State, county officials discuss correctional center

Published 4:05 pm Saturday, July 21, 2018

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Andy Block, director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, traveled to the Windsor Ruritan Clubhouse on Friday morning to more thoroughly brief county and town elected officials on the DJJ’s plan to establish a juvenile correctional center in Isle of Wight County.

The proposed 60-bed facility would house Hampton Roads area juveniles and young adults ages 14-21 convicted of crimes ranging from misdemeanor drug offenses to murder. The proposed location of the facility is the yet-to-be-developed third phase of the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, located just south of Windsor.

Block said the state’s goal in locating the facility in Isle of Wight was to cut down on the travel time required for Hampton Roads area parents to visit their incarcerated children. Currently, he said, only 17 percent of inmates at the DJJ’s one and only existing juvenile correctional center in Bon Air, Chesterfield County, are within an hour’s drive from their families. He added that the county’s history of volunteer support and community engagement with the inmates during the years that a DJJ boot camp facility operated in the Walters community also made Isle of Wight an attractive locale for the new facility.

State and county officials claim the new facility would be more similar to a small school campus than a typical prison. Block said the campus would likely include administration buildings, a school and recreational building, and cottage-style housing, all surrounded by a secure perimeter.

When it came time for county and town officials to ask questions of Block, Windsor Councilman N. Macon Edwards III asked if any study had been done on what type of traffic impact the facility could bring to the Windsor area. Block replied that a study had not been done, but added that the facility would operate in three shifts each day, with higher traffic volume on Wednesdays and Sundays, which are visitation days.

Mayor Carita Richardson, who had previously sent a letter on April 10 to Del. Emily Brewer (R-64) on behalf of the own council appearing to support the proposed facility in the state’s 2018-2019 budget, said the reason the council had done so was because when they first learned of the facility, there were numerous positives presented, including extending water and sewer service to Phase III of the intermodal park with the assistance of state funding. She also claimed that the intent of the letter was to support keeping funding for the center in the state’s 2018-2019 budget, but not necessarily locating it in or near the town of Windsor.

She then raised concerns about a preliminary environmental study of the Phase III site, recently completed by Kimley Horn on behalf of the county, which identified much of the site as potential wetlands. She said that the council had only learned of the wetlands issue last week, and of an alternate proposed Phase III site within town limits near the cotton gin and Buckhorn Drive.

“This is not just a small, two-lane road; it is a very narrow country road with hairpin curves,” Richardson said. “Trucks cannot navigate that. They have to come out into Windsor from there to the six-way intersection, which has no turn lanes and a high volume of traffic.”

Keaton clarified that until today, the county had only discussed the original Phase III site off of Route 258. That morning had been the first discussion of the Buckhorn Drive site as an alternate location, he said. At present, neither site has been removed from consideration.

Responding to Richardson’s concerns about Buckhorn Drive and property values, Board of Supervisors Chairman Rudolph Jefferson said that there were residential neighborhoods within 100 yards of the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk, which, in his opinion, had nice, beautiful homes. He also said that locating the facility in Windsor would provide employment opportunities for local college graduates.

Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie asked how local churches and community programs could be involved with the facility, and, addressing the audience, referenced the Bible quote “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

“Our [county] motto is to be a caring community,” Rosie said. “I think we’re a little challenged on this. Do we really believe that? When someone doesn’t fit our box, are we willing to help these kids? And if we say no, I think we need to check ourselves.”

Friday’s discussion of the center was the first that had been open to the public. However, no questions were taken from residents in the audience. Prior discussions among the county, town, economic development authority and state, including the county’s decision on Feb. 28 to send a formal proposal to the DJJ for locating the facility in Isle of Wight, had been done in closed session. The exception had been a single mention of the project by Windsor Councilman Walter Bernacki on Feb. 13. He had referred to the project simply as a “youth development center” and was told by Town Manager Michael Stallings at the time that the matter was not public yet. The drafting and mailing of Windsor’s letter of support was also done in closed session.

Keaton confirmed, however, that public information sessions with citizen input will be held before any final decision is made as to where exactly within the county the facility will be located.