Neither poverty nor prison should be a death sentence.
“People are dying over misdemeanors. A lot of these laws are made against the poor people in West Virginia.” – Pam Garrison, Tri-Chair of West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign
13 people have died in the Southern Regional Jail in Beckley, West Virginia, in the last year. The mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters of those who died senselessly while under the watch of the state prison system need answers. We cannot allow Senator Manchin and Governor Justice to keep ignoring the injustices unfolding on their watch. The Department of Justice must expedite and ensure the full independence of a Federal civil rights investigation. We will not back down until our cries are answered.
Southern Regional Jail is notoriously plagued by chronic understaffing, neglect, and overcrowding – conditions which are harsh, inhumane and have resulted in a 13-fold increase in deaths since 2018. A 2021 investigation into the jail purported that allegations made by inmates over the inhumane conditions were “unfounded”. Yet, since the conclusion of the inadequate investigation into the facility, 13 more inmates were found dead in the jail and dozens more investigations have gone uncompleted.
No arrest should result in death, yet hundreds of families must not only grapple with the death of their loved ones but seek answers for their jarring, oftentimes violent deaths. Arrested for bailable fines but unable to pay, this attack on poor people leaves no room for dignity as daughters, such as Miranda Smith, who spoke at the WV Poor People’s Campaign press conference last week. Miranda had to bury her father after receiving the news that after a mere 19 days, her father “suddenly passed” despite heavy internal bleeding.
Quantez Burks was unfairly jailed over a mere traffic violation, unable to pay bail, and left to suffer mistreatment and ultimately death. A traffic violation resulted in a violent death of broken bones, blunt force, and a heart attack. This horrific reality was made worse when his family was lied to by the prison. The cycle of violence against the poor, and marginalized communities, must end and we need the full power of a Federal civil rights investigation.
Countless low-income West Virginians of all races have died under the watch of the state prison system. In West Virginia, 40% of residents are poor or low-income (710,000 people). This includes 187,000 children (50%), 402,000 women (44%), 30,000 Black people (51%), 13,0000 LatinX people (55%), and 689,0000 White people (42%).
“Frankly this is an urgent crisis. This is an outrage.” – Attorney Kat Roblez, Forward Justice
Help the dear mothers, fathers, and families left in the dark seek justice for their loved ones. Join us calling on Senator Manchin and Governor Justice to ensure a Department of Justice investigation of these immoral and shameful acts before we lose another citizen.
We call on you to stand with the people of West Virginia. We won’t be silent anymore.
Forward together, not one step back,
The West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign and Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival