RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a constant push to wear masks and social distance, but that may not be the case when living behind bars.
“It holds 300 and there are 900 inmates in here,” said inmate Avery Toler in a phone call home. In reality, there are 719 inmates at Southern Regional Jail. “They’re going around coughing, sick. The virus is spreading in here like wildfire.”
Since May, Avery Toler has lived in SRJ among hundreds of other inmates.
“He says that he’s scared for his life,” said Avery’s wife, Jennifer. “He does not want to die in jail because of the pandemic.”
As of Wednesday, one inmate is positive and seven tests are pending. Meanwhile, 112 are in quarantine. Inmates say the virus itself is only part of the problem.
“We understand that maintaining proper hygiene is an important part of preventing the spread of the virus, however, we’re not getting the appropriate hygiene products the jail claims to have,” said inmate Justin McCann in the same call to Jennifer. “Instead, we sometimes go two to three weeks without soap and toilet paper.”
Hygiene products are available for purchase inside the jail, but inmates say many cannot afford to purchase the supplies. As inmates can’t keep clean, many worry for their health.
“Everyone is going to end up with it if they do not contain it,” said Jennifer. “My opinion: they’re overcrowded. Why not let the nonviolent criminals go?”
Inmates also complain that there isn’t enough food, saying the portions they are given keep getting smaller.
“We’ve been told the reasons for us receiving the smaller portions of food is due to the amount of people currently being held at this facility,” said McCann. “We receive no fresh fruit or vegetables as part of any meal. The nutritional value is subpar at best, nowhere close to the caloric standard that it’s supposed upheld by the kitchen staff. If we’re not given the proper nutrients on a daily basis, how are our bodies supposed to combat not only COVID-19, but other, more simple, illnesses?”
Back home, families like Jennifer and her children worry about their loved ones.
“They are somebody’s husband, wife, son, daughter, mom, dad,” said Jennifer. “They are human. They do not deserve to be treated this way.”
West Virginia Department of Homeland Security spokesman Lawrence Messina says DCR toured the facility and found nothing supporting the inmate’s claims. He also adds that the National Guard sanitized the jail’s medical unit today.