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W.Va. juvenile center faces security concerns

May 12, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The number of weapons being found inside the Eastern Regional Juvenile Detention Center is increasing, and director Tom Moreland said there is a "great threat" to security in the lockup.

Two weeks ago, a pocketknife was found on a teenager and a safety pin was found tucked inside an Ace bandage on another youth, said Moreland.

Shortly before those items were found, a pencil, which is a common weapon in the center, was found hidden under a trash can liner in a waste basket, said Moreland. Another pencil has also turned up missing in the center recently, and officials have been unable to find it, said Moreland.

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Although Moreland said some of the incidents can be attributed to workers not being careful enough in searching youths, he said the problem can mainly be attributed to low salaries at the center, located off South Queen Street behind the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

Child care workers at the center make about $13,000, and there is constant turnover as employees leave to find higher paying jobs, acccording Moreland and Ann Garcelon, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

A child care worker can leave the center and go to nearby Washington County, Md., and find an identical job that pays about $8,000 more annually, Moreland said.

The center employs 17 child care workers, but currently there are only 13, Moreland said.

Moreland said when the center gets that low on workers, employees have to start working double shifts and give up days off. The result is workers begin missing weapons that youths are trying to bring in, Moreland said.

"It's a great threat. I think luck has been on our side," said Moreland.

"We get some nasty big kids in here sometimes," he said.

State lawmakers said they are not aware of any attempt to increase salaries for workers at the detention center, but they are aware of the problems that the center is facing. Not only do salaries need to be increased, but there needs to be more space for youthful offenders, lawmakers said. The current center can hold 10 people and it is always full, officials said.

"It's an area of growing concern," said state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said a solution to the problem might lie in a special election scheduled for September. Voters will be asked whether the state should be allowed to invest its money in the stock market, which would raise money for pay hikes to state employees.

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