Youth crime group holds first meeting

August 01, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - As Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Bernice Weinstein began her talk about the juvenile crime problem to a citizens group Thursday night, her beeper went off.

The call she had to handle illustrated one of the biggest problems with the juvenile justice system in West Virginia.

A teenage boy had assaulted his mother and no detention center had bed space for the youth, so the police could not take him into custody, Weinstein said.

Thursday's meeting was the first for Citizens Concerned About Juvenile Crime, which met at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

About 19 people attended Thursday's meeting, including a state delegate, a county commissioner, a sheriff's deputy and a truant officer.

The group was formed last week by irate residents whose homes had been broken into by a teenage boy who remained free for days until a bed became available at a juvenile detention center.


Earlier this week, two teenagers, including a Charles Town boy accused of stealing several cars, and a New York man accused of a role in a murder elsewhere in the state, escaped from the juvenile detention center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Nan Furioso, organizer and acting chair of the citizens group, said that the escape is a further sign of how serious the juvenile crime problem has become.

Weinstein and others said that the juvenile offenders know they do not face serious punishment in West Virginia.

There is only one lockup facility in the state in Salem, W.Va., and its 120 beds are taken up until at least December, she said.

The juvenile offenders currently fall under the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

Jurisdiction for juvenile offenders has been turned over to the state's Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, but officials with the department have refused to take it over because the state has not provided the department with funding to operate juvenile detention centers, Weinstein said.

Weinstein criticized state delegates who hold the attitude that juvenile offenders should not be locked up.

"Let them know that you as citizens are not happy with the kid glove treatment of juveniles," Weinstein said.

The juvenile detention center in Martinsburg has 10 beds and is intended to serve seven counties, Weinstein said.

Currently, two of the rooms cannot be used because the doors were damaged during the escape, Weinstein said, further limiting the number of beds available.

Sometimes Jefferson County deputies have to take a juvenile to Parkersburg, W.Va., or to the southern part of the state, a 10-hour round trip, she said.

State Delegate Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, said that when the new Eastern Regional Jail is completed, he plans to ask for the state to turn the current facility for adults into a juvenile detention facility.

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