Help us End Dangerous, Inhumane, and Unconstitutional Conditions in West Virginia Jails

Joe Manchin, US Senator from West Virginia, and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice

The mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of those who have died at the hands of our jail system need and deserve answers. The people of West Virginia cannot be left in the dark. And our elected leaders will not continue to ignore what is plainly unfolding in front of them. We will make sure of it.

We demand their public support and collaboration in our fight for accountability and justice, which includes launching an independent, thorough investigation into the state of our criminal justice system, starting with the Southern Regional Jail.

We cannot let these injustices stand. This must be addressed today, before we lose another citizen of this great state.

To: Joe Manchin, US Senator from West Virginia, and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice
From: [Your Name]

We are writing on behalf of the 13 people who have died senselessly this year at the Southern Regional Jail in Beckley, and on behalf of the over 100 more who have died within West Virginia regional jails in the last decade. Their voices were silenced too soon and their families are still waiting for answers.

The signers of this letter include the loved ones of those who have passed, allies, activists, and the general public. We demand that Governor Justice and Senator Manchin:

1. Hold an emergency meeting with the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, The Poor People's Campaign Co-Chairs, mothers and families of the victims, and West Virginia clergy to discuss what we are seeing on the ground and

2. Stand with the people of West Virginia by signing on to our request to the Department of Justice for a full independent civil rights investigation into the jail conditions in West Virginia.

Poverty nor a prison sentence should not be a death sentence. Countless low-income West Virginians of all races have died under the watch of the state prison system. In West Virginia, 40% of residents are poor or low-income (710,000 people). This includes 187,000 children (50%), 402,000 women (44%), 30,000 Black people (51%), 13,0000 LatinX people (55%), and 689,0000 White people (42%).

Since 1983, the number of incarcerated locals has increased by 235%, well into the thousands. Our state has a rate of 731 incarcerated people per 100,000 citizens. With these numbers in mind, we ask you this: how many of them have to die before our elected leaders stand up for what is right?

For years, the Southern Regional Jail system has been notoriously plagued by chronic understaffing, overcrowding, neglect and other harsh conditions. Since 2018, it has seen a 13-fold increase in deaths. But these issues are not unique to one bad actor. In the last decade, over 100 people of all races have died in our state jails. Many of them passed within the first 24 hours or days following their arrival.

To date, state officials have refused to thoroughly investigate the Southern Regional Jail deaths, or provide families with critical information on the passing of their loved ones. While lawmakers are considering a proposal to increase transparency in West Virginia’s jail system, families are still left in the dark, waiting months for investigations to conclude only to be left with unanswered questions.

Some concerned loved ones have also reported discrepancies in autopsies conducted by state officials with those conducted by private medical professionals. To note, close to 1,000 former and current inmates have launched a class action lawsuit against the Southern Regional Jail.

Senator Manchin and Governor Justice, we are calling on you to hear the cries of mothers seeking answers. We call on you to do what is right. We call on you to stand with the people of your state. We won't be silent anymore.


Pam Garrison
Tri-chair, West Virginia Poor People's Campaign

Stewart Acuff
Tri-chair, West Virginia Poor People's Campaign

Bishop William J. Barber, II
President, Repairers of the Breach
Co-Chair, Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
Director, Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
Co-Chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival