W.Va. to spend more on juvenile offenders

April 21, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia is looking at spending $63.7 million on juvenile offenders in the 1997 fiscal year, including $23 million to out-of-state agencies because of a lack of in-state services, a state official said recently.

"I think it's clear there's a broad-based agreement the structure needs to be changed," said Scott Boileau, acting commissioner of the Bureau for Children and Families at the West Virginia Health and Human Resources. "I think there's agreement the state resources need increased."

Local prosecutors in Berkeley and Jefferson counties said the juvenile justice system is in a state of crisis because judges are sentencing young offenders to out-of-state facilities that are declining to accept the youths because the state has not been paying the bills.


Boileau said that the West Virginia Legislature just passed a bill that includes $12 million to pay money owed to out-of-state, privately-run facilities.

Boileau said the state officials also are looking at ways to keep young offenders in West Virginia by expanding the services offered in the state.

"I think that's the direction the department wants to go in is to create a balanced mix of care for juveniles," he said.

Juvenile detention centers are filled and the state's Industrial Home for Youth in Salem, W.Va., has a 120-day waiting period.

Prosecutors said that some offenders convicted of serious crimes are being sent back home until bed space becomes available for them.

Others need rehabilitation programs or educational programs to help turn them away from crime, prosecutors said.

Boileau said the trick is to find money for starting new programs in the state while at the same time meeting the current demand for services.

The problem started about four years ago when the juvenile crime problem jumped significantly, he said.

The rate of children coming into the juvenile justice system has exceeded the development of facilities for them, Boileau said.

About 3,200 children are currently in the state's system, a 35 percent increase from four years ago, Boileau said. The increase in juvenile crime is similar to the national trend, he said.

About 410 of the children are housed at out-of-state facilities, Boileau said.

"These kids return to their communities, and it's better if we can figure out a way to get them treated in their communities," he said.

"We're all concerned and want to do a better job," he said.

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