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Corrections projects making headway

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

By this fall, nearly two years after ground was broken on a $14 million, 200-bed expansion on the grounds of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth near Salem, the facility should be ready to accept youthful offenders.

The expansion is one of two correctional projects in the area under the auspices of the state Regional Jail Authority, said executive director Steve Canterbury.

The eighth of 10 regional jails also is under construction near West Union in Doddridge County, and should begin accepting prisoners sometime next spring.

"I never give a firm date until we're a couple months away and we know exactly what's going to happen, but the contractor's kept to a pretty firm schedule," he said Friday. "I'm pretty optimistic that it will be open by late spring."

About half of the 384-bed North Central Regional Jail has been constructed, said administrator Tim Bowen. The facility consists of four "pods," each double-tiered and containing 96 beds.

When completed, the jail will house prisoners from Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Doddridge, Ritchie, Tyler, Pleasants, Wood and Wirt counties, Bowen said. While some county administrators have in the past expressed concern about the size of the jail, Bowen said overcrowding should not be an issue.

"If you take a straight count of the county jails, the numbers are probably a little high, but you have to remember that includes state inmates," Bowen said. "We'll be able to deal with state inmates a little easier because we can transfer them to other regional jails that aren't as crowded."

Since the state began the regional jail system in the middle 1980s, it has become a model for the country, Canterbury said. West Virginia is still the only state with a state-wide regional jail system, he said.

The expansion at the Industrial Home is also very much needed, Canterbury said, because the state pays about $20 million per year to house youthful offenders out-of-state.

"That's just bad money," he said. "This money is being spent on out-of-state employees and these kids get no local support. This is about keeping our kids in-state and providing them with a support system and keeping the money in the state."

The expansion will nearly triple the number of residents that the facility can house, Canterbury said.

"West Virginia, unfortunately, neglected the problem for decades. We just don't have adequate facilities right now. We're taking old facilities and converting them into youth homes, but something more substantive was needed," he said. "We have people right now in juvenile detention centers inappropriately waiting for space in a correctional center. It sounds like a big expansion, but within six months, I predict it will be full."

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446.

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