BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials bribed prisoners at Southern Regional Jail to give positive reports during an investigation Governor Jim Justice ordered in 2022 of Southern Regional, a Beckley attorney alleged at a press conference on Monday, March 20, 2023.

“We know for a fact that higher-ups in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation bribed inmates for favorable statements during the sham investigation that was done last year by the Department of Homeland Security,” Stephen P. New alleged.

He declined to name witnesses but added a later court filing will identify them.

Attorneys New, Robert Dunlap, Russell Williams, Zach Witten and Tim Lupardis have filed a class action lawsuit against Southern Regional. The suit has around 1,000 plaintiffs, according to New.

The families of Quantez Burks, 37, of Beckley and 45-year-old Alvis Shrewsbury of Wyoming County, two men who died under reportedly suspicious circumstances at the jail in 2022, were at the press conference in New’s Beckley office.

New said he plans to file a lawsuit against Southern Regional and others in Shrewsbury’s death.

The jail is already under a federal investigation, although New, families and a former SRJ corrections officers said they have not yet been contacted by federal investigators.

New called on the U.S. District Attorney’s Office to expand the investigation of SRJ to include the allegations of bribery.

Troy Carter, a U.S. veteran and former corrections officer at Southern Regional, says a severe shortage of corrections officers means privately contracted nurses, whom guards must escort to cells, are unable to deliver medications like insulin and withdrawal drugs to incarcerated patients on a regular schedule.

He alleged inmates who alert staff of suicidal thoughts are forced to wear so-called pickle suits, jumpers which can’t be used for self-harm but offer little coverage and to go to a small cell which is also used to punish inmates. He said he witnessed eight to 16 people lying on one another, for days at a time, often uncovered by the pickle suits.

59News reached out Monday afternoon to state officials to request data on Southern Regional Jail’s alleged program for treating suicidal ideation, but West Virginia Department of Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond.

Carter said there are few locks on jail cells, which the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act requires in order to prevent sexual assaults. In addition, he said those incarcerated for violent crimes are housed at Southern Regional, in unlocked sections, with those who are accused of petty crimes.

He reported the cost of repairing the locks would be around $30 million.

Carter said he tried to report violations to supervisors, following the proper chain of command, but colleagues retaliated against him until he resigned. He said that is when he decided to blow the whistle and to speak with Williams, the attorney.

“I couldn’t hold myself to some kind of standard where I went over to a foreign country and upheld that and treated people that weren’t my citizens, that weren’t my countrymen, in a higher manner than I was seeing my countrymen being treated,” he said.

According to Carter, jail staff retaliate against inmates by forbidding them to talk on the phone with family. He said he and others were once ordered by administrators to destroy state property after someone complained to West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources about jail conditions during the pandemic.

“The administration got upset about it, and so their answer to the health department being called was to take any kind of mattress that had been utilized at all and throw it away,” he said.

Prisoners in the overcrowded jail must place foam mattresses between themselves and the concrete floor to sleep.

West Virginia Department of Homeland Security officials did not immediately confirm the report of the destroyed mattresses on Monday or provide the estimated cost.