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Settlement Reached In Inmates Vs. State Jail Lawsuit

Hands grabbing cell bars in an overcrowded jail
Key challenges are funding and expanding community treatment programs while balancing concerns for public safety.
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This is a developing story and may be updated.

A settlement has been reached in the federal class-action lawsuit alleging inhumane and unsanitary conditions at the Raleigh County Southern Regional Jail.

U.S. District Judge Frank W. Volk filed an order Tuesday stating inmates Michael Rose and Edward Harmon reached a settlement with former Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation interim Commissioner Brad Douglas, former DCR Commissioner Betsy Jividen, current interim DCR Commissioner William Marshall, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy, and former Southern Regional Jail Superintendent Michael Francis.

With no details, the filing notes the settlement involves forming a Limited Fund Class Action to be approved by the court. Other parties, including the county commissions served by the jail, were not included in the settlement. 

Volk ordered a status conference on the case for this Thursday at 12:30.

The inmate’s complaint, filed in September 2022, alleges the defendants subjected inmates to inhumane conditions and overcrowding at the jail. The complaint demands the state correct the jail conditions. 

The settlement comes about a week after U.S. Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn wrote a 39 page order, determining that Department of Corrections officials intentionally destroyed evidence, including emails and electronically stored documents. Aboulhosn recommended Volk side with the plaintiffs and issue a summary judgment. 

Right after Aboulhosn’s order, Gov. Jim Justice’s Chief of Staff, Brian Abraham, said the missing evidence in the lawsuit was located. Abraham also said the Justice Administration fired Brad Douglas, the former interim corrections commissioner and recent executive officer for the jails system, and Phil Sword, chief counsel for the homeland security agency.

For more than a year, Justice has maintained an emergency crisis situation noting severe staffing shortages throughout West Virginia’s jails and prisons. More than 300 West Virginia National Guard members continue to provide jail assistance in non-guarding duties. 

An August special session saw legislation passed to increase the pay for correctional officers and give two one time bonuses to correctional staff. 

In an October legislative interim committee meeting, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Billy Mitchell told lawmakers jail systems were improving. Mitchell said for the first time since COVID-19 hit, jail and prison guard vacancies have fallen below 1,000 – standing at 990.