West Virginia legislators looking to get answers about recent deaths in the state’s regional jails were told Monday they would have to wait longer for more information.
Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, said officials with the state’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation still are investigating the deaths of five people who died in the state’s custody in less than a month.
Clements, chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, made the announcement about 40 minutes into the committee’s meeting Monday evening.
“Those questions will be answered in due time,” Clements said. “At this time, we feel the Division of Corrections [and Rehabilitation] is not in a position to answer those questions because there are ongoing investigations as to how those happened.”
An agenda available on the West Virginia Legislature’s website Monday morning included an item that said officials with the division would present information regarding “recent deaths” in the facilities. That item was removed from an updated agenda posted on the website Monday afternoon.
Aside from Clements’ comments, no other mention was made during the meeting of the five people who have died in the state’s regional jails since June 29.
Authorities with the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation have said no foul play is suspected in any of their deaths.
Amanda Kessick died at the Western Regional Jail, in Barboursville, on June 29, and Mark Anthony Wartenburg, of Scott Depot, died at the South Central Regional Jail, in Charleston, on June 30.
On July 1, Janson Davenport was found unresponsive in his cell at the North Central Regional Jail, in Doddridge County, and died about an hour later, despite lifesaving attempts.
Zachary Alexander Bailey died on July 8. Authorities said Bailey suffered an apparent medical episode, which might have been drug-related.
Catherine Mae Moore also suffered an undisclosed medical episode, on July 17, at the North Central Jail and died there.
Also during Monday’s meeting, Betsy Jividen, commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation, presented information showing the median age of jail and prison facilities in the state is 20½ years, with the oldest facilities being 26 years old.
Jividen briefly spoke about needs for repairs to the facilities.
The cost to repair the facilities is $203 million, “and that continues to go up,” Jividen said.
Jividen also noted that a lack of repairs to the West Virginia Penitentiary and deteriorating conditions at county jails were part of what led the Legislature to establish the regional jail system in the 1980s, as she asked lawmakers to consider supporting repairs to incarceration facilities in the state.
“History has taught us, that lesson is an expensive one,” she said.