Lakin population could change to male inmates

LAKIN — Changes may be coming to the Lakin Correctional Facility and that’s left many in the community wondering what the future holds.

Larry Messina, communications director for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, confirmed the state has bid on a piece of federally-owned property, namely the Sugar Grove Naval Base in Pendelton County which the government is closing in September. The West Virginia Division of Corrections, along with KVC Health Systems, a nonprofit, has also bid on the property.

Messina said the tentative proposal is to purchase the property and convert it into a female prison with the capacity to hold 613 inmates. As of Thursday, Lakin’s census was 513 inmates being housed at the facility, Messina said. This female population would be shifted to the Sugar Grove site and a male population would be housed at Lakin, under this proposal.

Messina said Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of WVDOC, identified the site at Sugar Grove as a possible new home for female inmates because of a “backlog” of sentenced prisoners currently waiting in regional jails. Messina said there are roughly 1,100 inmates who have been sentenced but are serving their time in regional jails across the state awaiting a bed in an actual prison. The ultimate goal is to reduce this backlog.

If this proposal comes to fruition, it’s estimated to cost $16 million to convert Sugar Grove into an appropriate prison facility and get it operational, Messina said. He added at this time there are no plans to make major changes to the actual, structural facility at Lakin if the conversion happened.

Messina said all correctional officers have the same training for dealing with either male or female inmates. He added when it comes to staffing, he was not aware of any reduction in size at Lakin. He said it was a possibility some employees could be offered jobs at Sugar Grove due to the larger, anticipated population.

At the moment, Lakin is considered a facility for multi-level offenders, including those who are considered minimum, medium and maximum offenders. If men were sent to Lakin, Messina said these inmates would be considered medium security inmates — falling between minimum and maximum security offenders. The state uses risk assessment tools to determine how to place inmates.

The prison falls into the district of Del. Scott Cadle.

Cadle said he had previously met with Rubenstein, along with State Sen. Mike Hall, and was told by Rubenstein this proposal wouldn’t happen or, as Cadle said: “At least not happen like this. Now I feel like it’s happening.”

On Thursday, Cadle expressed his frustration about not being briefed on the status of the situation and having several unanswered questions. He added the prison was initially presented to the public as being a women’s facility and felt that’s how it should stay. Cadle said he’s also concerned the state is “trying to get rid of troublemakers” when it comes to some of the male inmates who would be at Lakin if the transition happened.

“No decision has been made yet,” Messina added, saying the state has not yet made a decision whether or not to commit to the project.