Detention facility approval catches some by surprise

Published 5:56 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Windsor Council members say they were not kept informed

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

WINDSOR — Windsor residents are reacting to news that a juvenile correctional center is being planned for Isle of Wight County’s intermodal park — property that includes portions in and near the town. 

Windsor Town Council member Patty Flemming said the Town Council was as blind to the plans as the residents were.

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“It pretty much smacked everyone in the face,” said Flemming, who said county officials kept referring to it as a “youth development center,” which, in her opinion, masked the actual use of the facility. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Windsor Mayor Rita Richardson said the name “youth development center” was to reflect the new model for the facility, in that it would offer educational and vocational training, as well as medical and counseling services. 

Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson reiterated her comments.  

The Smithfield Times reported in February that a residential rehabilitation center was being eyed for the intermodal park and would serve youthful offenders. The Windsor Town Council had received some information in closed session in January, said Richardson.

Richardson said Isle of Wight officials asked the town in April to write a letter of support for the funding, which she signed, and the project was included in the recently approved state biennial budget. 

After that the town didn’t hear anything, Richardson said.

However, when the story broke July 11 in The Smithfield Times, the Town Council was “shocked,” said Richardson.

The Council was concerned that at the least it could have known beforehand and informed the citizens that it was coming, said Richardson. 

Richardson said the town was told public information sessions would be held before anything was finalized, but that didn’t happen. 

County officials have indicated that public information sessions will be held. 

Windsor Town Council member Tony Ambrose was surprised by the news — and upset about how the process unfolded. 

He was also unaware of the funding support letter signed by Richardson in April.

Ambrose knows of at least one other council member — Flemming — who was also unaware of the letter.

This may be good for the county, but the lack of a required public hearing “rubs me the wrong way,” and seems like “back door politics,” said Ambrose.

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors discussed possible locations for the correctional center at its July 5 work session, as funding had been approved in the state budget.

Since the land is owned by the Isle of Wight County Economic Development Authority, a public hearing is not required. 

Richardson said the town has a number of concerns, such as security, but there are also advantages to the project, such as the 240 jobs the facility will bring, new businesses that might locate nearby and the possibility of extended bus service from Suffolk for families of the youth in the facility. 

Jobs will include teachers, therapists, residential specialists, security, maintenance, medical professionals and food service, according to Andrew Block, director for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.

Windsor Police Chief Dan Riddle said the plans leave a number of unanswered questions, such as how many calls for service the department can expect, what are its security protocols and will it have to respond to incidents at the center?

“It’s a lot of unknowns,” said Riddle.

The Windsor Police Department is fairly small, with six officers, including Riddle. 

The town is planning to meet with state officials on Friday to get more information on the facility. Following that meeting, the Town Council has scheduled a called meeting on the correctional facility on Monday, July 23, 5 p.m. at the municipal center.

The Town Council will issue its official statement on the project at that time, said Town Manager Michael Stallings. 

So far, county officials have discussed possible locations within the 985-acre parcel that is owned by Isle of Wight County Economic Development Authority. 

One possible location is off Buckhorn Drive. Richardson said that road has a stiff curve that requires trucks to get to the cotton gin from another direction and through the six-way intersection. She is concerned that trucks and vehicles going to the correctional center would have to do the same. 

Project details

The 60-bed correctional facility will house youth ages 11-21 who have committed offenses ranging from class one misdemeanors to class one felonies, according to Block.

The average age of those committed is 16-17 and the most frequent offenses are assaults, burglaries, larcenies and robberies, said Block. 

The facility will have the flexibility to have one 12-bed unit for girls, but it’s anticipated that it will be only males in Isle of Wight County, said Block. 

And while this facility is a tool for treatment and rehabilitation, safety and security will be paramount, said Block. 

The facility will have a secure perimeter to make sure no one leaves unless they are supposed to and no one gets in without authorization, said Block, adding that it will also have all the modern trappings, such as cameras, security, identification systems and other tools. 

“The Department is eager for this project to get started.  Once completed, it will represent a new, state-of-the-art approach to safely and effectively working with youth who require placements in state custody.  The smaller footprint (it is more than 70 percent smaller than the facility it is replacing), therapeutic design, and proximity to families in the Hampton Roads region, will improve public safety by leading to better outcomes for youth, families, and the communities to which they return,” said Block. 


Public meeting

The Windsor Town Council will hold a public meeting Monday, July 23, 5 p.m. at the municipal center, 8 E. Windsor Blvd., to discuss plans for the new youth correctional facility.