Isle of Wight Board Chair says juvenile prison not happening if state requests more money

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TOWN OF WINDSOR, Va. (WAVY) — As Isle of Wight County continues to negotiate with the Commonwealth of Virginia over terms of a proposed juvenile correction center, neighbors continue to ask both parties to drop the idea altogether. 

It was standing room only Thursday evening inside the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors monthly meeting. The supervisors chose to meet at Windsor Town Center over their traditional boardroom at the Courthouse Complex, in anticipation of large crowds of people commenting on the controversial proposal to build a 60-bed juvenile correctional facility south of the Town of Windsor.

DJJ’s director said the facility helps the department move towards its goal of replacing its current large facilities with smaller, regional, and treatment-oriented juvenile correctional centers.

In February, the Board of Supervisors voted narrowly to transfer 20 acres of farmland to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice in order to construct the $13.5 million facility, as long as their terms are met. 

If we reach terms, we move forward. If we don’t, project fails, reiterated Board of Supervisor Chairman William McCarty, who represents the Newport District in Isle of Wight County. There is still a lot of things up in the air.

At the meeting, Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton presented that as a result of negotiations and community input, several changes have already been made to the terms of the potential deal. 

They include:

  • No future expansion of the facility without approval from the Board of Supervisors
  • No future use for an adult correctional facility without approval from the Board of Supervisors
  • Installing sufficient foliage to shield the facility from the view of Walters Highway
  • Interior security fence will be 16 feet high, without outward fence 6-8 feet high, with a patrol road between the two fences.

In addition, Keaton said DJJ plans to launch a citizen advisory board and will phase in use of the facility.

Specifically what they told me on the phone is that they would probably not transfer any individuals from the current [Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center] here, rather they would populate this facility when youth enter into the system from the Hampton Roads area, Keaton said.

The land valued at $200,000 would still be handed over to the state free of charge and the county would contribute $500,000 to help with water and sewer infrastructure.

The county is still waiting to hear back from the state on specifics on a security plan and if they are willing to take down one of the homes currently being rented on the property according to Keaton. 

The later may turn out to be a sticking point. 

Going into this, we (said we) are not going to spend more than that $500,000, period, McCarty said. We have not been asked for more at this point, but at this point, we would not even consider that.

For the second month in a row, hundreds showed up with stickers communicating their disapproval.

I’m proud to a part of this small, rural community, and we do not need this juvenile jail stuck up under our nose, said Irving Jenkins, who lives nearby the proposed site. 

Many residents expressed concern about safety, property values and overall quality of life with the development of a prison in their community. 

They have found an ally in RISE for Youth, a Richmond-based coalition that works to find alternatives to youth incarceration, who also oppose the project.

I need you to not only take some time, but to ultimately reject this idea, Valerie Slater, RISE for Youth’s Executive Director, told supervisors Thursday night. A better approach to youth justice starts with rejecting a model of remotely-located facilities and instead investing in the communities most in need.

Not everyone was against the project.

More than a few speakers at the February meeting said this is an opportunity, and the county would be forward thinking by providing troubled youth a place to learn how to act like a productive member of society.

The county administration has touted that the economic benefits the center could bring. DJJ estimates the center would employ roughly 240 people, including counselors, medical and education specialists. The average job at the facility would make $60,000 a year. 

The county has been talking with the state about the project since late 2017. The idea was originally planned for the City of Chesapeake, however, it was withdrawn after community pushback. 

The Board of Supervisors could make a final decision at their meeting in April. 

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