POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Commission has organized a public meeting for those in the community to voice their concerns over the proposal to change the Lakin Correctional Center from a female to male inmate population.
The meeting is at 5 p.m. Aug. 27 and will be at the Mason County Courthouse, either in the commission meeting room, or the courtroom on the third floor, depending on how many people show up. State Sen. Mike Hall (R) will also be in attendance. Hall, who is the chair of the state senate finance committee, was unable to attend the informational meeting held by the commission earlier this summer due to illness.
At that meeting were local legislators Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R), and delegates Mike Ihle (R-13th), Scott Cadle (R-13th) and Jim Butler (R-14th). Also at the meeting, West Virginia Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein, administrators and employees from Lakin.
Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley said he, along with commissioners Tracy Doolittle and Miles Epling, hope to have a good turnout for the upcoming meeting so that more opinions can be voiced on the matter. The county commission has come out against the idea and sent a formal letter to Gov. Earl R. Tomblin voicing that opposition. Legislators at the previous meeting also expressed their misgivings and opposition to the idea.
“These are good neighbors we have,” Handley said about the Lakin facility as it currently exists and how he hopes it stays the same.
As previously reported, the DOC has bid on property in Pendleton County, specifically the naval base at Sugar Grove that the federal government is closing in September. The proposal is to purchase the property and convert it into a female prison with the capacity to hold 613 inmates. The Lakin female population would be shifted to the Sugar Grove site and a male population would be housed at Lakin which, earlier this summer, was housing 516 female inmates with minimum, medium and maximum security needs. If the plan is approved, it would be phased in over a period of three years and at some point, the population at Lakin would temporarily be both male and female as the transition occurs and upgrades to the new facility at Sugar Grove are made.
At that meeting earlier this summer, Rubenstein said the federal government solicited bids from the state concerning the property and the DOC was informed it had been awarded the bid. Now, the decision lies with Tomblin as to if the project moves forward or dies.
When looking at making changes to Lakin, Rubenstein said the women didn’t need the number of cells at the facility though men, who would be medium-security inmates, are better suited for a facility of that nature. He added there would also be minimum-security males at Lakin as well.
There have been concerns in the community about the DOC being able to fill all the positions needed to house the male population. Also, as Epling pointed out at the previous meeting, he recalled a former state senator and a former delegate promising the people of Mason County that Lakin would always remain a female facility.
As of Monday, Handley said he had heard nothing from the DOC about any progress on the decision nor had he heard from Tomblin’s office concerning the matter.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.