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Center's focus is rehab

Manchin, Douglas dedicate juvenile facility reopening

Manchin, Douglas dedicate juvenile facility reopening

May 26, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Not too many years ago, juvenile offenders in West Virginia had limited opportunites for rehabilitation, former Berkeley County lawmaker Vicki V. Douglas said.

Results of the work that spanned Douglas' entire legislative career were on display Thursday as state and local leaders gathered in Martinsburg to dedicate the reopening of a center for troubled youth in the Eastern Panhandle.

The Vicki V. Douglas Juvenile Center, when it reopens in July, will expand to 23 the number of rooms available to house young offenders from Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties. It will also be a treatment center for first-time offenders secured by staffing rather than a detention center relying on bars and chains, following legislation drafted by Douglas while in the state Legislature.

Gov. Joe Manchin, who introduced Douglas following his own remarks, said the former lawmaker's efforts segued with his administration's five promises to ensure better opportunities for children in West Virginia and move away from detention for children.

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"It's trying to re-establish and recreate a new life for a child," he said.

Douglas, who was elected to the Legislature in 1990 but stepped down last year, called the legislative change the culmination of much effort that began almost 25 years ago when she first began to advocate for changes in the way the state dealt with young offenders.

"The punishment to a child was often faster and stricter than to an ax murderer and that never made any sense to me," Douglas said. She said her work in education at an alternative teaching center showed her the trouble some youths from disadvantaged backgrounds had simply surviving.

"There were no services for you unless you committed a crime and then they just locked you up."

West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services Assistant Director Denny Dodson called Douglas' model part of the national trend for juvenile centers.

"Sixty-five percent of kids in hardware-secure juvenile detention centers do not need that level of care," Dodson said. "They could function with positive supervision by staff as opposed to locks and doors."

WV-DJS Director Cindy Largent-Hill agreed.

"It doesn't feel good to put a 10- or 11-year-old in cuffs or shackles," she said.

The new center will house people ages 10 to 21 and employ 50 staff members who will undergo extensive training.

Largent-Hill said recruitment efforts are ongoing.

The center will serve young people from the three counties of the Eastern Panhandle as well as Hampshire County, said Largent-Hill, adding that due to the center's emphasis as a treatment center, the center will will focus on treating first-time or nonviolent offenders.

"We would seriously consider someone who didn't perform a crime against a person," Largent-Hill said.

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