Sen. Carmichael opposes Lakin changes

CHARLESTON — State Sen. Mitch Carmichael has made his feelings officially known to Gov. Earl R. Tomblin on the proposed changes to the Lakin Correctional Facility.

In a letter dated June 25 to Gov. Tomblin, Carmichael, who is the majority leader in the state Senate, talks about his opposition to changing the facility from an all-female to all-male inmate population and questions the West Virginia Division of Corrections plans to purchase the U.S. Naval Base at Sugar Grove. The DOC proposes upgrading the base and moving the female population to this new facility.

“As you and your administration contemplate the relative merits of retrofitting the Sugar Grove property to house the woman’s inmate population that is currently incarcerated at Lakin, I respectfully request that you give full consideration to the substantial and ongoing costs of maintaining a retrofitting facility as compared to constructing a new, properly designed prison facility. Further, the difficulty in attracting and retaining a workforce to accommodate the Sugar Grove facility may prove to be a substantial barrier.”

Carmichael went on to tell Gov. Tomblin: “In short, there are a number of reasons why transferring the Lakin population to a retrofitted Sugar Grove naval facility may prove more expensive and less efficient than maintaining Lakin in its current operational state and subsequently exploring the construction of a new men’s prison.”

In a public meeting held by the Mason County Commission last week about the Lakin proposal, Carmichel, along with Del. Scott Cadle opposed the changes. Del. Mike Ihle said he remained unconvinced this was a good thing for Mason County and Del. Jim Butler said he was opposed to the changes at Lakin at this point.

Carmichel also told the governor he felt the state should “aggressively pursue pay increases for state correctional officers.” He explained, this action would attract and retain professional staff.

The DOC’s reasoning behind the switch is to utilize the facilities based upon current needs. Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the DOC, also attended last week’s meeting in Point Pleasant and said the Lakin facility is currently more suited to house a male population with minimum- to medium-security needs. He said women don’t require the amount of cells that are currently at Lakin. DOC said the move is meant to make more room to house those who have been sentenced to prison but are doing their time in regional jails due to limited space. Some of these inmates at regional jails may wait close to a year for a bed to open up at a prison.

Retrofitting Sugar Grove could cost around $19 million, though this is an estimate. Rubentstein said a new facility would cost an estimated $150 million to $250 million to build. Carmichael and Ihle both questioned the accuracy of the estimate to build a new facility.