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Former Regional Jail inmates testify about conditions


CHARLESTON — Members of a legislative interim committee learned some of the problems associated with the state’s Regional Jail system from a couple of people who have experienced them first hand. Ashley Omps of Morgan County and Melissa Rose of Pocahontas County testified before the committee in Charleston on the conditions of their incarceration in the system. Their testimony was delivered as part of a study of reentry into the mainstream following incarceration and rehab.

Rose told the committee she had a drinking problem which led to substance abuse and landed her in jail for the first time when she was age 20.

“I had my bail set at an amount I couldn’t afford and I also couldn’t afford a lawyer. I woke up in ‘the hole’ or solitary confinement. This is four concrete walls. It’s cold, it’s dark with one tiny window and one hour a day outside,” she explained.

Rose told lawmakers the experience confused her because she wasn’t sure what was expected of her and the treatment in the facility was made worse by the conditions.

“I had no mat or blanket. I was alone and scared and I had no idea how I got there. The guards who made their rounds seemed inconvenienced by my questions. I understood I was in jail, but I had no idea why I was being punished this way,” she said.

Rose told the panel there was another time during her incarceration where the sprinkler system broke and flooded their cells, but they were forced to stay there despite the conditions.

“We had to sleep in two inches of standing water. During that time we didn’t get hygiene products regularly. Most of us didn’t have sheets, pillows, or clothes and we seldom got out of our cell to use the shower or the phone,” she said.

Omps told a similar story. She related how she had found her companion of 10 years dead of suicide and was at a near breakdown when she turned to drugs. The situation landed her behind bars.

“My mental state was reduced to basic survival mode at an animal level. I was offered no help. Because of my inability to post bail, I was in jail for three months on my first offense. I lost my daughter, my home, my career, and my 21 acre farm which I had successfully managed for 12 years,” she said.

She also shared stories of poor living conditions, a lack of hygiene products, and indifference from jail staff who were stretched thin.

“It was not until the Day Report Center I was assigned to a therapist and given a chance to see my strength and weakness. I’ve gotten to experience a great deal of healing with my treatment of mental health and that’s why I’m willing to do the uncomfortable work of sharing my experience here today, ” she explained.

Nobody from the Division of Corrections or Regional Jail Authority spoke about the conditions and the testimony of the two former inmates. However, lawmakers remarked they were well aware of the shortfalls of the Regional Jail and Corrections system with staffing levels and budget concerns. There was a suggestion at the next interim meetings for leaders of those agencies be offered an opportunity to talk about the conditions and the work done to improve.