CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The transition to new rules and policies within West Virginia’s juvenile detention facilities is turning out to be a bumpy one, according to one representative of the juvenile correctional officers who staff the sites.
“They just want to be able to do their jobs and be able to carry through the mission of the division,” said Elaine Harris with the Communications Workers of America who speaks for those officers.
Two years ago, Mercer County Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn ordered changes within West Virginia’s Division of Juvenile Services after Mountain State Justice, a public interest law firm, filed a lawsuit focused on conditions at both the Salem Industrial Home for Youth and the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center in Harrison County.
Since then, the facilities have been closed, the residents at those sites have been transferred to other locations across West Virginia and policy changes have been made for the treatment and discipline of juveniles while in custody.
Uncertainty surrounding those policy changes came to a head on Feb. 18 when six of the 20 residents at the Lorrie Yeager Jr. Juvenile Center in Parkersburg took control of the commons area at the site in a riot that forced the juvenile correctional officers to retreat.
Reports indicated extensive damage was done and it took several hours for the officers to regain control, even with the assistance of Parkersburg Police.
“They were trying to maintain order and trying to do the things that they felt they were allowed to do, but that situation just got totally out of control,” said Harris.
She said, when it comes to the jobs of juvenile correctional officers, adequate staffing is always an issue, training needs to be updated to reflect the policy changes and officers should be provided the tools they need to maintain order. With a starting salary of $22,500, she said the correctional officers do the best they can in tough jobs.
“They are behind these kids as much as they can be, but there are some who, simply, don’t want to adhere to the rules,” Harris said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
A day earlier, Stephanie Bond, acting director of the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services, confirmed a leadership change had been made at the Lorrie Yeager Jr. Juvenile Center and refresher training for correctional officers was underway.