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Plans taking shape for former jail

The revamped facility is expected to bring about 100 jobs to the area, according to the state's top prison official

The revamped facility is expected to bring about 100 jobs to the area, according to the state's top prison official

January 14, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Sometime next year, many of the state's convicted felons will be kept and evaluated in Martinsburg before they are dispersed to one of 12 prisons around the state.

The former Eastern Regional Jail, off W.Va. 9 east of Martinsburg, will be converted to the Martinsburg Correctional Center, a 120-bed intake center for the state Division of Corrections. It will employ more than 100 people, said Steve Canterbury, executive director of the Regional Jail Authority.

New employees will include corrections officers, counselors and an administrative staff, Canterbury said.

Canterbury said he hopes to start soliciting construction bids for the $3 million project soon. Converting the jail to an intake center is expected to take about 16 months. Earlier projections indicated the center could open this summer.

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If needed, the intake center could be converted to a medium-security prison, Canterbury said.

Once a prisoner arrives at the intake facility, counselors will compile a psychological makeup profile, assess his education and evaluate treatment needs, said Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the Division of Corrections.

Employees will determine whether the inmate should be sent to a minimum-, medium- or maximum-security prison. Intake work takes about 60 days per inmate, Rubenstein said.

Like regional jails, state prisons are overcrowded. All 3,600 beds are filled in the state's 11 prisons. A 12th prison, exclusively for women, is expected to open later this month, Rubenstein said.

With the prisons full, more than 800 inmates who have been tried and sentenced are waiting in jails until a bed opens in a prison, Rubenstein said.

"We're excited and it'll definitely be something we need," he said.

Inmates at the correctional center will be treated as high security risks as a precaution, even if some of the crimes involved are seemingly nonviolent, such as a DUI third offense or forgery, Rubenstein said.

Changes are necessary to convert a jail, which is meant to hold those awaiting trial and those convicted of misdemeanors, to a prison, which holds felons.

What is now a booking area in the former jail will be converted to offices for counseling. Some interior walls will be torn down and, behind the building, a prison yard will be set up for inmates to enjoy recreation and "hang out," Canterbury said.

Currently, some offenders do their intake work at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex, a maximum-security prison in Fayette County.

In the future, those convicted of crimes such as murder, rape or other violent offenses will bypass Martinsburg and go directly to Mount Olive, Canterbury said.

Other felons now do their intake work at a temporary facility at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County.

The former Eastern Regional Jail opened in 1989 and closed 11 years later, replaced by an adjacent 300-bed facility.

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