CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WTRF) — In keeping with his commitment to transparency, Gov. Jim Justice today released the full results of an investigation into living conditions at Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, WV.
Gov. Justice directed the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR), to immediately conduct the investigation after a local media outlet published allegations by inmates, family members of inmates, and two former jail employees, claiming that inmates at Southern Regional Jail were being denied water and otherwise being treated inhumanely.
The investigation consisted of interviewing over 50 individuals including the former jail employees included in the media report as well as reviewing telephone calls from inmates, and reviewing financial records of Southern Regional Jail.
The investigation concluded that allegations of water deprivation, failure to provide toilet paper, and inmates having to sleep on hard floors without a mattress are false.
“These were incredibly serious allegations, so I instructed our people at DHS to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible,” Governor Justice said. “Our investigators talked with a bunch of people and pulled a bunch of records and, at the end of the day, they determined that the allegations were simply not true.”
The investigation determined that inmates have access to water 24/7 via sinks in their cells and an industrial water fountain in each POD. SRJ provides tumblers for every inmate to use for water consumption, purchasing 4,800 since July 2021.
The jail also maintains a minimum three-day supply of bottled water for emergencies. In addition to water access, inmates receive three drinks per day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Records show no history of inmates filing grievances for being deprived of water and no history of medical cases of dehydration.
“Unfortunately, our interviews and review of phone calls and other records indicate that these allegations appear to be a misguided attempt by some inmates and their family and friends to use the news media to spread false and misleading information as a means of getting released,” said DHS Secretary Jeff Sandy, who headed up the investigation. “Inmates yelled at family and friends for not telling the story the way the inmate wanted the media to hear it. After hearing what a family member told the media, one inmate said, ‘Now I will never get out of here.’
“As for the two former SRJ employees who advanced the allegations in media reports, one admitted that they never personally witnessed any inmates being denied adequate access to water and noted that substantial portions of their media interview were left out of the final story,” Secretary Sandy continued. “The other former employee left the jail under well-documented employment issues and was so bitter that they refused to admit that inmates got beverages everyday with their breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
The investigation also determined that ample toilet paper is provided to inmates and that SRJ purchases new mattresses for inmates on a regular basis.
Additionally, the jail has a Wellness Check program, where Correctional Officers engage in conversation with each inmate to assess their mental state and to ensure all of their personal needs are being met.
“The sad part of this investigation is that family members are repeatedly lied to by inmates about their access to clothing, food, water, mattresses, medical attention, living conditions, even shoes,” Secretary Sandy said. “One mother that we interviewed was told by her own child, an inmate, that their shoes were stolen and weren’t given replacement shoes to wear, so she deposited money into their account for shoes that were never purchased.”
“I thank everyone within DHS and DCR who conducted this thorough investigation swiftly and professionally,” Gov. Justice added. “I continue to have complete confidence in Secretary Sandy, as well as DCR Commissioner Betsy Jividen and all of the leadership at SRJ that they will meet the challenge of upholding the high standards that we expect in our Corrections system.”