Demand basic human rights and safe water access for inmates at West Virginia's South Central Regional Jail

South Central Regional Jail Authority, West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, West Virginia Department of Corrections, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons

In the aftermath of the January, 2014 chemical spill in southern West Virginia, hundreds of inmates at the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston, WV, were deprived of access to enough safe water. Many suffered from illness and injury from dehydration or chemical exposure. Some inmates even faced violence and legal repercussions for seeking medical help and for asking for clean water to drink.

The jail's response to the chemical spill was inadequate and inhumane. We've met and corresponded with more than 50 inmates, and based on their stories, it's clear that this failed crisis response is just the latest example in a larger pattern of abuse, violence, and negligence by the jail's staff and administration. 

STAND WITH THE INMATES AT SOUTH CENTRAL in calling for basic human rights and access to safe drinking water. Join us in demanding that the jail authorities acknowledge their failure to protect inmates' health and safety during the water crisis -- and that they acknowledge and correct their lies to the public about that response. READ THE FULL PETITION BELOW!

To learn more about the jail conditions and to read inmates' personal accounts, or to get involved in or support this all-volunteer project, check out our website, Stories from South Central WV.

Petition by
Whitesville, West Virginia

To: South Central Regional Jail Authority, West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, West Virginia Department of Corrections, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons
From: [Your Name]

To whom it may concern:

We are a coalition of inmates and their friends, families, and supporters writing to demand immediate steps be taken to address the misconduct of South Central Regional Jail (SCRJ) administration and staff. We believe that those who operate SCRJ have consistently ignored and denied the basic needs of prisoners in this facility, which houses state, federal, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inmates.

Due to gross indifference and the lack of an appropriate emergency protocol, inmates were deprived of their right to clean water in the wake of the January 2014 MCHM chemical spill. In the week following the spill inmates were generally allotted no more than 24 ounces of water in a day, not nearly enough to stave off the effects of dehydration. For most of the week, inmates were unable to wash themselves, brush their teeth, or flush the toilets. When inmates began to request medical attention due to exposure to contaminated water, the jail’s medical staff consistently refused to diagnose illnesses and injuries as related to MCHM.

Inmates who continued to make requests for medical treatment have been subjected to protocol requiring that after three medical calls, inmates be placed into medical isolation for up to a month until seeing a medical professional. During this time, inmates are kept isolated and are unable to access rights and services available in general population -- described by multiple inmates as “worse than solitary confinement.”

In response to being deprived of clean water and medical treatment, which is in violation of the 8th Amendment right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, inmates launched a brief sit-in to demand clean water. Approximately 12 inmates laid on their stomachs, put their hands on their heads, and stressed the nonviolent nature of their protest. Correctional officers responded with excessive force and sent seven inmates into solitary confinement, charging them with two class A write-ups (inciting a riot and obstruction of justice).

We contend that issues arising from the chemical spill are indicative of a larger pattern of violence, abuse, and negligence in South Central Regional Jail that has been systematically perpetrated and tolerated by jail staff and administration since long before January 2014. Other abuses identified by numerous current and former inmates of SCRJ include, but are not limited to:

- Inadequate medical care, arbitrary denial of access to prescription medication, and the consistent failure of jail staff to promptly respond to inmates’ calls for emergency medical assistance.

- A new policy prohibiting contact with spouses, children, and loved ones during so-called “contact” visits.

- Lack of access to clean showers, clothes, and personal hygiene items in violation of jail policy.

- Overcrowding, resulting in inmates being forced to sleep on the floor in violation of jail policy.

- Lack of educational and rehabilitative opportunities, a library, and recreational equipment and activities.

- Lack of proper nutrition and failure to meet needs of inmates’ medical and religious dietary restrictions.

- A pattern of beatings and excessive force directed toward inmates exhibited by numerous correctional officers, and widespread tolerance of this behavior by other jail staff and administration.

- Facilitation, tolerance, and perpetration of racial discrimination -- including physical acts of violence -- by correctional officers, specifically targeting black inmates.

Specifically with regard to the jail’s failures to adequately respond to the water crisis, we demand that South Central Regional Jail Administration, the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, the West Virginia Department of Corrections, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons immediately assume responsibility for undertaking the following steps:

1. Facilitating third-party testing of SCRJ’s water for residual MCHM contamination and providing alternative sources of water for inmates until it is verified to be safe for human consumption. Additionally, properly flushing the water system and changing water filters as necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water.

2. Implementing an emergency protocol that ensures alternative sources of safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene in the event of future emergencies.

3. Providing inmates with universal access to adequate medical care, including but not limited to: prompt care, an end to punitive medical isolation, the ability to get further care in outside medical facilities as necessary, and an end to arbitrary denial of access to prescription medication.

4. Taking action to demand that the appropriate state and federal agencies provide legal and medical recourse to ensure medical monitoring and financial compensation for inmates who were affected by the chemical spill, as well as other injustices in the facility.

5. The complete dismissal of all charges incurred by inmates during the nonviolent protest for clean water and the restoration of any rights and privileges lost as a result.

6. A public acknowledgment by South Central Regional Jail Administration, the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, and the West Virginia Department of Corrections of their utter failure to adequately respond to the water crisis. We demand that the Regional Jail Authority tell the truth and acknowledge that prior reports made to the press by executive director Joe DeLong that prisoners “received about eight bottles of water a day,” had access to “sponge baths,” and that the jail undertook a “very extensive,” “two or three day” flushing process are false and misleading.

7. A public acknowledgement by the Federal Bureau of Prisons of the failure to protect the health and safety of federal inmates during the water crisis, and the failure to ensure the safety of the water in SCRJ before transferring federal inmates back. This should include a public explanation of why many federal inmates were transferred from SCRJ during the height of the water crisis while others were left behind.

This is not an exclusive list and does not represent the drastic scope of action that must be undertaken at South Central Regional Jail to ensure that it is a place in which dignity and basic human rights are respected.

Additionally, we stand in firm support of a petition articulating numerous grievances regarding unsanitary living conditions, signed by twenty-three inmates on February 13, 2014, as well as a separate petition focused on correctional officers’ mistreatment of inmates, signed by twenty-five inmates on April 23, 2014.

Based on the above complaints, we implore any and all journalists, legal and civil rights organizations, and state and federal agencies, including the United States Department of Justice, as well as those listed above, to open an investigation into the treatment of inmates in both South Central Regional Jail and the West Virginia Regional Jail system as a whole.