Parties reach agreements in juvenile facility lawsuit - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Parties reach agreements in juvenile facility lawsuit

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An attorney with Mountain State Justice says parties are working to address problems at the Industrial Home for Youth at Salem.

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.

Parties appeared in Kanawha County Circuit Court Nov. 27 where Mountain State Justice attorney Lydia Milnes said two major things occurred.

One part of the hearing was testimony from an expert witness. Milnes said testimony focused on whether the main facility on campus promotes a culture of isolation. She said the expert testified that the facility acted as an adult prison facility and is directed toward control rather than rehabilitation.

"The model that many states are moving toward now is getting away from these big training facilities like the industrial where you warehouse all the bad kids in the state and instead having a more localized way of working with the youth," she said.

Another recommendation from the expert witness was to shut down the facility and transfer the kids elsewhere.

Milnes said parties have worked directly with the Division of Reforms to make agreed changes.

Milnes said parties are continuing negotiations ranging everywhere from policies of solitary confinement and isolation to appropriate garb and whether calls home should be monitored.

She said an order originally was entered Sept. 17 for these agreements and the Nov. 27 order amended it. 

"The new set of policies we worked on and presented to the judge will supersede the prior order and incorporate all the agreements from it," she said."

The original order focused on issues regarding youth in isolation in various facilities, primarily at the industrial home, she said. Milnes explained state law prohibits locking juveniles in a room by themselves for the purpose of punishment.

"There are certain exceptions. If they are out of control then there can be a moment of cooling down," she said later adding other exceptions such as violent offenses.

She said officials immediately worked to change policies and the facility no longer uses isolation.

Milnes also said officials established a due process set of policies to make sure residents have an opportunity for a hearing and for an appeal.

She said policies were additionally developed to encourage communication to residents' families.

Milnes said the new order address the "prison jumpsuit."

"The law in West Virginia is that juveniles can wear individualized clothing," she said. "You're not trying to make it a prison facility."

Bathroom access was another area. She said they wanted to address immediate access to the bathroom as requested.

"They were locked in cells over night and throughout the day but it could be hours later before they could get to use the restroom. This caused problems including medical problems."

Milnes said they also reached an agreement about strip searches. She said when the petition was filed, residents were subjected to strip searches whenever they left the building, even if they went to the school on campus.

"Now we reached an agreement that if there is reasonable suspicion that they are in possession of contraband," she said.

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