County commissions react to Southern Regional Jail class action lawsuit

Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 2:10 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - Last week, WVVA News shared some of the evidence presented along with a federal class action lawsuit claiming to show inhumane living conditions at Southern Regional Jail. On top of a number of videos purporting to show inmate cells without water, a correctional officer turned over an internal memo showing nearly 40 of the jail’s 120 cells without running water in November of 2021.

The seven county commissions which pay for the housing of inmates were also named in the suit. Attorneys for the inmates and correctional officers said the county commissions are required to be included in the suit under the way state code is written.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting of the Raleigh County Commission, Commissioner Greg Duckworth said he feels confident the commission will be spared from damages under the current set-up with the state. He said the county commissions contracted the responsibility of the jails to the state over this very issue in the early 1990s, a time when county commissions were getting hit with suit after suit because they could not meet the federal standards.

“The regional jail idea came about in the early 90s to insulate counties from these kinds of lawsuits,” he said.

“Our position is we pay a monthly jail bill and we are insulated from the rest because that’s an issue taken on by the Southern Regional Jail and the state.”

As lawyers on the suit debate whether the jail is adequately funded moving forward, counties across the state are sharing their own struggles to foot the bill with Amendment Two on the ballot this November.

“The jail bill is a hot button issue for every county. We’re facing challenges across the state with amendment two coming up and whose going to pay the jail bill. We spend 150-180,000 a month on the jail bill so we’re paying attention to every dollar at this point,” said Commissioner Duckworth, who would also like for cities to pick up their share of the bill.

Amendment two would allow state lawmakers to take nearly 30 percent of income on personal property taxes from counties and, in turn, offer inventory and equipment tax exemptions to encourage new and existing businesses.