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All-in on Justice’s vision for West Virginia

On Dec. 21, Gov. Jim Justice announced that I would be his Cabinet Secretary for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. From that point on, I, like other Cabinet members, have been working every day to do what is right for West Virginia. I have personally devoted an average of 71 hours per week to respond to the governor s marching orders. Those orders are clear: with the state facing desperate times, its leaders needed to come forward and work together to make West Virginia proud. I spent from Dec. 21 to Inauguration Day mapping out a plan to make Military Affairs and Public Safety more efficient. The chief of staff approved this proposed reorganization on Jan. 27. Initially, these changes will reduce Military Affairs and Public Safety from 13 agencies to nine. My plan will unite Homeland Security State Administrative Agency, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center under a single West Virginia Homeland Security entity.

As a next step, a new Division of Corrections Operations will absorb the Regional Jail and Corrections Facility Authority and the divisions of Corrections and Juvenile Services. As this will require legislation, this major change will take additional time. So far, no delegate or senator I have spoken to has raised any concerns. Legislators have instead told me that these changes are long overdue. My reorganization plan also focuses on rented real estate. An initial review shows that Military Affairs and Public Safety pays $1.2 million each year just for administrative offices. I envision a single headquarters for all of Military Affairs and Public Safety, except for the West Virginia State Police, with shared staff and such common office space as conference rooms. This will reduce space and costs. I was on hand to applaud Gov. Justice s State of the State Address, and I support his proposed budget. I hope that in West Virginia, all parties come together and vote to approve it. It is the right thing to do based on a detailed evaluation of the state s financial situation.

I have never been accused of being a yes man. With a degree in accounting and certified as a fraud examiner, I would directly tell the governor and his staff if I did not support the proposed budget. However, I believe in and support the governor s approach to solve the state s financial problems. Our legislators have worked hard over the past three years. They have cut and reduced our state s budget by millions of dollars. In his budget, the governor proposes $26.6 million in responsible cuts. The issue at hand now is: will further cuts affect the function of our government? The answer is not difficult to see after just a month in Charleston. Here are some examples from within Military Affairs and Public Safety:

Citizens across West Virginia are afraid they could lose their local State Police detachments to additional cuts. Previous spending reductions have already forced the State Police to eliminate more than 50 vacant trooper positions. The State Police do not have the funding to train a new trooper cadet class.

The West Virginia National Guard and our Emergency Management team saved lives and delivered immediate relief after last year s devastating flooding. Further cuts could threaten the state s disaster response and weaken ongoing efforts to prepare and lessen the impact of such events. I talked to a state employee that has worked for the State of West Virginia for 19 years. He handles millions of dollars in federal grants. He is making $26,000 per year, has not received a pay raise in over a decade, and his counterparts in surrounding states make 2 to 3 times more. A correctional officer called me crying that it embarrasses him and his family to go to a grocery store and pay with food stamps. The officer never dreamed that he would work full-time and qualify for food stamps and would need them.

Cutting over $450 million in spending may balance the budget, but the damage to state government would take years to recover from. As for the proposed revenue enhancements, I believe we need to look at the end result proposed by the governor: these measures will allow West Virginia to eliminate the state s personal income tax. I m from Wood County. I know that it has hundreds of retirees, from teachers to corporate executives, who have purchased homes in Florida. They live there six months and one day to avoid West Virginia s state income tax. Most of these men and women love West Virginia, and moved to Florida strictly as a real estate investment and to avoid paying West Virginia personal income taxes.

We have so much to offer in West Virginia. Our state should be seen as a place where people can work, live, and then retire income tax-free to enjoy West Virginia s beauty. This theory works in at least eight states: Florida; Nevada; New Hampshire; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Washington; and Wyoming. The governor has provided a long-range plan, not a short-term fix. Once it is implemented, imagine the growth as people relocate to West Virginia to live. These people will need all of life s basic living needs, from groceries to health care. That means that West Virginia must focus on quality roads, bridges, sewage treatment facilities, and education; on keeping the crime rate low; and on developing venues attractive to citizens from children to retirees. We must look past a one-year budget, and instead focus on where we want to be in eight years.

Confederate flag adds to SC Confederate Relic Room’s woes

South Carolina Confederate Relic Room Director Allen Roberson would like to talk about his museum’s exhibits. But in the past 18 months, his days have been dominated by the unrequested responsibility of displaying the last Confederate flag to fly at the Statehouse. The museum’s budget is about $825,000 about $100,000 less than 10 years ago. The controversy over lawmakers requiring the museum to display the last flag before the banner was permanently taken down after nine people were killed in a racially motivated shooting at a Charleston church has cost the museum at least one $50,000 donation and cut into his fundraising time, Roberson said.

“All I want to talk about is our exhibits,” Roberson told The State newspaper (http://bit.ly/2la5biN) as he supervised the hanging of 47 maritime Civil War drawings and paintings that will go on display on Friday. The museum’s name betrays its scope. The Confederate Relic Room was founded in 1896 and is the state’s oldest military museum. Its mission is to educate about the role South Carolina has played in all of the nation’s wars.

In December, the museum will open a major exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and another exhibit on the Army Reserve 360th Civil Affairs Brigade in World War II, where the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond served.

“The name gives the impression it’s just about the Confederacy, but it goes far beyond that. It goes to the impact South Carolinians have had in these major global events. There are very important stories there,” said state Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, who has given items from the time he spent in 2007 and 2008 in Afghanistan serving in the South Carolina National Guard. But displaying that last Confederate flag looms over the museum. Roberson and museum officials suggested a $3.6 million project to cover the Legislature’s requirement that the flag be displayed and the 20,000 soldiers from South Carolina killed in the Civil War be honored. It was not well received. The flag sits in storage as lawmakers have not given any money to the project. The museum received criticism over being pro-Confederacy even with Roberson and others carefully trying to make sure all displays give both sides of an issue.

Roberson thinks the Confederate flag debate caused attendance at the Relic Room to drop from 24,800 in 2015 to about 19,800 in 2016.

“And before that we had five straight years of increasing attendance,” Roberson said. “Last year was the lowest attendance in 10 years.”

The flag has also added some other expenses to the museum’s proposed budget. Roberson is asking for $25,000 to hire a security guard and add security features to the Relic Room.

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This story has corrected a reference to the museum director to Roberson.

ARCHIVE: Prison system allowed privileges

ARCHIVE: Prison System Allowed PrivilegesBuy Photo

James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna is shown.(Photo: JASON MINTO/THE NEWS JOURNAL)Buy Photo

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCTOBER 31, 2004

In June 2000, after a judge sentenced serial rapist Scott A. Miller to 699 years for attacks that terrorized Wilmington women, officials at the state prison near Smyrna put him in a maximum-security unit. Locked in his cell almost all day, Miller could leave for exercise, bathing, counseling and an infrequent visitor or phone call. Outside his cell, Miller needed a guard escort and wore handcuffs and leg irons. Miller became a chronic violator of prison disciplinary rules, even while under the tightest security, prison records show. Eleven months after his arrival, though, he was deemed a lower risk and sent to a medium-high security unit. He ate meals, took classes and bought commissary items without shackles or a guard escort.

Despite getting sent back to “max” twice, Miller was moved back to medium-high security by April 2003, where he stayed for 15 months, until July 12. That day, Miller, 45, took advantage of lax security to sneak into an office area and abduct counselor Cassandra Arnold, whom he raped before being shot to death after a seven-hour standoff. Arnold has since sued the state. Miller’s ability to move to a lower-risk ranking within Delaware’s prison system was not unusual among people convicted of heinous crimes. A News Journal review of the state’s prisoner classification policies found that Delaware provides some of its most violent inmates opportunities for reduced supervision not available in some other states. Another inmate in medium-high security is Donald Flagg, who is serving a life sentence for shooting a man to death in 1998 and holding the man’s wife as a sex slave for four days.

While security lapses are the main focus of a gubernatorial task force investigating the horror of July 12, members are also questioning Miller’s housing status. “Our analysis starts with why he was there and should he have been there,” vice chairman Thomas P. McGonigle said. Stanley W. Taylor Jr., commissioner of the state Department of Correction, would not comment for this article. Spokeswoman Beth Welch said Taylor has concluded Miller’s risk level was appropriate. Taylor has acknowledged, however, that Arnold’s ordeal led him to review classification policies and make one change: Officials now can take into account “a pattern of assaultive/predatory behavior in institutions and/or the community” before deciding risk level. Miller tied up victims and threatened them with a knife or gun.

Prison officials would not release Miller’s classification or disciplinary records, but revealed some details this month in an internal report about Arnold’s abduction and in recent interviews. Officials would not release classification procedures, but the paper obtained manuals and other policies. The newspaper’s review of Delaware’s policies found that:

Except for death row inmates, the risk level of all inmates in maximum security at Smyrna is reviewed every three months. Some experts, including Minnesota’s top classification administrator, said inmates such as Miller should remain in maximum security for several years before being considered for less-restrictive housing. Unlike Virginia, Rhode Island and some other states, Delaware does not consider time remaining on a sentence when reviewing risk.

Delaware also does not consider an inmate’s minor disciplinary violations, unlike Rhode Island, Wyoming, Tennessee and some other states. Instead, Delaware evaluates “major” prison violations, such as assault, theft and threatening behavior. The state does not consider minor violations, such as abusing privileges or being in an unauthorized area. The hostage standoff and prison security has become a key issue in Delaware’s gubernatorial campaign. Republican Bill Lee, a retired judge, said Delaware must revamp its classification system. “Any system that allows multiple violent offenders to have freedom of movement within the facility is obviously flawed,” Lee said. “Why was Miller running loose when he’s got 700 years to serve?”

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner would not agree to an interview, but issued a statement that said Delaware’s classification system, created with help from the National Institute of Corrections, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, was designed for Delaware’s inmates.

“Commissioner Taylor has asked that the NIC review our classifications policy as part of an action plan he released earlier this month, and I look forward to the results of that review,” Minner’s statement said.

Independent-Libertarian candidate Frank Infante did not return calls. Jeffrey K. Martin, Arnold’s attorney, said Miller’s prison violations and past crimes – which included cocaine trafficking, terroristic threatening and robbery convictions – should have earned him a permanent maximum security cell.

“A prisoner serving 700 years should be kept in maximum due to his propensity for violence and the fact that rehabilitation is not in order,” Martin said. Arnold also alleged in her lawsuit that an unidentified female guard once wrote a report accusing Miller of stalking her. Welch said officials could not confirm that allegation.

Brian Dawe, executive director of Corrections USA, a trade association for prison guards, said Delaware’s policies led to poor decisions with Miller.

“I wouldn’t even review the guy for five years, minimum,” Dawe said. “You need that long to get a good feel for him. It was poor management, and in light of what happened to the counselor, that’s been borne out.”

Welch said Miller was in maximum security for nearly 3e years before going to the medium-high unit. Only 11 months were at Smyrna; the rest were at Wilmington’s Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington while Miller awaited trial and sentencing.

Wilmington predator

The eight rapes and one kidnapping that put Miller in prison for good had teenagers and young women in northeast Wilmington fearing for their safety in 1997. He raped a 16-year-old and her younger cousin while wearing a werewolf Halloween mask, blindfolded one victim; and tied up two teenage victims at knifepoint. Miller’s probation officers for an unrelated misdemeanor charge told police he fit their description of the rapist. Miller was 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and often wore construction boots, which matched victims’ reports. When Miller was charged in March 1998, officials put him in maximum security at the Young prison, then called Gander Hill.

After a jury convicted Miller in March 2000, prosecutor Susan B. Purcell said his days as a sex predator had ended. “It’s very satisfying to know,” Purcell said, “he will not be able to do this to any other women.”

In August 2000, after getting a no-parole sentence, Miller was put in “max” at Smyrna. The state’s manual says maximum security is for inmates who are escape risks or “more severe internal management risks.”

Good behavior can result in a lower security level. “It is important that offenders with long sentences have the opportunity for reduced security levels based on compliance with institutional requirements,” the manual says. Inmates serving at least five years are reviewed after six months and then annually, the manual says. Those serving life are reviewed every 18 months. Anthony J. Rendina, Delaware’s classification administrator, said officials did not consider Miller as a life-sentence inmate. “He would have been with us the rest of his life, but he wasn’t serving a life sentence technically from a court-ordered standpoint,” he said.

Rendina also said Smyrna’s maximum security inmates are reviewed every three months. “The review schedule for classification is something you cannot waver from,” he said. Eric Skon, Minnesota’s assistant corrections commissioner, said prisoners there get a timetable to have their risk lowered if they complete programs. Miller would not have immediately qualified, he said.

“He would be considered a potential escape risk,” Skon said. “This is a guy who just got life. He’s never going to see daylight again. As long as he could medically handle it, he could stay in maximum security for an extended period of time.”

Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the American Civil Liberty Union’s National Prison Project, said inmates and staffers must be protected from violent inmates. Prisons also must provide even dangerous inmates serving life with incentives to be sent to lower-risk settings. “If you don’t, those prisoners will consistently be management problems,” Gotsch said. “A lot of times, lifers are the ones who get in the least amount of trouble.”

Security risk lowered

Miller could not stay out of trouble in prison. In 2000, while in “max,” he had nine disciplinary offenses, the internal report said. He broke three major rules and three minor ones at Gander Hill, followed by three minor ones at Smyrna. The worst offense was at Gander Hill, when he grabbed a baton from a guard and struck another guard, said Welsh, who would not detail other violations.

In July 2001, however, officials moved Miller to the medium-high cellblock. Rendina said he met requirements for the lower risk setting. The internal report said Miller completed several prison programs, including conflict resolution, decision making and anger management. He entered a high school diploma program but finished no courses. By January 2002, Miller was back in maximum security for “failing to follow his established treatment plan,” the report said.

That September, Miller went back to medium-high security. But in October, he committed a major violation, a fight in which another inmate was the aggressor, and went back to “max.”

Offenses a warning sign

By April 2003, Miller again qualified for medium-high security under a new point-based classification system. The system assesses inmate risk by assigning points for severity of the crime, previous felonies, escape attempts, major prison offenses and other factors. Reviews are conducted by a team of guards, counselors and managers. During reclassification, an inmate whose crime ranged from first-degree robbery to murder gets six points. Someone with four or more major prison offenses gets five points.

If the score is at least 17 of a possible 37, maximum security is suggested. The score usually determines an inmate’s housing unit, but classification boards or the warden can “override” the score. Several states consider factors Delaware does not rank: time remaining on sentence and minor disciplinary offenses. Joseph DiNitto, Rhode Island’s associate classification director, said both are good indicators.

“The closer you are to release or parole, the more likely you are going to try to behave yourself,” DiNitto said. Welch said consultants who helped devise Delaware’s system told the state that time remaining on a sentence was not a valid indicator.

DiNitto said chronic minor violations are a warning. “Here’s a guy I want to look at because they are unable to follow rules and regulations. Even though they may be relatively minor in nature, I’ve got my antennae up,” he said.

‘Threatening behavior’

Over the 15 months before Arnold’s abduction, Miller remained in medium-high security but kept breaking rules. During 2003, he had one major offense for derogatory language, and three minors, including being in an off-limits area. This March, Miller scored low enough to qualify for medium-low security but was not moved there because of “disorderly/threatening behavior,” the internal report said. In the weeks preceding Arnold’s attack, Miller committed 10 more violations:
Abusing privileges, possessing a nondangerous contraband and not obeying an order on May 5.

A verbal confrontation and not obeying an order May 24 at his kitchen job, which led to his firing. On June 4, the sanction was overturned and he returned to work. Taking a sandwich to his cell, which on June 27 cost him his job again. The major offenses were theft and lying; the minors were not obeying an order, abuse of privilege and creating a health hazard. His frustration grew over his disciplinary problems, his recent divorce and his desire to be transferred to a Virginia prison.

On July 12, Arnold has said, Miller appeared agitated during her “Less Stress” group counseling session. A roving guard looked in on the class. After it ended, Arnold said she walked through two open security doors, one propped with a chock, to her office area. About 10 minutes later, she spotted Miller in a bathroom. He held a metal shank to her neck and dragged her to her office, where he raped her six hours later. Several minutes afterward, a rescuer who had crept through the ceiling shot Miller to death.

Miller could not have exploited the security lapses if he had been kept in maximum security, attorney Martin said. “An inmate sentenced to 699 years should have never been allowed to prowl the hallways in search of his next victim.”

SECURITY LEVELS

Delaware’s penal system houses its inmates based on their security risk, which is determined by factors including the severity of their crime, previous escape attempts, and major disciplinary violations inside prison. The following is a description of the security levels inside Delaware’s five prisons and how prisoners are handled, based on state corrections policies and interviews with prison officials.

Maximum: Designed for inmates who present an escape risk and/or are more severe internal management risks. Prisoners are always escorted when outside cells and wear handcuffs and leg irons. They eat in their cell, and have access to limited programs. Not eligible for furlough.

Medium: Designed for inmates who present escape and/or internal management risks but are not as severe internal management risks as maximum inmates. Supervised by roving guards outside their cell. They eat meals in a chow hall. Eligible for unescorted furlough.

The Smyrna prison is the only one in Delaware with a medium-high unit. The unit is for inmates who have not yet established a record of behavior within the prison, according to a state classification manual. Inmates in medium-high units have restricted access to jobs and programs.

Minimum: Designed for inmates who do not present an escape risk and who are not management problems. Unrestricted movement outside cells. Access to all programs inside the prison perimeter and some outside the perimeter.

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