Dealing With Young Offenders

As if Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia legislators did not have enough headaches building for the new year, a judge has added a veritable migraine to their woes.

State officials have known for some time that something would have to be done about the so-called Industrial Home for Youth at Salem. The facility is used to incarcerate juvenile offenders.

Violence directed at both inmates and corrections officers has been a problem for years. So have lawsuits maintaining juvenile offenders are not being treated properly at Salem.

Last week, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn ruled the state is violating young offenders’ rights at Salem. Major changes in how they are treated – and where they are housed – must be made in 2013, Aboulhosn ordered.

Juvenile corrections experts have said the Salem facility is more appropriate for adult offenders than juveniles. Both the housing and methods used to control youths housed there increase the possibility that, once released from custody, former Salem inmates will commit new crimes, say the experts.

Obviously, West Virginia cannot afford to build a juvenile corrections center of the type experts would like to see. But, as a result of the judge’s order, it is equally clear major changes will have to be made.

Tomblin should instruct the Division of Corrections to prepare a list of options for legislators to act on when they meet in February. Lawmakers have no choice but to deal with the problem.