Judge: Lawsuit improved W.Va. juvenile system

CHARLESTON (AP) — Changes spurred by a lawsuit have improved West Virginia’s juvenile corrections system and brightened the future for young offenders, the case’s presiding judge said in a final order issued Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn said in the order that the Department of Juvenile Services has adopted new policies and practices to address issues raised by the lawsuit, including strip searches and disciplinary procedures.

Other changes include the closures of the Industrial Home for Youth and the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center in Salem, which Aboulhosn had ordered. Juveniles housed at the Salem facilities were transferred to other juvenile facilities in the state. The other facilities revised their missions and made other changes to accommodate the Salem juveniles.

“The net result of these changes is a dramatically altered landscape than that presented to the Court in June 2012,” Aboulhosn wrote.

Aboulhosn directed the West Virginia Supreme Court’s Adjudicated Juvenile Justice Rehabilitation Commission to continue monitoring the system to ensure that progress continues.

The lawsuit alleged that inmates at the former Industrial Home for Youth were illegally strip searched, placed in solitary confinement, and denied adequate access to exercise and educational materials. It was filed by Mountain State Justice, a public interest law firm in April 2012 with state Supreme Court, which later moved the case to Kanawha County Circuit Court.

After the lawsuit was filed, it evolved into an examination of the Department of Juvenile Services.

Aboulhosn said Mountain State Justice and the state have worked together to address the issues raised by the lawsuit, and “indeed have managed to overhaul an antiquated juvenile justice system in a very short period of time.”

Generally, getting government to act quickly is not possible. But Juvenile Services acting Director Stephanie Bond and others in the executive branch “turned the ship around on a dime in many respects” when they were called upon to take action, the judge said.

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