POWHATAN – After more than a year of planning, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice was on target with the closing of Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center in Powhatan County this month.
As of June 1, the entire incarcerated youth population had been transferred out to Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Chesterfield County, and as of June 9, all of the staff except for those who are responsible for the closeout of the facility were transferred to either Bon Air or other facilities, according to Andrew K. Block Jr., director of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The closing of the prison, which was announced in May 2016, is ahead of the original projected closing date of June 30.
“As of today, there are about 25 people working at Beaumont to inventory property, take care of the records and all of those kinds of things,” Block said on June 14. “The plan is it will be officially mothballed on Sept. 9. There will be a skeleton crew after that to maintain the buildings, make sure the property is secure, and maintain the property.”
A declining incarcerated youth population, alarming re-arrest rates, the ability to consolidate slowly on the department’s own terms and a lack of viable options were cited as the major contributing factors in deciding to close Beaumont when the announcement was made last year.
In choosing to close Beaumont over Bon Air, additional considerations included the Chesterfield facility having easier access for staff, families and the youth housed there. The campus is also easier to divide if the need arises because of the differentiated housing on site and had parts that were not in use and thus could be used for expansion if population numbers increased.
The operating costs at Beaumont were also the higher of the two, Block said. In 2015, the cost to operate Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center was $26,039,540, compared to $22,773,490 for Bon Air. These figures cover only personnel and operations cost for each facility.
At the time the announcement of the closure was made in 2016, the center was holding 167 young offenders, well below Beaumont’s budgeted capacity of 284 males who go up to age 21, Block said. By April 2017, when youth and staff began to be transferred to Bon Air, the population was down to an even more “manageable number.”
“Part of the reason why we announced it so long ago was so we had time to release kids who were in the course of their sentence and rehabilitation and going to be released anyway,” he said. “We stopped taking new kids at Beaumont, so the population didn’t go back up, it just continued to decrease.”
He added that the youth schedule for release before the closing were never transferred to Bon Air.
“I think by the time the last young people were out the door, the numbers were down in the 20s,” he said.
Plans for employees
One of the biggest considerations of the closing was the 359 employees employed by Beaumont. Through people taking early retirement, leaving for other jobs and being transferred into vacant staff positions within DJJ, Block said he is currently estimating that the closing of the correctional facility will result in five people being laid off.
Again, pointing to the long planning time, Block said that extra time allowed the department to find positions for many more of its employees than if it had announced a quick closing of Beaumont.
“Our goal has been to keep as many of our staff as we could and to try to protect them and help them as much as possible through a very hard situation,” he said. “Taking a year to do this was challenging on the one end but it created more opportunities to place people than we would have had if we had a more compressed time schedule.”
The challenge was felt by both the department and the employees, he added. On the part of DJJ, some vacancies were held longer than usual because they were to be filled by Beaumont personnel who still had a job to do at the Powhatan facility, Block said.
At Bon Air, for example, the facility had to carry more vacancies than he would have liked because those positions were being held for Beaumont employees. Block gave the employees at Bon Air credit for handling those vacancies well.
“They knew why we were doing it and they supported their Beaumont colleagues. The way that everyone did this was really quite exceptional,” he said.
As of June 14, Block said Bon Air had 226 youth offenders on the now consolidated campus, he said. The Bon Air facility is a 284-capacity facility serving a coed population of males age 14 to 18 and females age 11 to 20 who have been committed by the juvenile court, according to the DJJ website.
Block praised employees at both facilities, especially Beaumont, saying they had to handle their own stress while also managing, supporting and securing the young people at Beaumont, who also were going to go through a major disruption and change.
“They had to push their stress to the side and do the job of being there to support, rehabilitate, hold accountable and do all the other things needed with the young people in our custody, which I am sure was incredibly challenging. I can say they all did it very well. And it is a testament to everybody who is at Beaumont, from the superintendent on down,” Block said.
Bon Air is at or close to fully staffed now, “which is probably a first for any juvenile correctional center in Virginia,” Block said, adding “hopefully we will keep it that way.” A full staff has the benefits of not requiring the employees to work as much overtime and increasing coverage of the youth.
Block pointed out that one thing Bon Air has that neither it nor Beaumont had before was all of its residential units are now a “community treatment model unit.”
According to the DJJ website, this is a more rigorous rehabilitative approach to youth corrections that focuses on developing a consistent, rehabilitative community within each living unit in the facilities. By training an interdisciplinary cohort of staff, and placing them in a unit with a consistent group of youth, this model results in more rigorous rehabilitation and engagement throughout the day.
Future land use
With the closing and “mothballing” of Beaumont, one of the questions asked early on was what would happen to the land where it sits.
Block said that after the buildings have been reviewed to remove all usable materials, the Department of General Services will handle the process of disposing of the property. Although he didn’t have the details of the process, he said other state departments would likely be given the first opportunity to use the property.
Dena Potter, director of communications for the Department of General Services (DRES), referred the Powhatan Today to the process for selling surplus real estate, found online at dgs.virginia.gov/division-of-real-estate-services/real-estate-for-salelease/how-virginia-sales-surplus-real-estate. According to the website, once an agency notifies the department that real estate under its control is no longer of use to the agency, “DRES reviews the property records and contacts the Department of Treasury to determine if there are any outstanding bond obligations associated with the property. DRES also determines if there is need by another department, agency or institution for the real estate. DRES requests the written opinion of the Secretary of Natural Resources as to whether the property is a significant component of the Commonwealth’s natural and historic resources, and if so how those resources should be protected in the transfer or sale of the property. If no other department, agency or institution has a need for the property DRES offers and allows 30 days for the county and municipality where the property is located to purchase it at its fair market value for public use.”
If there is no identified state or local government need for the property after these steps are taken then DRES will move forward with declaring the property surplus and seeking written authorization from the governor to market the property for sale, according to the website. The department may then sell the property by public auction, sealed bids, or by marketing through one or more real estate brokers licensed by the commonwealth.
Del. Lee Ware, R-65, reiterated last week that the property’s location and infrastructure make it a site with possibilities for an alternative access to Powhatan State Park, and also a site with potential for economic development.
“Our attempts, including the labors of Senator (Glen) Sturtevant and former Senator John Watkins, to facilitate the transfer of the property to Powhatan County for economic development was not successful, but no doubt we will reintroduce the proposal,” he added.
Regarding possible use of the land to expand the state park, Julie Buchanan, senior public relations and marketing specialist for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, said “it would be premature for us to comment if the land hasn’t even entered the surplus property stage.”
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.