Western Regional Jail, Barboursville
Western Regional Jail and Correctional Facility, located in Barboursville, West Virginia, is one of the state’s 10 regional jails. As a medium-security facility, it houses inmates from several counties in pretrial detention or serving county sentences of up to one year. Western Regional plays a key role in the local criminal justice system but has also faced controversies related to overcrowding, inmate care and COVID-19.
History of Western Regional Jail
Origins and Construction
The origins of Western Regional Jail date back to the early 1990s, when West Virginia embarked on establishing a network of regional jails to replace outdated county jails. The Legislature approved funding for constructing a new regional facility in the western part of the state.
After selecting a 50-acre site in Barboursville, construction began in 1994. The $34 million jail was built to house over 500 inmates. West Virginia corrections officials aimed to create a modern, efficient facility in line with evolving standards for inmate care and rehabilitation.
Early Years and Expansions
Western Regional Jail officially opened in February 1997. During its early years of operation, the facility began taking in inmates from surrounding counties including Cabell, Wayne, Putnam and Mason.
As incarceration rates rose statewide, overcrowding soon became an issue. In the early 2000s, West Virginia expanded capacity at Western Regional Jail through the addition of new housing units. Even with increased capacity to around 900 inmates, overcrowding persisted.
Overview of Western Regional Jail Today
Location and Layout
Western Regional Jail is situated just outside Barboursville along WV Route 10. The sprawling facility has over a dozen inmate housing units surrounded by a perimeter fence topped with razor wire. There are also administration buildings, an infirmary and facilities for inmate programs and services.
The jail has a layout similar to many modern correctional complexes, with dedicated units for intake, minimum and medium custody inmates. The jail also has segregation units for high-risk detainees. Housing units contain inmate cells along with dayrooms and recreation yards.
Capacity and Population
Today, Western Regional has an operational capacity of 1,040 inmates. The jail can house over 100 female inmates in separate units from the male population.
Even after expansions over the years, Western Regional has continued to be overcrowded. The average daily population typically exceeds capacity by 10-20%. Most inmates are pretrial detainees from surrounding counties, although some are serving short county sentences.
Security and Operations
As a regional jail, Western Regional houses inmates classified from minimum to medium security. It has a full security staff that handles perimeter security, unit patrols, transports and supervision of inmate activities. Staff undergo training to handle the inmate population and potential incidents.
Like all regional jails, Western Regional has faced challenges with introducing contraband, violence between inmates and attempts to smuggle drugs into the facility. Security staff work to intercept banned substances and maintain order among the inmate population.
Services and Programs at Western Regional Jail
To meet inmate needs and prepare them for release, Western Regional provides various services and programs including:
Medical and Mental Health Services
The jail operates an infirmary that can handle basic medical care and minor illnesses. Nurses are onsite along with access to an on-call physician. For advanced care, inmates are transported to outside hospitals and clinics. Mental health services are also available.
Educational and Vocational Programs
Inmates can participate in GED preparation, adult literacy classes and some vocational programs in areas like auto repair and welding. These programs aim to improve employment prospects and reduce recidivism.
Religious and Recreational Activities
Western Regional provides weekly religious services to accommodate different faiths. Approved volunteers offer spiritual counseling. The jail also offers library materials, exercise equipment and recreational activities to productively occupy inmate time.
Controversies and Issues with Western Regional Jail
Despite its modern facilities, Western Regional has faced controversies and issues common to many jails regarding conditions, treatment and care.
Being over capacity has strained resources and contributed to tensions at the jail. Inmates have objected to overcrowded living units and limited access to services. Advocates claim chronic overcrowding has impacted safety and care.
Inmate Deaths and Abuse Allegations
There have been lawsuits alleging failure to prevent inmate suicides. Between 2016-2020, over 20 inmates died at Western Regional from medical conditions, suicides and overdoses. Families have accused officials of negligence in several deaths.
Former inmates have also accused guards of excessive force and verbal abuse. However, authorities defend procedures and training for appropriate use of force. Investigations into alleged abuses have been inconclusive.
The COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns about virus spread in crowded jails. Western Regional had early outbreaks with hundreds of infections. Critics argued officials failed to implement adequate testing, quarantines and social distancing. The jail now follows stricter protocols to mitigate outbreaks.
For over 25 years, Western Regional Jail has been a key part of West Virginia’s criminal justice operations. While providing adequate security and services for inmates, persistent issues like overcrowding have impacted conditions and contributed to controversies. Ongoing efforts to improve training, expand capacity and update procedures seek to address these complex challenges. Despite criticisms, Western Regional continues working to balance inmate needs, rehabilitation goals and safety within a crowded corrections system.
What is the capacity of Western Regional Jail?
The operational capacity is 1,040 inmates. However, the average daily population exceeds this, typically ranging from 1,100 to 1,200 inmates.
What kinds of inmates are housed at Western Regional Jail?
Most inmates are pretrial detainees or convicted offenders serving short county jail sentences. They are classified as minimum to medium security levels.
What are some examples of programs offered to inmates?
Programs include medical and mental healthcare, GED preparation, vocational training, religious services, library access and recreation. The goal is to facilitate rehabilitation and personal growth.
Have any inmates died at Western Regional Jail in recent years?
Yes, between 2016-2020 over 20 deaths occurred, largely from medical issues, suicides and drug overdoses. Some families have sued alleging negligence contributed to deaths.
How has COVID-19 impacted Western Regional Jail?
The jail has had several outbreaks with hundreds of cases. Critics argue overcrowding and inadequate safety measures contributed to high infection rates. Protocols have since tightened to increase testing, quarantining and social distancing.