Daily Statistics (October 7, 2021)
5,413 people in WV regional jails
4,214 people in WV state prisons
Jails are 27% over capacity
13% of the prison and jail population is Black

Emergency Motion Filed in Federal Court over W.Va. Corrections’ “Lack of Basic Compliance” with CDC Protocols

A report from a doctor who has inspected 30 facilities across the country expressed “urgent concern” over what he called “the most dangerous approach to medical isolation I have encountered since the outset of the pandemic.” 

emergency | WV Criminal Law Reform Coalition | PO Box 3952 Charleston, WV 25339 United States | +1 304-345-9246 | https://wvprisonreform.org | info@wvprisonreform.org

Oct. 13, 2021 • Written by Kyle Vass

The state Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s quarantine and medical isolation practices are “actively and needlessly” causing disease and death in regional jails, a doctor who has previously worked with the U.S. Dept. of Justice inspecting correctional facilities said.

Calling the state’s reported number of COVID-19 cases and related illnesses and deaths a “gross underestimate,” Dr. Homer Venters also said the lack of testing in West Virginia facilities “is at odds with very basic CDC guidelines.”

In all three of the facilities Dr. Venters visited, he reported seeing the intake areas — where people are first taken upon arriving to jail — were “extremely crowded” with “people sleeping on a cement floor inches from each other while in the midst of a mental health crisis.” He also reported it was particularly concerning to see “completely unused cells adjacent to cells packed tightly with people sleeping or sitting inches from each other.”

“Ignoring the need for medical isolation”

In two of the three regional jails Dr. Venters visited, he reported that people tested positive for COVID-19 were put back in “their cells with cellmates who are not ill, but who soon become infected.”

One person who saw this practice told Venters it dissuaded her from telling staff when she eventually started having symptoms, saying “Why would I say anything when they’ve already thrown us to the wolves?”

The report also included one account of a woman who tested positive and “was placed back into her cell with her COVID-19 negative cellmate where she experienced profuse diarrhea for at least 48 hours without being able to get a single change of linens or clothes.”

Callie Taylor Update

Dr. Venters’ observations about medical isolation and lack of access to clean clothes are consistent with what Anita Taylor, the mother of a woman being held at North Central Regional, previously told Dragline. According to Taylor, her daughter’s cellmates became her primary caretakers after she was confirmed with a COVID-19 diagnosis that would eventually result in her being sent to a nearby hospital. 

Having survived COVID-19, Callie Taylor is currently being held in “the hole” — a designated area with restricted privileges for people who have allegedly committed disciplinary violations. 

According to Anita Taylor, Callie has been given one set of clothing in the week she has spent in isolation. Anita said that after several days of wearing the same clothes, her daughter resorted to washing her underwear in a mop bucket. She told Anita that the staph infection that she’s had on her face since being placed in state custody has gotten considerably worse since being put in the hole last Wednesday. 

Fixing the failures

The report was part of a motion submitted Tuesday in West Virginia’s Southern District Court in an ongoing class action lawsuit against state officials’ response to COVID-19 in correctional facilities. If Federal Judge Robert C. Chambers approves the motion, the state Dept. of Corrections would be forced to follow CDC guidelines in its facilities — something a Corrections spokesperson has previously said the department was already doing.

In the report, Dr. Venters noted the Corrections Department is not currently following CDC guidance on detention facilities and provided the state with a list of recommendations, urging officials to come into “basic compliance with the guidelines of the CDC.”

Judge Chambers has decided the state Dept. of Corrections has until Oct. 19 to respond to the emergency motion.

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