Target 12

Shuttered juvenile facility will soon house 'worst of the worst' prisoners

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) -- The Training School's nine-year-old Roosevelt Benton Center, emptied last year after violence and vandalism, is undergoing a multi-million dollar reboot to incarcerate who some consider the state's "worst of the worst" adult prisoners, known as the forensic population.

There are supporters who insist the retrofitted lock-up will be far better than the current state psychiatric hospital, but there are doubters too. 

Among the concerned is Brotherhood of Correctional Officers President Richard Ferruccio, who has gone face to face with most of the psychiatric patients when they were imprisoned in the Adult Correctional Institution's various units.

"They committed some of the [state's] most heinous crimes," Feruccio said. "They don't follow prison rules. I don't know if that facility can be hardened enough to protect the residents of Cranston or the state of Rhode Island for that matter." 

A Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) spokesperson said privacy laws restrict the agency from releasing the state psychiatric patients' names, but court records provide at least a partial list.

Matthew Komrowski, awaiting trial for allegedly murdering his former girlfriend and then setting her Cranston apartment on fire the day after he was released from the ACI, is confined in the hospital.

So is Christian Lepore, found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2016 West Greenwich beating death of 62-year-old John O’Neil. 

Michael  Woodmansee, convicted in 1983 of killing a 5-year-old and shellacking his bones, committed himself to the hospital in 2011.

While Ferruccio has doubts about safely managing the forensic population in what he calls a "poorly designed" facility built for teenagers and other children, few question the need to move the nearly 50 patients out of the current state psychiatric hospital.

The 82-year-old Pinel Building has been considered inhumane for years due to several issues ranging from mold to crumbling plaster. 

BHDDH Director Rebecca Boss is confident the $7 million project will make the Benton Center a secure, safe, hospital.

"We do need security," Boss said. "And we have security, and we have the staff in place that know how to work with this population, and that are able to monitor the facility and respond to the crises that might arise."

Crises did arise in the Benton Center during a four-month period last year. Juveniles injured several Juvenile Program Workers during violent outbursts, including a July melee.

During that time, the offenders caused about $50,000 in damage from a series of sprinkler vandalism incidents. 

The place was shuttered a short time later, after about 65 juveniles were moved to the main Training School building. 

"If there were problems with juveniles, should we be concerned about these individuals?" Ferruccio asked. 

In Boss's opinion, the Benton Center will be a good fit. 

"You wouldn't look at the building and think that it was built for teenagers necessarily if you walk through," Boss said. "It really looks like other correctional facilities."

The Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance project is dividing one of the detention center wings into two areas, with walls and a nurses' monitoring station between them.

One set of rooms will hold high-risk patients, and medium risk will be held in the other.

Nearby, in an assessment unit, patients will be examined after they arrive to determine where they should be housed.

At the other end of the building, down a long corridor, there is a wing for low-risk and female patients.

The risk levels involve the patients' likelihood to injure themselves or someone else. 

Construction is expected to be completed in June.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau


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