RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WVNS)– Counties are not responsible for violations of civil rights alleged in a federal lawsuit, according to Raleigh County Commission.
The allegations are outlined in a 54-page lawsuit filed against Southern Regional Jail and commissions in Greenbrier, Monroe, Raleigh, Fayette, Mercer, Summers and Wyoming counties.
Raleigh County Commissioner Greg Duckworth said on Thursday, October 6, 2022, the county is not responsible.
“We feel that we pay a jail bill once a month,” Duckworth said. “We don’t have access to staffing, or the jail, other than the processing room where police drop off inmates.”
He said lawmakers’ establishment of the regional jail system, which is overseen by the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and the State Division of Corrections more than 30 years ago insulates counties from being held responsible for the treatment of inmates.
Prisoners say up to six people are forced into cells designed for two or forced to sleep in a community room where they are beaten and sexually attacked.
The suit, filed Sept. 22, 2022, in United States District Court Southern District of West Virginia, alleges prisoners are denied laundry, beds, appropriate clothing and medical care, including mental health services, and a gang of inmates terrorizes them, at the director of corrections officers.
At least six people have died at the jail in the last thirteen months, while incarcerated. Family members of the deceased have called on federal and state lawmakers to take action.
Attorneys for a growing number of plaintiffs in the federal civil suit say the jail is overcrowded, operating at one hundred and sixty-six percent capacity, placing those inside the facility at risk.
West Virginia code states that, as of Jan. 1, 1949, counties must provide adequate food, clothing and bedding to inmates in county jails and cleaning supplies and other materials to jailers.
State lawmakers created the regional system in the 1990s when county jails faced lawsuits for violating civil rights, guaranteed under federal law.
Counties pay a rate set by the Legislature, currently $48.25 per day, per inmate, to the state to care for inmates in the regional jails.
Duckworth reported that Raleigh County pays $160,000 to $180,000 per month to the state.
Steve New, one of four attorneys who filed the suit, says the county still bears responsibility for inmate care.
“To the extent, these prisoners were not being adequately fed, housed, given adequate supplies, then the county shares responsibility, here,” New said, citing state code. “The statement from Commissioner Duckworth and others is not that these conditions didn’t exist at the Southern Regional Jail, the overcrowding, the systemic problems don’t exist, or that this is not problematic, it was more or less a statement that said, ‘Well, it’s not our responsibility because we contracted that to the state.'”
“So, I look forward to getting into that in the discovery process,” he added.
Duckworth reiterated that the county is not responsible for the state’s conduct towards prisoners, even if the allegations in the lawsuit are accurate.
“It’s early in their investigation, and what the complaints are, and the validity of the complaints,” said Duckworth. “I think there’s a long way to go, yet, in identifying what is wrong or what’s not wrong. And our position is, we’ll pay our monthly jail bill for the inmates we have in there, and that’s, really, all we have to do.”
New says guards and inmates beat inmates in a medical pod where there are no cameras.
The lawsuit relies on sworn depositions by former guards, along with statements from inmates.