By Lawrence Messina
West Virginia’s regional jails chief told legislators Monday that he’s requested an independent, outside investigator to review agency policy following last month’s arrest of a correctional officer accused of having sex with inmates in exchange for cigarettes.
Agency Executive Director Joe DeLong responded to several questions from a House-Senate oversight committee prompted by the criminal charges filed against officer William Roy Wilson.
State Police arrested Wilson, 29, of Beckley and accused him of forcing sexual acts with three women at Southern Regional Jail starting in May. The Legislature passed a law earlier this year that makes sexual contact between people under supervision and officers, contractors or other staff a felony. The new law, crafted by the interim study committee, makes clear that consent cannot be a defense.
DeLong also noted that Wilson faces multiple civil claims alleging sexual misconduct at the jail. At least 11 lawsuits have targeted Wilson, including two that have been settled out-of-court.
Besides reviewing what led up to Wilson’s arrest, DeLong said the investigator would examine the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority’s relevant policies, both current and prior. DeLong said he also wants this probe to “look at any inappropriate steps or inaction” that may have delayed the discovery of Wilson’s alleged conduct.
A former legislator and House Majority leader, DeLong became the agency’s executive director in August after holding the post in an acting capacity.
DeLong took time during Monday’s meeting to defend his staff, which suffer low pay and long hours amid high turnover and vacancies. West Virginia is wrestling with a growing inmate crisis, with at-capacity prisons forcing thousands of convicted felons to serve parts of their sentences in the network of 10 regional jails. Each jail has more inmates than it was designed to hold, officials have said.
“We have a lot of employees who are accused of a lot of things that they don’t do,” DeLong said. “When you cast a broad enough net, to say that everybody is doing something wrong, and then you find someone who is doing something wrong, you use that as backup and say, ‘See, I told you so,”’ DeLong told lawmakers.
DeLong said Wilson was arrested after an inmate complained about “inappropriate activities” in Southern Regional Jail’s kitchen, which inmates help staff. DeLong did not detail those allegations, but said they did not involve Wilson and the resulting investigation failed to support some of them. But that inquiry found evidence of some misconduct, and the agency brought in the State Police, DeLong said.