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W.Va. officials considering possible uses for old jail

December 01, 1998|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Construction of a new regional jail near Martinsburg has officials trying to figure out what to do with the old jail.

Overcrowding forced the state to build a new jail behind the current one less than nine years after it opened. Now, the state jail authority is faced with finding a new use for the Eastern Regional Jail when a larger facility opens next summer.

Steven Canterbury, executive director for the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, said the state is looking at several options including:

* Using the old jail as an incarceration and treatment center for third-time convicted drunken drivers.

* Converting the jail for use as a juvenile detention center.

* Allowing the state's Division of Corrections to use the jail as an overflow site for overcrowding in facilities in other parts of West Virginia.

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* Leasing the jail to the U.S. government to house federal prisoners.

"We're only in the ideas part of this," Canterbury said. "This is very preliminary."

While federal authorities and the Division of Corrections uses could be viable, both Canterbury and Berkeley County Commission President Jim Smith said the treatment center is one of the more predominant ideas.

Canterbury said the old jail was built for medium to maximum security, ensuring it would be adequate to house alcohol and drug offenders classified as minimum to low-medium security risks. Also, the old jail would allow drug and alcohol offenders to be kept in separate populations, he said.

The least likely option would be to use the jail for juvenile offenders, Canterbury said. With the jail's low ceilings and exposed pipe work, Canterbury said it could cost the state more than $1 million to remodel the building to house juveniles.

Smith said he is worried about possible dangers in placing juveniles near adult prisoners.

Smith, however, is also concerned overcrowding in the Eastern Regional Juvenile Detention Center would force Eastern Panhandle families to drive longer distances to see incarcerated children.

Canterbury acknowledged the 11 beds in the current juvenile facility in Martinsburg are inadequate, but said he is confident the construction of a new juvenile facility for the Eastern Panhandle will happen within the next three to five years.

"It will happen sooner than later," he said.

Canterbury envisions building a new $4 million, 30-bed juvenile facility near the current building, but he said any decisions will result from future discussions on the state and local level.

As for what to do with the current adult jail, Canterbury anticipates a decision will be made in the next six months. He said the jail authority will continue to examine possible uses and will present the issue to West Virginia legislators for additional input.

Smith, who will step down from the state jail authority board when he leaves the Berkeley County Commission this month, said the bottom line is that all options are open and no decisions have been made.

"This is a good problem to have," Smith said. "It's better to have too much space than not enough."

The Eastern Regional Jail opened with 120 beds in May 1989, but overcrowding has forced the jail to house upwards of 240 inmates.

The new jail, expected to cost $17 million by the time it is finished, will have 300 beds.

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