Second guard backs up claim inmates being denied water at Southern Regional Jail

Second guard backs up claim inmates being denied water at Southern Regional Jail
Second guard backs up claim inmates being denied water at Southern Regional Jail(wvva)
Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 3:54 PM EDT
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BEAVER, W.Va. (WVVA) - On Friday, a guard at Southern Regional Jail claimed some inmates were being denied water for days at the time in the quarantine section. The current staffer, who provided a copy of their badge as proof of employment, wanted to confirm a water issue at the facility following another claim by a girlfriend of an SRJ inmate. The girlfriend, Katie Dunford, claimed her boyfriend was forced to drink from the toilet after three days without access to water.

Since that time, a spokesperson and counsel for the Dept. of Homeland Security, Morgan Switzer, has responded to the claims:

“You recently published two stories regarding Southern Regional Jail that have not been properly researched, confirmed, or verified. More specifically, the story published today contains language that immediately calls into question the legitimacy of your source. Furthermore, there are no pending grievances, appeals of grievances, or any outstanding complaints that concern water or inmates having access to water at the Southern Regional Jail. The West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have every reason to believe that the allegations in these stories are false, and the reporting is factually insufficient.”

On Tuesday, March 29, another former staff member came forward to back up the first guard’s complaints. He, too, was able to provide proof of employment at the jail through a pay stub.

Although he did not want to be identified, he offered to discuss the issue with the Governor if given the opportunity. He also confirmed the issue is specific to the quarantine section of the jail, where he said inmates are only let out of their cell for one hour every 72 hours.

“When I worked there, I made time to personally give them all juice. It was in a big orange tank, cooler tanks, that they gave us. It was explained to me for time reasons to give them one cup of juice. I personally like a lot of liquids with my meals. I would try to give them two cups for each in the pod. Those cells would get hot in the Summer and in the Winter they would freeze. The only thing they were happy about was getting a drink but some guards would say screw it, we ain’t got time to go cell by cell, because that’s what you had to do to give out drinks. It really depends on the person working.”

The former guard said some inmates would go days at a time without water. “It’s pretty rough. I’d compare it to a concentration camp if I had to. If Governor Justice wants to review this, I’d be happy to sit down with him in person.”

Since WVVA News aired the update with the current staff member on Friday, numerous phone calls, messages, and emails have come in from former inmates, their family members, and former staff members. While some raised the water issue specifically, a lot of the concerns related to basic health and safety issues inside the jail, ranging from inmates being denied medical treatment to sleeping on wet mats on the floor.

WVVA News has reached out to the regional jail spokesperson for a comment on the second staff member’s claims and will share their response as soon as it is received.

Morgan Switzer, Deputy General Counsel of the W.Va. Department of Homeland Security, responded to WVVA following multiple allegations against the jail.

The full statement is listen below.

As stated previously, the Department of Homeland Security and the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation take these allegations extremely seriously.

In response to the allegation of a “stabbing” at the Southern Regional Jail (S.R.J), there was an incident that occurred at S.R.J. in the early morning hours on March 26th, 2022, but the allegations as they were reported to you were not factual. During the time of the incident, the inmates were awake and free to move about the pod. An altercation ensued, and one inmate sustained minor injuries. He was subsequently cleared on site by medical staff and did not require outside treatment. The West Virginia State Police were contacted and responded accordingly. Violence within any of our facilities is strictly prohibited and is quickly deescalated when it arises, which is exactly what happened here.

Furthermore, gang violence within our facilities, another issue raised in your email, is strictly prohibited. We take allegations of gang violence very seriously and each incident is thoroughly investigated. If an allegation is substantiated, appropriate action is taken immediately.

As it relates to the issue of drinking water, the Department of Homeland Security and the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation staunchly refute any and all claims that inmates go without water. The allegation that inmates are drinking toilet water out of necessity is simply untrue. All sections within Southern Regional Jail are supplied with drinking water and, if there are any requests for drinking water, inmates are provided with bottled water, which is maintained on site and distributed as needed. The W.V. Division of Corrections has implemented policies and procedures that require staff to be in sections regularly, and there have been no issues raised pertaining to lack of drinking water at S.R.J.

However, the Southern Regional Jail recently replaced a hot water heater in a specific pod, which resulted in less hot water availability for a short period of time as it was being replaced. After it was replaced, the hot water supply returned to normal functioning. Your email also includes allegations of dysfunctional water fountains, which are currently being replaced by maintenance staff due to damage caused by inmate vandalism. There have been issues installing the new water fountains, but no inmate has gone without water during this time, nor will any inmate go without water as the installation continues. Any other reports of water being disconnected within the facility have only been temporary and have been due to destruction of property by the inmates.

Further, hygiene products are never withheld from inmates by employees of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The allegation that inmates have been without toilet paper for any substantial amount of time is untrue. Toilet paper is provided to all residents and if more is needed, more is provided. All inmates are also provided mattresses, and no inmate is required to sleep on the bare floor. In fact, the executive staff at Southern Regional Jail has recently purchased new mattresses because inmates routinely destroy mattresses, making them improper for sleeping. Finally, no inmate is assigned to sleep under stairs.

As it relates to video calling or access to telephones, all inmates are made aware of the policies and procedures pertaining to telephone use when they enter the facility. If an inmate does not abide by the policies and procedures, phone use can be, and often is, suspended. The video calling feature at Southern Regional Jail was suspended primarily because of inmate misuse and misconduct.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security and the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation responded to increased overdoses in facilities through the implementation of a new mail policy, which was quickly adopted by numerous other states in the country. Through outside mail, residents were gaining access to controlled substances and the number of overdoses within the facilities was increasing. Delivering copies of inmate mail instead of the originals has aided the staff of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation in maintaining the integrity of the facilities and keeping staff and inmate safety a number one priority. These measures are still in effect today and will remain in effect to promote the health and safety of residents and employees.

Finally, it is worth noting that Southern Regional Jail was inspected by a Federal Marshal on December 23rd, 2021—this inspection raised no issues.

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