BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVNS) – A class action lawsuit filed in United States District Court by Beckley attorney Stephen P. New alleges inmates at Southern Regional Jail in Raleigh County are denied access to drinking water and other necessities, and that they are exposed to dangerous overcrowding inside cells, mold, human sewage, toilet water, rats, violence, sexual attacks inside of the facility. It also alleges jail staff destroyed and photocopied legal mail from inmates’ attorneys.

The suit states that up to 16 mentally ill people are forced inside of an alleged “suicide cell” that measures 120 square feet, and that prison and medical staff allegedly leave them in the cell for days. Attorneys also say jail staff allegedly destroys legal mail sent to inmates, opens inmates’ legal mail when they are not present, and photocopies legal mail sent to inmates.

In the document, attorneys said SRJ staff hinders phone calls and in-person meetings between attorneys and inmates. The suit also says the building, which the West Virginia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports was built in 1994, is infested with black mold, which jail employees allegedly hide with paint.

Filed Feb. 21, 2023, the federal class action lawsuit names former Southern Regional Jail superintendent Michael Francis and David Young, former SRJ Major Corrections Officer Larry Warden, Prime Care Medical of West Virginia, and Wexford Health, two private companies the state contracts to provide health care services to inmates.

The suit also names individual counties, including Raleigh, Fayette, Greenbrier, Wyoming, and Summers county commissions. County commissions pay the jail a daily rate to imprison and provide medical care and safe living conditions to inmates.

Former West Virginia Department of Homeland Security Jeff Sandy is a defendant, along with other current and former state officials and unidentified jail workers, and private nurses.

In April 2022, Gov. Jim Justice ordered Sandy to conduct an investigation into conditions at SRJ. Sandy’s investigation concluded conditions at the jail were satisfactory, despite reports of overcrowding, lack of medical care, bedding, and appropriate hygiene items, and other alleged civil rights violations.

The suit alleges 70 to 80 inmates can share one shower. According to the lawsuit, some inmates have no running water for hours at a time, while others live in cells that have broken toilets and sinks that leak water continuously. Due to plumbing problems, the suit alleges some inmates must take scalding hot or freezing cold showers.

The suit alleges defendants violated the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights of those incarcerated at SRJ.

Plaintiffs named in the suit are Michael Rose, Charles Blessard, Robert Church, Sr., Nicole Henry, Edward Harmon, Thomas Fleenor, William Bohn, and Tonya Persinger.

At SRJ, at least 19 inmates died in the past two years, according to records from the West Virginia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.