Due process, education, recreation focuses of DJS hearing
Judge Omar Aboulhosn heard what may be the last evidence in the case filed by Mountain State Justice against the Division of Juvenile Services.
Mountain State asked three juvenile residents to testify in an evidentiary hearing Tuesday in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
B.M., identified only by his initials for the court, is a juvenile resident of the Sam Perdue Juvenile Center in Princeton. He is one of the 25 residents relocated after Aboulhosn order the closure of the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center in Salem over the summer.
B.M. testified the Perdue facility staff follows their meal schedules about 60 percent of the time, serving things like pepperoni rolls, chips and prepackaged cakes for dinner when their cook is off or on sick leave.
S.Y. is an 18-year-old resident of the Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center in Boone County and has been in the custody of DJS for over a year. S.Y. testified to support a grievance he filed when the residents of his wing were locked in their rooms for almost two hours. He said residents were told it was a punishment for an individual’s behavior in the cafeteria.
L.B. is a 19-year-old resident of the Northern Regional Detention Center in Wheeling where she said their indoor rec room has only 3 or 4 working exercise machines and she currently has no access to additional vocational training because she has already received her high school diploma. The center now only offers high school or GED classes.
These residents were all called on to testify about the quality of life for juveniles in the custody of DJS. Their issues became concerns not just of the public interest group, but also of the state, as the two are working on the details of an agreement due to Aboulhosn in two weeks.
The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety released a draft that starts with new policies. These policies are to ensure residence have due process rights when they file grievances and have disciplinary hearings.
“Previously, we were using the notice of charges form. We felt strongly that that met what was in the court order because it gave a brief summary or description of the charges,” said Stephanie Bond, acting director of DJS. “Mr. Hedges and Miss. Milnes disagreed with that.”
Dan Hedges and Lydia Milnes serve as counsel for Mountain State.
Bond said DJS will now give residents a full copy of their incident reports at least 24 hours prior to their hearing. Hearing officers will be required to give residents a written decision afterward.
Also as part of the agreement, DJS is seeking five new employees in their central office in Charleston who will travel the state to hold these disciplinary hearings.
“What we have been doing is trying to find a person who is a non-direct care staff to conduct the hearings to keep it as fair as possible,” Bond said, “and in our smaller facilities that’s almost impossible because everybody has contact with the kids, therefore, we have a maintenance worker, but, nonetheless, we are going to make these separate positions.”
The team will not be tied to any one facility with the goal of providing an unbiased handling of complaints.
As for the concerns brought forward by residents in the hearing, nutritionally Bond said facility meals are certified by the Office of Child Nutrition in the state Department of Education and meet national guidelines.
She said lockdowns occur during necessary times to ensure the safety and security of residents, but happen far less often than a year ago.
But the educational opportunities for female residents are a more difficult task to approach. Bond said she is working closely with the Department of Education who provides the academic and vocational training at all state facilities.
The department has completed the process of converting two rooms into classrooms at Northern. They are also taking applications for and hiring teachers to provide business administration classes for residents with diplomas or GEDs. Similar classes are in the works for other facilities in the state as well.
Aboulhosn has also asked counsel to begin working on their final reports reviewing the changes DJS has made over the past year and where they need to go in the future. He said this includes continuing to work with the court monitor or hiring an internal monitor to observe the ten state juvenile centers.