Juvenile correctional facilities often pose the first fork in the road for young offenders who are faced with two basic choices — continue a life of crime or conform to society and obey its laws. With the latter option in mind, the West Virginia Department of Juvenile Services and engineering firm ZMM Inc. modified a prototype for juvenile facilities midway through a construction project to provide a more rehabilitative setting for minimum-security offenders.
The project, which spanned from 1999 to 2004, originally included the construction of four hardware-secured juvenile centers. But after the first two facilities were completed, West Virginia officials realized that the prototype could be modified to create less restrictive facilities for juveniles who did not pose a safety or security threat.
“As we got into it, we realized that they did not need such hard facilities at each of the locations,” says Steve Canterbury, former executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, which oversees the Department of Juvenile services.
The first two facilities — the J.M “Chick” Buckbee Juvenile Center at Romney and the James H. “Tiger” Morton Juvenile Center at Dunbar — are typical hardware-secured juvenile corrections institutions. They feature cells with locking metal doors and security fencing with razor ribbon at their rear perimeter.
The remaining two juvenile centers — the Gene Spadaro Juvenile Center at Mt. Hope and the Robert L. Shell Juvenile Center at Barboursville — were designed to prevent the youths housed there from becoming institutionalized. Innovative color schemes, contemporary construction design and natural light were added to help create a more rehabilitative environment.
“The others were built in such a way that they could be staff-secured,” says Canterbury, who is now the administrative director of the West Virginia judicial system. “Two of the four have no fences, they don’t have bars, per se, and the rooms don’t lock. There is a central control room and movements are monitored.”
If one of the juveniles at a staff-secured facility wants to get up and walk out of the building, there is nothing to stop him but his conscience and a staff member who will be waiting outside.
“If one of the kids decides that he is going to walk out, there will be a friendly face to meet him and discuss with him why he thinks he needs to go somewhere,” Canterbury says. “If the kid keeps acting up, then that kid will be transferred to one of the harder facilities. You don’t have to worry about the staff managing him anymore. The design of the facility can hold him in.”
By eliminating the use of locked doors and other security mechanisms, West Virginia was also able to obtain federal funding that accounts for 75 percent of the operations budget at the facilities. The money is provided through funds obtained from Title IX, 4B and 4E, which help agencies offset the cost of housing children that are in need. However, to receive funding the children cannot be housed in full-fledged correctional facilities.
“It is not available for kids in lockup,” Canterbury says.
Denny Dodson, assistant director of West Virginia Juvenile Services, says the federal funding is very helpful, but the primary reason for the modifications is to benefit the youths that are housed at the facilities.
“That’s an added bonus,” Dodson says. “We’re not doing it for the money reasons. We’re doing it for the kid reasons — to do the right thing for kids in West Virginia that have gotten involved in delinquency.”
A Paradigm Shift
When architectural firm ZMM Inc., of Charleston, W.Va., originally agreed to construct the youth centers — after previously building 10 regional jails throughout West Virginia — the company had to shift its thought process to consider the needs of juvenile offenders and the state agencies that oversee them.
|The interior of the Mt. Hope facility utilizes vibrant colors to promote a rehabilitative setting.|
“You have to do a shift in your way of thinking about the whole concept of rehabilitation,” says project manager Carl Agsten Jr. “A lot of the things that we were used to designing in jails had limited applications when you have young offenders that you’re trying to protect, teach, secure and nurture to some extent. We had to do some shifting of our paradigm for how these facilities are used.”
That paradigm was pushed a bit further when it was decided that the prototype for the final two juvenile centers would be modified to become staff-secured facilities.
Dodson says planners first started thinking about the staff-secured facilities during the initial planning phase of the four buildings, but the idea started to gel as new personnel came on board with the project.
“As we got more people, we became more treatment-focused in what we were doing,” Dodson says. “It probably took a couple years for us to realize that we could switch some facilities.”
The final decision to modify the prototype into staff-secured facilities was made after the completion of the James H. Morton Juvenile Center, the second of the two hardware-secured facilities.
Space constraints often provide the biggest burden during the construction process, but ZMM was faced with the more difficult challenge of shifting the project’s direction midcourse.
“The greatest challenges sometimes have to do with having limited space to work with, but in this case we had an additional layer of adaptation that really had to do with responding to a dramatically different rehabilitative concept for the space,” Agsten says. “We tried to respond to that in a way that would help the staff do their job in the facility.”
The most significant modifications to the prototype occurred in the common areas at the Mt. Hope and Barboursville centers.
“The real dramatic change was in the shared space, where basically the rehabilitation and the whole idea of not being institutional could be explored,” Agsten says.
|High ceilings were designed in common areas at the staff-secured facilities to give the sense of more space.|
The roof design, color scheme and exterior at the staff-secured facilities were all ideas initiated by Canterbury.
“I thought it was important to have the facility for the staff-secured kids not be institutional,” Canterbury says. “One of the real ironies of building a juvenile institution is that often they do a great job teaching kids by their very design how to flourish in institutions — exactly the opposite of what you want them to learn. You don’t want them to become institutionalized, which means that they’ve just basically been polished to succeed in prison.”
Interior walls are covered with different shades of red, yellow, blue and purple, while a high ceiling set at an angle creates a less constraining atmosphere at the centers. “The idea was to get as much of a feeling of openness as we could in what is obviously a closed space,” Canterbury says.
While planners were working on enhancements to better foster the rehabilitative process at the centers, they also wanted to make sure the juveniles were not being rewarded with a facility that was too plush.
“The hardest part, it seems, is trying to come up with a design that does not re-enforce institutionalization, but on the other hand you don’t want them to feel like they’re getting some sort of reward for their bad behavior,” Canterbury says.
To offset the more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable aspects of the centers, living quarters were outfitted with typical, drab furnishings found in most juvenile facilities. Rooms are equipped with bunks made out of poured concrete or steel. They also have a small writing surface and a pullout locker.
|A more conventional approach was taken for the living quarters at the staff-secured facilities to remind youths of the realities of institutional facilities.|
“It’s not a pretty world,” Canterbury says. “It’s concrete, it’s sterile colors and it’s very institutional, but they have windows on the front of those areas.”
The windows provide views of day rooms, classrooms, multi-purpose rooms and the gym, all of which are bright and inviting. The design was created to show youths the realities of life in a correctional institution while keeping the image of a better alternative nearby.
The exterior and landscaping of the staff-secured facilities reflects the rehabilitation emphasis. Security fences were omitted from plans and any elements that would give the buildings an institutional look were avoided.
However, despite the differences between the hardware- and staff-secured facilities, Agsten says the unadulterated original prototype remained visible at each of the four facilities.
“Standing outside looking in at it, you wouldn’t think that they were part of the same prototype, but when looking at the plan and when looking at the operations of the facility you can see where they have a lot of similarities,” Agsten says.
The Road to Rehabilitation
The four new facilities mark a significant change for juvenile corrections in West Virginia, which before 1997 split the task of handling juvenile offenders between the Division of Health and Human Resources and the Division of Corrections.
“It wasn’t going very well,” Canterbury says. “Neither of those parts of government were really making this their first priority and it was costing the state a great deal.”
The state lacked beds and was spending money to house juveniles at makeshift facilities throughout the state. When there was no space left, the youths were sent to facilities in other states.
“There were no honest-to-God detention beds in the state,” Canterbury says. “They had some makeshift detention beds at old runaway shelters, but nothing that was fundamentally built for detention. It was not a good situation.”
|The hardware-secured James H. "Tiger" Morton Juvenile Center is more institutional in both its interior and exterior design.|
With nearly $30 million spent annually on the out-of-state transfer of juvenile offenders from a state with only about 1.8 million people, officials decided that a better investment of the money would be to build juvenile centers in-state.
“Thirty million dollars was a major bite out of the pocket of West Virginia,” Canterbury says. “If the money was going to be spent, facilities in West Virginia could at least provide new jobs.”
An Educational Experience
Now about 40 staff members at each of the four centers supervise up to 24 juveniles, and construction of another staff-secured juvenile center is under way. The construction of the two hardware-secured facilities keep serious youth offenders close to home, while the other two facilities provide an alternative to a lockdown institution.
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“If you look at the last 10 years, it’s been noted that roughly 65 percent of the kids in detention could be placed in alternatives to maximum-security detention if they were available,” Dodson says.
For the first time in 30 years, the staff-secured facilities also provide a home for status offenders and youths who are awaiting court decisions.
“We’re getting kids that are too tough for the dependency shelters, but not really tough enough or don’t really need the maximum security,” Dodson says.
From December to August only two youths that were housed at staff-secured facilities returned to one of the juvenile centers. There was one attempted runaway, and one youth left the facility before being apprehended 45 minutes later. Dodson thinks that’s a success considering that 140 to 150 of the state’s most serious runaway offenders have been housed at the two facilities.
Six hours of academic programs a day and other organized activities help keep problems from occurring, Dodson says. So far, two youths housed at the facilities have earned their GEDs and one youth fulfilled all of the requirements for high school graduation.
“That’s our control mechanism,” Dodson says. “Not only is it teaching the kids, it’s also helping us control the kids because we schedule them throughout the day.”
Overall, officials are hoping the programs and design of the facilities will deter youths from a life of crime and keep them out of the adult corrections system.
“I think they’ll change a lot of lives and make a lot of difference,” Canterbury says. “I think that for many of these kids, this will be the nicest single environment they will have ever experienced in their lives.”
Canterbury says he hopes the juveniles at Mt. Hope and Barbourville leave the facilities with at least one message in their head: “The state hasn’t given up on you, the state in fact believes in you enough that we’ve tried to create a very appealing setting for your time when you are in the adjudication process.”