Juvenile center advances

Published 6:51 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Three supervisors vote to transfer land to the state

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor 

For nearly four hours, the overwhelming sentiment among residents who appeared during a public hearing was against putting a juvenile correctional center south of Windsor.

And as the hour approached midnight, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Thursday to transfer land to the state for the facility after the public had spoken. 

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Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree and Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie, whose constituents would have the facility nearby, cast the two dissenting votes.

The Board needs to listen to its constituents, and its members need not be afraid to change their minds after receiving new information, said Rosie.

“My perspective has changed,” said Rosie. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Acree said he ran for his seat after it seemed that the fire and rescue volunteers were not being heard concerning certain issues several years ago, and the only thing he could guarantee was being a voice of the people.

“The Department of Juvenile Justice needs to be embraced by the community where it goes. Windsor is not the location for this,” he said. 

The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice plans to build a 60-bed residential facility for male youthful offenders, bringing a new model of rehabilitation to the state. Isle of Wight County has offered 20 acres of land along Route 258, as well as contributing $500,000 to run water and sewer lines to the property. 

Those living in and around Windsor, as well as the southern end of Isle of Wight, turned out in force for the public hearing. The building was so crowded that residents had to stand outside in the cold because there was no other room inside. Many wore “Vote No” stickers. 

The residents were concerned about safety and the possibility, although remote, that young prisoners might escape. Others were concerned with property values and with Windsor being seen as a prison town. Some criticized the Board for past actions, such as buying the land in the first place, and that a state facility would not bring in tax revenue. Many criticized how the county has valued the land and suggested the project be moved to the northern end of Isle of Wight. 

Pete Chapman warned of county children being “accosted and molested” because of the facility. 

“Do not place this bomb on our front porch, light the fuse and not believe it won’t explode. Don’t allow this facility to rip the heart from this community,” he said. 

The land being offered is part of Isle of Wight’s intermodal park — the parcel being part of many hundreds of acres purchased by the county years ago for industrial development. 

Daren Wingard complained that he did not know this was being considered, stating that there had been “radio silence” so far on the subject. Other residents voiced the same complaint.

The Smithfield Times published 24 stories about the proposal over the past year, and Isle of Wight has held several informational meetings on the matter. 

Others were opposed in a general way. 

“NIMBY is a valid reason,” said Macon Hodges, referring to “not in my backyard” criticism.

Sprinkled among the overwhelming opposition to the facility were several people in favor of the project. Some worked in the state’s justice system, others in counseling and mental health, while some simply supported a new approach to rehabilitating troubled kids. 

William Smith, superintendent of the Western Tidewater Regional Jail and who also happens to live near Windsor, said he worries about a lot of things, but not a juvenile correctional facility. 

He suggested that opponents look at Virginia’s sex offender list and see who is living nearby. 

Michael Whalen, who also works at WTRJ and lives in Smithfield, recalled when he worked at the juvenile boot camp that used to be in Walters — not far from the newly proposed facility. 

Whalen said the program really turned a lot of the kids around, many of whom helped the community clean up after Hurricane Floyd. 

Valerie Slater with Rise for Youth out of Richmond was in favor of the DJJ’s new concept but believes that Windsor is too remote a location.

The proposed facility was originally slated for Chesapeake, but the City Council ultimately failed to get the super majority it needed to transfer the land. Isle of Wight offered the land outside of Windsor and the state decided it would work because of the proximity to the entire Hampton Roads region where many of the offenders originate. The idea is to put the facility closer to the homes of the offenders so that the families can be more involved in their rehabilitation. 

Department of Juvenile Justice Director Andrew Block was on hand to answer questions following the public hearing. Block stated that it was likely possible for the Board to negotiate specific conditions in the land transfer, such as what will happen to the facility if it closes. 

Once the Board votes in favor of conveying the land, the county can begin to negotiate the terms of the transfer, said county attorney Robert Jones. 

Once the terms are negotiated, and those can be public, then the Board can cast a final vote — yea or nay, Jones said. 

If the terms are not agreed to, then the deal is off, said Block. 

Block said the state is aiming to begin construction in the next two years and possibly open the facility in 2022. 

He said there is no desire to make it any bigger than 60 beds and the most it would expand to is 72 beds.

The facility is limited by the new juvenile justice model as well as the size of the property, he said.  {/mprestriction}