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W.Va. to investigate Northern Regional Jail after incident

MOUNDSVILLE — The West Virginia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is conducting a full investigation of overcrowding issues at Moundsville’s Northern Regional Jail, Gov. Jim Justice said. The investigation comes after a violent incident at the jail last week where three inmates were injured.

“I’m aware of the situation there,” Justice said Tuesday morning. “I’m aware of the overpopulation situation and our corrections folks are doing a full investigation into what happened. As soon as they can conclude that investigation, they’ll report it to me and we’ll report it to everyone. Full transparency, full disclosure, that’s what we do every time.”

Three NRJ inmates were involved in a June 3 altercation where a fight broke out with makeshift weapons, according to Lawrence Messina, director of communications and public relations for the State of West Virginia. None of the inmates required outside medical care, and no corrections staff were injured.

Moundsville Police had responded to assist with the fight, but MPD Chief Tom Mitchell said they were not asked to lend aid. Messina said that while inmate crowding within the NRJ has remained high, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, population levels have improved in recent weeks. As of June 4, Messina said, 411 inmates were housed at the jail facility, 43% of whom are pre-trial defendants, subject to being bonded out or otherwise at the decision of magistrate or circuit judges. According to a chart provided by the state, the Northern Regional Jail housed around 470 inmates at the end of March and 460 on May 17.

Staffing at the facility, he said, also was an issue, but one which he hoped was also on the track to being alleviated with things like pay raises and defined career paths for employees.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Messina said, limitations on transferring inmates due to safety protocols exacerbated the problem.

“Inmate population levels remain a challenge throughout the regional jails system,” he said. “While this was an issue before COVID-19, the precautions and safeguards established in response to the epidemic have greatly restricted transfers among facilities and otherwise heightened this challenge.”

“Of the remaining inmates, the ongoing vaccinations should help with the transfer of state-sentenced inmates while movement between facilities remains strictly limited because of COVID-19. As the online reports show, 165 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine had been administered at Northern as of (May 21),” he added.

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