Commission against armory prison proposal

Beth Sergent - [email protected]

POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Commission has come out against the state’s proposal to possibly turn part of the National Guard Armory into a satellite campus for the Lakin Correctional Center.

The resolution passed at Thursday’s regular commission meeting was read by Commissioner Tracy Doolittle, stating: “That we, the Mason County Commission, do not support the expansion or conversion of the National Guard Armory to a prison or correctional facility of any kind in regard to the holding or placement, temporary or permanent, for inmates male or female. We do support the expansion of the present West Virginia Lakin Correctional Facility concerning female inmates and any programs to assist the female inmates in their return to a productive life as citizens of their communities.”

Commissioners Doolittle, Miles Epling and Commission President Rick Handley asked County Administrator John Gerlach to send a copy of the letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and local legislators.

Handley, Doolittle and Epling, have all shown support for expansion of Lakin but on the existing campus.

Doolittle said she had reached out to Department of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein on Tuesday about the matter and a possible public meeting about the proposal but had not heard back from him yet.

A spokesperson from the State of West Virginia has said Rubenstein is interested in coming to Mason County to hear from the public and speak more about the proposal. Commissioners all expressed a desire to hear more about what is being proposed because at this point, according to them, not much has been explained to them about it. Epling said he keeps waiting to hear more facts about it and is still waiting.

Handley said he told a spokesperson for Tomblin this week that he was not in support of the proposal, citing the residential neighborhood which is very near the facility and the concerns of residents living in that area. In addition, Handley pointed out, the armory serves as a facility for a number of public events and functions.

Tomblin’s office has said renovating the armory would cost $8 million and the need to house a growing female inmate population was at least one reason for considering the armory property. In addition, the state already has use of the property so it wouldn’t have to pay to purchase it and could re-purpose the facility. If the state pursues this upgrade of the armory, it would cost $3.9 million a year in operational costs and create 50 new jobs for Mason County.

The commissioners have been attempting to schedule a public meeting on this proposal since news broke about it being in the works. As of Thursday, they were having no luck on firming up a date yet. Residents in the area directly around the armory have started a petition against it and have been talking about organizing a public meeting of their own as well.

Beth Sergent

[email protected]

Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.

Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.