CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's not unusual for young adult offenders in West Virginia to be held at juvenile detention facilities.More than 25 percent of the offenders in juvenile facilities are 18 or older, according to state data.Under state law, young offenders can remain at juvenile facilities past their 18th birthday, depending on their sentences.But there is no policy to keep adult and juvenile offenders separate, said Denny Dodson, deputy director of the state Division of Juvenile Services.
"We either need to change the code or have separate facilities,'' Dodson told the Charleston Daily Mail.As of earlier this month, 65 of the 256 male and female offenders in juvenile detention centers were 18 or older, according to data provided to the newspaper by Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Joe Thornton.The data show that 59 men in the system were 18 or older. Most of the juveniles were 15 to 17 but 29 were 14 or younger. Three were 12-year-olds.Dodson said the number was higher when the Industrial Home for Youth was open."I had about double the number of adults than I had juveniles. And it's a juvenile facility,'' Dodson said.All offenders at juvenile facilities are monitored and corrections officers make sure older, bigger or "more sophisticated'' offenders do not bully others, Dodson said. But incidents do occur.He said the division pursues legal action if something illegal occurs, which can result in odd incarceration circumstances.An adult incarcerated as a juvenile and housed in a juvenile facility can be sent to an adult prison if he or she commits a crime while living in the juvenile facility. The offender can serve his or her time in adult prison and then return to the juvenile facility, Dodson said.Earlier this month, a judge ordered state officials to relocate the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center or its residents by Sept. 30. The Harrison County facility is on the same Salem campus as the former Industrial Home for Youth. The state closed the high-security Industrial Home for Youth earlier after a circuit judge condemned conditions at the facility."I've had kids that were committed, transferred to adult status in adult court, found guilty, sentenced to 40 years, then they turn 18 [and] they're kept in the juvenile system because they're working on a GED or doing so well,'' Dodson said.Returning problematic adult offenders to juvenile facilities is bad for morale and safety. But it is the law, he said.
"I do feel like something can be done to change the code,'' he said.Judge Omar Aboulhosn earlier condemned conditions at the Industrial Home for Youth, which led to the state closing it to youths as of July 1.Aboulhosn's rulings came in a lawsuit filed by Mountain State Justice over conditions at the Industrial Home for Youth.Lydia Milnes, an attorney with Mountain State Justice, said there are some circumstances where mixing adult and juvenile offenders isn't always a problem. But she said mixing adult sex offenders with juvenile offenders who have behavioral or mental issues played a role in safety concerns at the Jones center.