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Clarksburg
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P.O. Box 2002,
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CURRENT STORIES


Too close to home?

by Matt Harvey

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- A federal corrections halfway house in the Monticello Avenue area of the city may be indirectly worsening the area's drug problems, some authorities believe.

But they acknowledge the number of problems, if any, caused by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons halfway house would be tough to quantify. And one official from a nearby church believes the drug problems are not caused by the facility.

However, a defense lawyer from the area said she has had three different clients report to her that "drugs are available at that facility," although the attorney, Christine Stump of Snowshoe, said she had "no firsthand knowledge."

Stump spoke after a court hearing in which she said one of her clients who wants to break a drug addiction habit would prefer not to be released to a halfway house.

The three leading members from Harrison County of the Harrison/Lewis Drug and Violent Crime Task Force are Clarksburg Police Chief John Walker, Harrison County Sheriff Jim Jack and Bridgeport Police Chief Jack Clayton. To different degrees, all indicated the halfway house likely is causing problems.

They echo the sentiments some area police officers have privately confided: While inmates are not a problem while they're at the halfway house, that may change when they're gone. Or their family, friends or acquaintances may be a problem after visiting, the officers say.

The theory: Outsiders are finding out they can make five times as much for a similar-sized rock of crack cocaine, or some other drug, here in Clarksburg as they can at their current base of operations. There also are concerns that the house is located near to what authorities consider a problem spot for drug dealing.

Police have noticed an influx of drug dealers in the Clarksburg area in the last three or four years, Walker said. The only factor that's changed in the recent past in the area is the introduction of the halfway house, he said.

"We haven't been able to prove (a connection)," Walker said. "But a lot of the residents (of the halfway house) are from out town. And a lot of the trouble has come from out of town. There's a good possibility there is some connection."

He added this rhetorical question: "How else would people from Detroit know they could come here to Clarksburg and get a good price for drugs on Monticello Avenue?"

Clayton prefaced his comments by saying he had not had direct contact with the situation because of his department's normal jurisdiction. But he said former inmates and family members or associates of current or former inmates could all be "potential sources of the problem."

Even if that's true in only a few cases, the effect could be exponential as word of "supply and demand" spreads about the market, he indicated.

Jack believes there has "been impact," but doesn't consider it "a severe impact."

"But anything associated with drugs, whether it be treatment, use, sales or whatever, (has an effect). ... I think if we remove the center from there, it's not going to cure the problems in the area by any stretch of the imagination."

Harrison County Prosecutor Joe Shaffer also has concerns about the issue. He wonders whether halfway house inmates, who are permitted to work in the community, are being watched closely enough to and from work.

"I think a lot of the people housed down there are making their friends and relatives from larger metropolitan areas (aware) of the open market for drugs here, and those people in turn are coming here and supplying the area with drugs from those larger areas," Shaffer said.

Moving the halfway house might not be much of a solution, he said, because "it's just going to shift the problems."

Rather, he suggested looking at tightening the restrictions on visitors, and "tightening liberties for the inmates. Some walk clear to Bridgeport for work. What are they doing in between?"

A spokesman for Florida-based Bannum Inc., which has the contract for the halfway house in Clarksburg, issued the following statement:

"To address the limited information you've given about your story, we offer the following comment: Bannum has been operating this federal program in Clarksburg, West Virginia, for approximately 12 years," said David Lowry, Bannum executive director.

"No person or entity has ever brought such allegations to our attention nor, to our knowledge, to the federal government," Lowry said.

James E. Griffin, chairman of the trustee board for the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church located in the area, said there is a good relationship between the church and the halfway house.

"I haven't seen any additional problems as far as the halfway house being there," Griffin said. "Many of the residents of the home have come to our church. We don't have a bad relationship with the halfway house."

Griffin has his own theory about Clarksburg's drug problem.

"I think we are like most cities in the state that have been invaded by outside sources who think West Virginia is prime for the picking," Griffin said. "I think if you travel to the Martinsburg area, you have people coming out of D.C. If you go to Charleston, most of the trade is people dealing from Ohio and Michigan.

"I think a lot of people have an idea about West Virginia where they think we're kind of backward, think they can come down here and get by with it more than they can in larger cities like Cleveland," he said.

Dan Dunne, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, said bureau officials welcome all comments about their facilities (see sidebar on where to write) and take such input seriously. He said bureau officials are always open to suggestions at how they can improve their facilities.