The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 24, 2013

Jail misconduct costs millions


The Associated Press

CHARLESTON — Sexual misconduct claims at prisons and regional jails have cost West Virginia nearly $12 million over the last decade, state records show.

Board of Risk and Insurance Management records obtained by the Charleston Daily Mail show that prisoners and their lawyers received more than $5 million in settlements and fees from Jan. 1, 2003, to June 1, 2013. The average settlement was about $20,000.

Another $6.6 million was spent to pay the state’s lawyers, special investigators, expert witnesses and court fees.

The number of sexual misconduct claims rose from 21 in 2008 to 83 in 2010. The number then declined to 45 in 2011 and to 26 in 2012. Two claims have been filed this year so far.

“We still have too many of them. And we still have too many of them that have a basis of merit as well,” Joe Delong, executive director of the Regional Jail Authority, told the newspaper.

Regional jails were the targets of 157 claims, while 97 claims alleged sexual misconduct at prisons from 2003 to 2013.

Most of the claims were filed by female inmates against male correctional officers. Most of the female inmates were being held at regional jails awaiting beds in the state’s prison system, DeLong said.

There are about 2,000 correctional officers for 5,400 inmates at prisons, compared to about 900 officers for 4,900 inmates at regional jails.

“They’re fairly comparable in the number of inmates they have to house, but the (regional jail authority) does it with half the staff. You’re really comparing apples to oranges, to some degree,” he said.

In 2012, all state-sentenced female inmates awaiting beds at Lakin Correctional Center were moved to Tygart Valley Regional Jail in Randolph County. Surveillance cameras were installed in all sections and corridors of the jail.

Correctional officers are receiving regular training about appropriate relationships with inmates.

“It certainly is an ongoing challenge. In a lot of cases you have very young, not far out of high school correctional officers who are working late at night in environments with seasoned criminals,” Delong said.

Under state law, inmates can’t give consent for sexual activity with corrections officers.

“So even if the inmate is the one who instigates activity, the corrections officer is always at fault because the inmate cannot give consent,” Delong said. “Unfortunately, there are times that they are able to get our officers to do things that are inappropriate.”

Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said guards at state prisons also are trained to recognize and avoid inmates’ attempts to involve them in illegal activity.

“One of the main things from day one that we talk about, you don’t have sex with an inmate and you don’t get lured into the situations that put you in precarious places and situations where you could compromise yourself and other staff in the facility,” he said.