BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Leaders of a national group joined two West Virginia families on Thursday, February 23, 2023, to call for a federal investigation of Southern Regional Jail in Raleigh County.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, along with the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, attorney for the group Forward Justice and others, issued a call to Governor Jim Justice and United States Senator Joe Manchin to petition the United States Department of Justice for an investigation.

“We must have a full, independent, federal investigation of what’s happening here in West Virginia,” said Bishop William Barber II of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Thirteen people have died at SRJ this past year, and more than 100 in the last decade. 

Those at the conference on Thursday said inmates are being warehoused in over-capacity cells at SRJ and are treated like property of the state.

They said the state’s opioid crisis plays a key factor in the overcrowding. 

“We know that a lot of people are in jail because of an opioid crisis, visited on us by the twin evils of big pharma and the dangers of coal mining,” said WV Poor People’s Campaign State Chair Stewart Acuff, who joined co-chair Pam Garrison in calling for the national spotlight to be placed on SRJ.

Kimberly Burks’ 37-year-old son, Quantez Burks, died at Southern Regional on March 1, 2022, after spending less than 24 hours at the jail.

Burks has been vocal about making a change at the jail since her son died, showing up at Governor Justice’s town hall meeting last month at Tamarack to ask the governor for a federal investigation. 

Burks said the state never notified her of Quantez’s death and did not give her immediate access to his body. 

She said a funeral home worker had to track down Quantez’s remains. 

“Were you invited to go see his body, go see your loved one?” Barber asked Burks.

“Not at all,” replied Burks, who appeared on the virtual conference webinar with Latasha Williams, Quantez’s fiancée. “We were not invited to go see his body. Nobody acknowledged us at all, from Day One.”

Miranda Smith, the daughter of 45-year-old Alvis Shrewsbury, said her father went to SRJ in late August for a DUI charge and died on September 17, 2022, days before his 46th birthday.

Smith said her family was notified in person of her father’s death but added they still have many questions after reading the State Medical Examiner’s report. 

The Poor People’s Campaign sent a letter to U.S.  Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kristin Clark of the Department of justice’s Civil Rights Division on Wednesday, asking for an investigation of conditions at Southern Regional.

Justice and Manchin had not issued statements by Thursday evening.