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W.Va. officials await decision on base’s use as prison

SUGAR GROVE, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Corrections plans to find additional funding in its current operating budget to convert the closing Navy base into a maximum security prison for female offenders.

“This wonderful base can be converted (housing and 10 foot fencing/lights) at a cost of about $19 million. Our plan is to look internally to divert funds from our own budget,” said Commissioner of Corrections Jim Rubenstein, also Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Military Affairs.

The DOC operational budget can handle up to 613 offenders being housed at regional jails for $48.25 a day, which brings in about $10.8 million, Rubenstein said.

DOC incarceration costs more than the temporary holding in regional jails because of state mandated programs such as education, medical and special training “to prepare the inmates for re-entry to society, but we can come up with the additional,” Rubenstein stated.

“If you do the simple math we have 5,900 beds with over 7,000 sentencings, which is projected to be more than 7,400 in the near future. Over 1,000 are waiting and sitting in regional jails not getting the proper programs,” Rubenstein said.

The acquisition of land and the building of a new facility would cost more than $200 million, Rubenstein added.

“I feel Sugar Grove is a wonderful chance for the state to get a beautiful facility. That opportunity will never come available again,” Rubenstein said.

The DOC would not be closing down any other of its prisons but moving the female prisoners from Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County and converting it to an all-male facility.

“We feel Sugar Grove would be a better facility for female offenders,” Rubenstein said.

Questioned about the lack of a hospital in Pendleton County, Rubenstein said, “That’s not a game breaker! The DOC handles female medical treatment with a medical contractor that is responsible for 24-hour care 365 days a year. If there are special needs, they bring someone in. We will work in partnership with the local doctors. The females in Pendleton County must have specialists that they work with. We would use the same.”

The DOC expects to hear a decision by the General Services Administration on the dispersal of the Navy base in early May.

“We anticipate on hearing maybe in the next week or 10 days,” Rubenstein said.

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