PENDLETON COUNTY, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has less than a week left to decide if West Virginia will accept the federal government’s offer of a closing U.S. Navy Station at Sugar Grove in Pendleton County.
The site is free to the state if it’s used for a correctional facility.
One proposal Tomblin is reportedly weighing would require $18 million for renovations at the Sugar Grove site so that it could be used to house the 500 female prisoners who are currently behind bars at Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County.
On Thursday night, state Division of Corrections Commission Jim Rubenstein was among the state officials meeting with residents in Mason County who want to keep the all-classification women’s prison in that county, not see it turned into a medium-security prison for men as proposed.
Rubenstein said there are reasons why the women’s move would make more sense than placing men at a future possible Pendleton County facility.
“It gets a little more complicated at times through our research department and our classifications and the types of beds that you have,” he explained on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Currently, more than 1,000 prison inmates are being housed in West Virginia’s regional jails because there is no available prison space.
At Lakin, Rubenstein said good work is being done. “For the first time the state does have a prison solely for female inmates which has been needed for quite some time,” he said. The facility, he added, is one part of a larger prison system.
“We just want to make sure, from any placement of inmates within a facility in our system, that there are adequate beds and that we don’t just say, ‘This would work,’ and not have enough minimum security or other type inmates to go into that type of structure,” Rubenstein said.
As currently proposed, the National Security Agency will continue to operate from part of the Sugar Grove property which includes 122 acres and 105 buildings. West Virginia will control the rest of it, if Tomblin takes the offer.
The deadline for a decision is Sept. 3.
If West Virginia passes, the property will then be sold at auction.
KVC Health Systems, a nonprofit group based in the Midwest, has been pursuing the Sugar Grove site as a possible location for a specialized career college aimed at young people who are transitioning out of foster care.
More than 200 Navy personnel have been relocated or are in the process of being moved out of Pendleton County ahead of Sugar Grove’s closure on Sept. 30.