to ensure compliance in the Nov. 27 order that outlined agreed changes at the facility.

In that order, parties continued negotiations ranging from policies of solitary confinement and isolation to appropriate garb and whether calls home should be monitored.

An order for those agreements was entered Sept. 17. The Nov. 27 order amended it.

The original order focused on issues regarding youth in isolation in various facilities, primarily at the industrial home.

There are exceptions, however, such as out-of-control residents or violent offenses.

Officials also worked to change policies to no longer use isolation.

Residents also will have an opportunity for hearings and appeals.

Bathroom access was another area in the agreed-upon changes. The order sought to address immediate access to the bathroom as requested.

Parties additionally reached an agreement about strip searches. Residents now will only be strip searched if there is reasonable suspicion that they are in possession of contraband instead of every time they leave the building.

The next hearing in the case is set for Jan. 11.