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W.Va. out of space for youth offenders

April 10, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Juveniles who commit crimes in West Virginia are being sent home instead of to detention facilities because the state has no place to put them, prosecutors in Berkeley and Jefferson counties said Thursday.

The state's main juvenile facility, the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem, W.Va., has 124 beds, but is so full that it has a 120-day waiting period, prosecutors said.

Privately run juvenile facilities in other states have stopped accepting most of the young offenders because West Virginia has not been paying its bills, prosecutors said.

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"What we have is a serious crisis involving the placement of juveniles," said Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Bernice Weinstein.

Earlier this week, Jefferson County Sheriff's Department deputies were driving a juvenile offender to a Pennsylvania facility when they got a call on their police radio telling them to turn around. The deputies were told that the facility was owed money by the state and refused to accept the youth, Weinstein said.

Alternative payment arrangements were made and the facility later accepted the offender, she said.

But judges frequently are unable to send young offenders to appropriate juvenile centers because the state has not paid the bills, she said.

In one case, the state owes a juvenile facility more than $1.2 million for services, Weinstein said.

At least 10 juvenile offenders in Jefferson County are awaiting placement at various facilities, Weinstein said.

In Berkeley County, an estimated 30 to 40 juvenile offenders are awaiting placement in juvenile facilities, said Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

"There's no room at the inn," Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely said judges have ordered youths to be sent immediately to a juvenile facility, but she's had to tell the judge there is no place that will accept them.

Games-Neely and Weinstein said the problem began developing about three or four months ago after the state contracted with a private firm to process the paperwork for juvenile cases.

Since then, prosecutors and courts are frequently told that the paperwork on the juvenile cases has been lost.

"And when they don't lose it, they override what eight doctors say about the case and where the juvenile needs to go," Games-Neely said.

A West Virginia State Health and Human Resources spokeswoman did not return telephone calls on Thursday.

Weinstein said prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judges meet to decide which facilities are appropriate for the offenders.

Some offenders need psychiatric treatment and counseling, while others want to turn their lives around and need educational and job training to help them, she said.

Juvenile detention centers across the state are full, so in many cases the offender has to be sent home until a bed at a facility, usually in Salem, becomes available, Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely said some of the offenders have committed crimes while at home awaiting placement.

Weinstein said she worries that the waiting list for placement in Salem is so long that offenders are being sent back to the streets too soon.

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