Youth Services Systems Inc. in Wheeling opened the doors at the Northern Regional Juvenile Center to community leaders Tuesday.
The agency hosted a reception and reported to the public about operations at the juvenile center.
"The community needs to know these kids are not failures," said Linda Scott, facility director at the Northern Regional Juvenile Center.
Photo by Joselyn King
John Moses, left, executive director of Youth Services Systems, greets state Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, during a public reception at the Northern Regional Juvenile Center on Tuesday.
She noted that present in the room were some past residents who had gone on to have steady jobs and raise families.
A current resident - a teenage girl dressed in orange with shackles on her legs - addressed those in attendance. "Cheyenne" said she was spending her third sentence at the juvenile center.
She expected to be there for six months, after which she will move on to independent living, she continued. She admitted to being scared when she first came to the facility.
"At first, I thought it was the worst," she said. "But they've helped me more than anything."
She added that while living at home, she mostly didn't attend school and barely passed her classes. Now studying at the juvenile center, she has found she can maintain a 3.5 grade point average.
"I'd rather not be here, but I know I've made bad choices," she said. "I put myself here. ... It gives you a chance to regroup your mind. You have a chance to succeed, or to stay here and rot.
"After independent living, I know I definitely will follow a straight path, and maybe go on to cosmetology school," she continued. "I know my goal is not to wind up in regional" adult incarceration.
The Northern Regional Juvenile Center is equipped to house 19 youths, but Tuesday it had 18 residents according to John Moses, executive director of YSS. The average stay of a youth at the juvenile center is about 45 days, he said.
Those placed there have been convicted of a felony crime. Youths accused of murder have been housed there, though most residents have been found guilty of lesser crimes such as assault or breaking and entering, according to Moses.
One stint at the juvenile center typically is enough for most residents, he continued. But he added many youths often are returned to home situations that led them back to criminal activity.
"A lot of times they are using (drugs) or wanting to use," Moses said. "And they often are victims of abuse - both physical and sexual. This spawns in them feelings of hopelessness, anger and payback. The surface behavior is just the beginning of the story."
West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the youth detention facilities in the state provide opportunities for troubled youths to rehabilitate.
"You all deserve a chance, and my job is to make sure there is a commitment from the the state to give you that chance," he told the residents.