CHARLESTON – It is the prerogative of the Chief Justice to have a special project. It focuses the attention of the entire court system toward one goal for that year.

These programs start while their champion is Chief Justice but by no means end at the end of that year. The work is too important.

In my past years as Chief Justice I have promoted judicial truancy programs, civic education, and elder law issues. Justice Brent D. Benjamin pursued the expansion of drug courts and established the Access to Justice Commission and the Lawyer Assistance Program. In her most recent year as Chief, Justice Margaret L. Workman focused on juvenile justice and established the Adjudicated Juvenile Rehabilitation Review Commission.

It is about that work I would like to report to you now.

Any children ordered into secure facilities are wards of the courts. When youths are removed from their families/homes and are outside of their home communities, detained in secure or residential settings as a result of court orders, they remain a proper concern of the court system.

The Adjudicated Juvenile Rehabilitation Review Commission was established by Administrative Order of then-Chief Justice Workman in July 2011. Its purpose initially was to examine the Division of Juvenile Services’ operations plan and programs at the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth in Salem and at the Kenneth “Honey” Rubenstein Juvenile Center in Davis. The mission has since expanded to review other facilities and programs operated or contracted by the Division of Juvenile Services and the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Justice Workman appointed a commission of members with varied professional backgrounds. The commission met, made a series of facility visits to the West Virginia Industrial Home and Rubenstein Center, and hired Cindy Largent-Hill as Juvenile Monitor.

Because of the commission’s facility visits, staff conversations, resident interviews, and policy reviews, significant findings were discovered. There were serious concerns related to resident confinement, lack of programming, treatment services, general living conditions, and access to academic and vocational programs. These concerns were shared with the executive and legislative branches, and some changes were made.

In early 2012 Mountain State Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of two West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth residents (State of West Virginia ex rel. D.L. and K.P. v Dale Humphreys, Director, Division of Juvenile Services, and David Jones, Superintendent of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth). Ninth Judicial Circuit (Mercer County) Judge Omar Aboulhosn was appointed to hear the case. Both parties agreed there should be a monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with the elements of a November 27, 2012, Agreed Order. Judge Aboulhosn appointed Cindy Largent-Hill to be the monitor. Approval was given for Alicia Lauderman to assist with the monitoring of the facilities and the compliance of orders. Throughout 2013, multiple visits were made to all the facilities operated or contracted by the Division of Juvenile Services.

Ms. Lauderman, a West Virginia University College of Law extern and commission employee, was especially concerned by reoccurring findings related to family involvement in treatment, attorney representation, and sentencing. She wrote a white paper entitled, “Multidisciplinary Process for Juvenile Status Offenders or Delinquents.” As a result, and with the support of the commission, House Bill 2780 passed during the 2013 Legislative Session. The law allows juveniles committed to the custody of the Division of Juvenile Services to have a quarterly review of their service plans by multidisciplinary teams. The law also states that if a juvenile has been detained in a detention facility operated by the Division of Juvenile Services for more than sixty days and does not have an active service plan, the director of that facility may call a multidisciplinary team meeting to review the case. The responsibility for convening and facilitating these multidisciplinary team meetings is with the Division of Juvenile Services case manager.

During a March 15, 2013, court hearing, the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services presented a plan to reconfigure its facilities and programs. The West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth closed on July 1, 2013, and subsequently became a correctional complex with the Division of Corrections for adult offenders. This triggered a series of changes in most of the remaining Division of Juvenile Services facilities. Due to safety and staffing concerns, Judge Aboulhosn, during a July 10, 2013, court hearing, ordered that the Division of Juvenile Services expedite their plan to vacate the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center.

Despite progress on facility issues, the commission continues to be concerned about additional factors that are outside of the authority of the Division of Juvenile Services (i.e., inadequate attorney representation for post-dispositional juveniles, flat sentences, etc.). Other struggles within the system include post-dispositional teens aging out/discharging with little or no supports or resources, younger adolescents involved in dangerous behaviors requiring out-of-home interventions, dependence on out-of-home interventions due to lack of community-based options, and the need for qualitative standards to measure program effectiveness. During the December 2013 meeting, at the suggestion of Justice Workman, the commission agreed to form sub-committees that will focus on these issues.

At the March 2014 meeting, the commission approved its annual report and Justice Workman stepped down as chairwoman. Judge Aboulhosn rejoined the commission as the new chairman. Judge Aboulhosn said he will not preside if any further litigation ensues from the D.L. and K.P. v. Bond case. A final order was released in that case on January 21.

The commission also changed its name to the Juvenile Justice Commission and expanded its mission to include all out-of-home placements for troubled juveniles, not just those in the custody of the Division of Juvenile Services. Its mission will be focused on systemic improvement in the West Virginia juvenile justice system. Ms. Hill’s title was changed to Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission.

My fellow Justices and I would like to commend Justice Workman on her vision in establishing this very active and successful commission. It provides a unique forum for representatives of the three branches of state government to discuss important issues regularly concerning the incarceration and rehabilitation of young people in our state. Because of the commission’s work, West Virginians can be assured that the justice system is focused on turning troubled youths into productive adults.

Davis is Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

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