Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 3, 2014

Correctional Center — Commission must address violations

— The three elected members of the McDowell County Commission must take immediate steps to address the serious compliance violations recently raised by the state Division of Corrections as it relates to the county owned and operated Stevens Correctional Center.

The DOC stated in a June 10 letter to the commission that: “Over the period of time that the county has been operating the facility, there have been many problems with the operations at the facility, the care of inmates and the discipline of staff,” according to the letter from DOC Commissioner Jim Rubenstein. “WVDOC has been hopeful that those issues would be resolved, but unfortunately, they have not been.”

Specifically the DOC, a division of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, stated in the letter that inmates have had to wait over a period of months for X-rays; that medical orders are not being signed; that the treating physician isn’t insured; along with improper documents being filed in response to inmate grievances.

The letter also identifies several issues involving staff members who the states alleges are not following DOC police directives. The DOC also alleges that at least one employee was seen taking money from the girlfriend of an inmate in the parking lot moments after he met with an inmate. In addition, the letter indicates that the center has not updated most of its operational policies.

Due to these serious violations, Rubenstein says the DOC has no recourse but to demand that the county immediately rectify the situation in whole. He adds the DOC will immediately invoke the liquidated damages section of its contract with the county. The DOC letter to the commission contains 11 pages of specific deficiencies and breaches as well as the schedule of damages.

Rubenstein says the county owes a total of $104,272 per day in liquidated damages to the DOC until the issues have been addressed. He says the state will be performing a full audit of all operations at the Stevens Correctional Center and will update the list accordingly when other deficiencies are known.

As an alternative to invoking the liquidated damages clause of the state’s contract with the county, Rubenstein says the DOC is willing to waive all damages owed and assist in effectuating a transfer of the facility, both ownership and operations, to the state. Under this scenario, the county would no longer operate the state correctional center.

 In addition to the DOC, McDowell County Clerk Don Hicks has filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, seeking the restoration of funds in the county budget to cover the expense of hiring more employees to perform work for the Stevens Corrections Center.

When the commissioners launched a project more than a decade ago to convert the old Stevens Clinic Hospital into a state correctional center, the idea was to create local jobs while also providing a boost to the county’s economy. It was a good idea that worked. The Stevens Correctional Center has provided good jobs to local residents.

The question that now begs to be answered is how did the commissioners allow these very serious violations and deficiencies to occur? And why — once these issues were brought to the attention of the commissioners by the state — were they not immediately addressed?

This is not a political game. It is a serious violation of the county’s contract with the state.

The  most important thing now is to ensure that no local jobs are lost as a result of these deficiencies and breaches of the state contract — regardless of whether the facility continues to be operated by the county or falls under the umbrella of state ownership.

 

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