Judge issues final ruling on WV Industrial Home for Youth - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Judge issues final ruling on WV Industrial Home for Youth

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The judge that's presided over the nearly two-year debate over West Virginia's juvenile justice system says he expects the state to "carry through on its obligations to make the necessary changes to the facilities."

Mercer County Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn issued his final ruling Tuesday, Jan. 21, saying much has changed since Mountain State Justice petitioned the state Supreme Court in June 2012 for a writ of habeas corpus and writ of mandamus against the Division of Juvenile Services and the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth.

Mountain State Justice represented two residents of the home upset by conditions and practices within DJS,  such as confining the petitioners to their cells for long periods of time, using solitary confinement as punishment, leaving bathroom and shower breaks to staff's discretion, requiring residents to wear prison uniforms, limiting contact with families and limiting educational and physical exercise opportunities.

The case was transferred to Kanawha County Circuit Court for factual development and Aboulhosn was appointed to oversee the proceedings.

"Ideally, there would be no need for DJS or facilities to confine wayward youths," Aboulhosn wrote. "However, this Court is confident that with the changes brought by this proceeding, and continue to be improved upon ... the future for those juveniles committed to DJS authority is much brighter than it had been prior to this proceeding."

He also said he expects DJS to "carry through on its obligations to make the necessary changes to the facilities" that it had agreed to over the past 18 months.

"Quite frankly, this Court has questioned some of the proposed changes to the missions of some of the DJS facilities as announced by DJS," Aboulhosn added.

"This Court is of the opinion that some of the changes may not be the most advantageous decisions. However, this Court is mindful of the separation of powers between the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branches of government. The Executive Branch is charged with the responsibility of housing and rehabilitating juveniles in our system. The Judicial Branch, other than committing juveniles to detention, is charged with checking and balancing the Executive Branch by ensuring that the Executive Branch complies with the law and is acting constitutionally. To that end, this Court can unequivocally state that none of the decisions made by DJS regarding the changing of the missions of the various DJS facilities comes even remotely close to violating any statute or being unconstitutional."

The 57-page opinion pointed out the petitioners had failed to substantiate allegations that  DJS had failed in its duty to provide meals on schedule and adequate portions, but questioned policies at some facilities forbidding residents to talk to one another until everyone had been served, saying it was "inconsistent with (DJS's) mandate of rehabilitation and treatment to which the Respondents agreed to enforce in the prior order."

"While this issue is one of the more minor issues in the scheme of this litigation, it is still yet significant that (DJS) agreed to revise the system-wide policy of denying the right of residents to speak at mealtime but yet over a year later there is still lack of uniformity at all DJS facilities regarding this issue," Aboulhosn said.  

 

He also reduced by 10 percent the attorney fees claimed by Mountain State Justice, awarding the group $252,355, and rejected bills for nearly $6,000 in paralegal fees. He also rejected Mountain State Justice's request for a 20 percent enhancement of its attorney fees, saying the money would have to come out of the DJS budget at the expenses of the very programs and facilities the petitioners sought to improve.

"It would not be difficult to imagine that the large award sought for counsel fees and costs could have a negative impact upon the relief sought by the Petitioners," Aboulhosn said. "Further, this Court cannot justify such an additional award to be borne by the taxpayers in this State."