BRANDYWINE, W.Va. — The state Department of Corrections (DOC) envisions incarceration of 620 adult female offenders in a maximum to minimum security prison at the Sugar Grove Navy Base when it is disestablished on Sept. 30.
“We want to give you a quick snapshot overview of what our plans are for the USN Base should we be fortunate to get that facility from the General Service Administration,” said Commissioner of Corrections Jim Rubenstein, Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety, heading a nine-member team of correction officials making a presentation for the Naval Operations Information Command.
More than $19 million would be necessary to transform the base into a correctional facility. That money is not factored into FY16 state budget, but the DOC has possible access to some funding from the governor, Rubenstein said.
“Our budget was not presented this legislative session – we felt it was not appropriate to ask the legislature ahead of time before we receive the Base,” said Rubenstein, who indicated the base would not close before the change-over to DOC occupancy.
The DOC submitted their application for the facility to the Department of Justice this week and is being reviewed with the “highest priority,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin in a letter read by assistant Peggy Hawse to more than 150 people attending the public meeting held at the South Fork Ruritan Club Thursday night.
“I am encouraged that the process to find a new owner for this world-class facility is meeting the established federal timeline and will soon come to a positive resolution,” Manchin said.
“…I will continue to work with all parties at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure that Sugar Grove remains a vibrant economic partner in our community for generations to come,” Manchin continued.
Emphasizing that “public safety is our number one priority,” Rubenstein said the DOC wants to be part of the community and a good neighbor. “We are good at our job. We take it seriously and believe in our mission. We have an open door policy. We take the concerns of citizens seriously and always address any concern brought to our attention,” he said.
When asked by resident Art Hooten if local public disapproval for the prison would change their mission, Rubenstein replied, “No sir!”
Working with a PowerPoint presentation, Rubenstein stated the DOC “vision” is to be recognized as an innovative leader in providing quality correctional services. “We feel we offer one of the finest correctional systems in the state and the country,” he added.
The DOC mission is to enhance public safety by providing safe, secure, humane correctional facilities operating an effective system of offender reentry and community supervision, reducing offender recidivism and assisting victims of crime.
At the end of 2014 the WVDOC had 2,385 staff position, 6,896 sentenced inmates with 1,029 of those housed in regional jails, and 3,172 parolees/probationers.
The DOC operates 14 prisons, two work release centers and two work camps.
At Sugar Grove, the DOC plans to house up to 620 female offenders, Rubenstein said. Relocation of these offenders would allow up to 620 current regional jail inmates to be transferred to DOC facilities.
Up to 234 full time job positions will be available at the Sugar Grove facility in administrative, professional/skilled trades, support staff, correctional officers and case management staff. Various other job opportunities include prison industries, education, and other contractual staff in food, medical, dental and mental health, Rubenstein said.
“We provide stable long term employment,” he added. Having all current state benefits, the starting salary for guards, the 49th lowest in the country, is $22,500 with a seven percent increase after a year’s probation period. Rubenstein is actively working with the governor and state legislature to increase salaries.
The DOC plans to partner with the National Guard on-site and the Department of Agriculture through Ag Commissioner Walt Helmick.
“We look forward to working with the County Commission to keep the EMS and fire-station components open,” said Rubenstein who introduced Director of Safety Tony Carrico, a former state fire marshall.
“All wardens have a standing Citizens Advisory Committee to work with citizens in the community,” Rubenstein said.
Taking questions from the floor, Rubenstein described a 10 foot high metal fence topped and maybe bottomed with razor wire would surround the facility complete with lights and alarm system. When asked about notification of possible prisoner escape to surrounding farmers without access to cell phones, Rubenstein agreed that would be a problem that could possibly be solved through the Citizen Advisory Committee.
“We want to be transparent in our operations – we’re proud of what we do, but it is not for everybody. We deal with some dangerous individuals,” Rubenstein stated.
The DOC has a Corrections Academy with a four-phase training program: basic, orientation, annual in-service and specialized. Their Correctional Industries division teaches inmates marketable skills and work ethics with the state, county and local government agencies as possible customers.
More than 3,100 offenders are under supervision of their Parole Services with 61 parole officers, an enhanced supervision program and electronic monitoring. They offer a VINE-Victims register to give victims an automatic phone notification when offenders change status.
“If we have the honor of receiving the Sugar Grove Base, we promise to be an integral part of the community,” Rubenstein said.