Former detainees tell of sleeping in water, lack of medical care in overcrowded prisons | New

CHARLESTON — Two women recovering from drug addiction described sleeping in standing water and having a seizure without medical intervention during an interim legislative committee meeting last Monday.

Both Ashley Omps and Melissa Rose told lawmakers about the circumstances that led them to substance abuse disorders and the inhumane conditions they found themselves in while incarcerated in West Virginia regional jails.

The women testified at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee of the Regional Prisons and Correctional Facilities Authority at the Capitol on Monday morning.

Lawmakers in recent history have widely discussed the cost of incarcerating people in the state’s 10 regional prisons, all of which operated above capacity for more than a year.

Omps and Rose’s testimony has provided lawmakers with a relatively rare perspective on the conditions in which inmates live, many of whom are experiencing mental health crises from past trauma as well as substance abuse disorders.

At the time of the women’s testimony, there were 5,202 people incarcerated in regional prisons, according to COVID-19 data the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation provides to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

The prisons are equipped to accommodate 4,265 people.

At the end of March, there were 887 vacancies at these facilities, more vacancies than in 2017 when Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency due to understaffing at the centers. state incarceration.

Besides these things, county governments increasingly can’t track the cost to incarcerate people in regional jails, although the legislature has charged them a flat rate of $48.25 since 2018.

On Monday, the actual cost of incarcerating one person a day in a regional jail is $54.13, down from $54.88 the previous year, according to calculations by the State Budget Office. ‘State.

Rose described growing up in a home with her parents and three siblings in Pocahontas County. Her father worked two jobs, and she joined the United States Navy after graduating from high school with honors.

She developed a drinking problem and was discharged from the Navy. Eventually she started using drugs and her first arrest was when she was 20 years old.

“I had my bond set at an amount I couldn’t afford, nor could I afford a lawyer,” Rose said. “I had overdosed on drugs and had to be narcanized. I woke up in the hole, or in solitary… I was alone and scared, and I had no idea how I got there.

Rose said she slept on the concrete floor with no pillows, rugs or blankets and was allowed one hour of time outside the concrete room each day.

In 2020, Rose was incarcerated at Braxton County Central Regional Jail, where she said she suffered a seizure due to drug withdrawal.

“The two girls in the cell with me, they kept pushing the call button for help,” Rose said. “The guard told them to turn me on my side and everything would be fine. A nurse never came to see me or treat me.

Another time, Rose said she was placed in a quarantine room with three inmates who had tested positive for the coronavirus, even though she had not been exposed and had no symptoms of the virus.

She also described a time when the sprinklers went off in her unit, and she and other inmates had to sleep that night in two inches of standing water.

“During this period, we did not have regular access to hygiene products,” she said. “Most of us had no sheets, pillows or clothes. We rarely left our cells to shower. I have never been offered any hobbies. I had no idea how to file a grievance or go to the law library.

The whole situation made Rose feel “hopeless” until she could get out of jail and start working as a chef and artist.

“These are just my experiences. I know so many others with similar stories, and in some cases, worse than mine,” Rose said.

Omps described a difficult upbringing in Morgan County by a mother who suffered from her own mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia.

Omps’ mother was hospitalized and threatened to kill herself so often that Omps often thought she would come home from school to find her mother dead at home.

Growing up in this environment led Omps to believe it was best not to get help for mental health issues, as she knew the stigma that came with the diagnosis.

“That’s why I decided that if I asked for help, I would be hospitalized,” she said. “I promised myself that I would never let that happen.”

Omps started using drugs when she was 16 and her addiction worsened after her older brother died in a car accident in 2018 and the death of her partner, with whom she had a daughter. , an overdose.

She and her 2-year-old daughter discovered his body.

“I was incarcerated three days later,” she said.

She has since lost custody of her daughter and she said she was placed under 72-hour observation when she entered the state’s regional prison system.

“My mental state has been reduced to basic survival level, basic animal-level survival mode,” Omps said of his time in the “little glass room.” “I was not offered any help. Due to my inability to post bail, I was in jail for three months on my first offense.

Omps was released from prison but then spent 15 months in prison for the past three years due to technical violations of her probation.

“During this time, I was put in a holding cell for 12 days without a shower or hygiene products,” she said. “I went three days without toilet paper because they said there was none left. Due to the lack of staff, we were locked down for days at a time.

Omps’ mental health and ability to live productively began to improve after gaining access to a therapist through a day report centre.

“I was able to turn my pain into a goal,” Omps said. “I’m sharing my story here today because I believe we can work together to find a lasting solution to prison overcrowding and find alternatives to incarceration that can really help people heal from trauma, recover from a substance abuse disorder and feel part of the community again.

In April, the judiciary said an investigation into reports of inhuman treatment at the Southern Regional Prison had been found to be false.

WVVA-TV reported earlier this year that inmates were deprived of water and toilet paper and had to sleep on floors without mattresses.

“These were incredibly serious allegations, so I’ve asked our DHS staff to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible,” Justice said in an April 28 press release. “Our investigators spoke with a group of people and pulled a bunch of the files and, at the end of the day, they determined that the allegations were simply false.

Officials from the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which oversees regional prison operations, did not respond to Omps and Rose’s testimony at the meeting.

Committee co-chair David Kelly, R-Tyler, said officials would have the opportunity to respond to testimony at upcoming interim legislative meetings in July.