New prison 'first stop' for inmates

October 02, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY


Scott Paugh has a view of menacing barbed wire outside his office window and a statue of John Wayne in cowboy gear on his desk.

"(I) gotta have The Duke in here watching my back," said Paugh, who on April 1 started working as the warden of the Martinsburg Correctional Center - a facility for newly convicted felons that is scheduled to open at the end of this month.

Housed at the former Eastern Regional Jail building at the intersection of W.Va. 9 and Grapevine Road east of Martinsburg, the correctional center temporarily will house men convicted of various types of felony charges.


A felony is any charge for which those convicted face a sentence of more than a year in a state prison. A misdemeanor, in contrast, is a charge that carries a sentence of a year or less and that is served in a jail.

After an inmate is brought to the correctional center, a determination will be made whether he should serve his sentence in a minimum-, medium- or maximum-security state prison, Paugh said.

The facility can house 120 inmates.

Inmates will spend no more than 90 days at the facility, a time Paugh said he hopes to reduce to 45 to 60 days.

"Nobody does their sentence here," Paugh said. "This is their first stop in the prison system."

Fair, firm and consistent

A tour of the facility one recent afternoon began in the kitchen, which features commercial stainless steel equipment. Racks of plastic trays were in one corner.

As many as 360 meals can be prepared in the kitchen daily.

The medical area resembles any doctor's office, minus the restraining equipment and medical cell. Posters and an eye chart adorn the walls.

Correctional officer Lt. Roger Dodson escorted a visitor to the A and B pods, each of which can hold 60 inmates.

In the A pod, state correctional inmates were doing maintenance work. Officers in the tower kept an eye over them and also were painting.

Below, in the B pod, where no inmates were working, Dodson showed the housing areas, including cells.

Each cell contains a metal bed frame, a toilet, a sink, a desk and chair, a wall shelf, lights and a mirror. Everything is welded to the walls or floor, or both.

Outside of the cells is a common area with tables, a television and phones, from which collect calls can be made.

Officers are debating whether to mount the televisions low enough to be controlled by hand. Otherwise, he said, the biggest inmate in the room tends to control the remote, if it isn't stolen or lost.

Dodson was serious when he said he and other employees are anticipating the arrival of inmates.

"I think everybody's looking forward to getting the place up and running and actually doing the job," he said.

Dodson has prior security and military experience and also worked for more than five years as a corrections officer in Maryland.

"It's just something you gotta get used to," he said of working with inmates. "It can be a dangerous situation, but if you're in the situation and you treat people like people and don't abuse them (you'll be fine)."

Dodson said he follows the belief that inmates should be treated fairly, firmly and consistently.

"If you're fair with people and consistent, it lessens a lot of the problems," he said.

Making a jail a prison

Converting the former regional jail - which sat empty for five years after a new jail opened behind it - into a state correctional center required upgrades.

"The standards for a jail don't always meet standards for a prison," said Paugh, who, because of security concerns, could not disclose some changes.

He could say that the fences will be raised to 12 feet, an outdoor recreational yard will be created, more office space was needed and a multipurpose room was created for staff and inmate meetings.

With regional jails overcrowded and a facility sitting empty in Martinsburg, opening an intake center made sense, Paugh said.

"There's over a thousand inmates waiting in jails to get a bed at a prison," he said.

An inmate's criminal history and the seriousness of the charge or charges of which he was convicted are used to determine where he will be placed.

Other needs include whether drug or alcohol treatment is needed, educational needs and psychological needs.

Inmates who obviously will serve their sentence at the maximum security facility at Mount Olive will be processed there, not in Martinsburg, Paugh said.

To help meet educational needs, a Department of Education person will be on staff. Other employees will include counselors and case managers, a psychologist, medical personnel, food service workers, maintenance workers and office staff.

Most of the facility's staff of 73 will be correctional officers.

About 50 people have been hired so far, said Paugh, a former West Virginia State Police sergeant and Berkeley County magistrate.

Working as a warden in a correctional center is another notch in his law enforcement belt.

"It's the same, but different, if that makes any sense," Paugh said. "I've dealt with security issues my whole career, in one form or another."

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