West Virginia government employees are shipping water to Mount Olive Correctional Complex as prison staff and local public service district employees work to identify and fix a leak in the prison’s plumbing system.
The Fayette County prison, which began housing inmates in 1995, has been without water since Monday, when the Gauley River PSD identified a pump issue that has since been repaired, said Lawrence Messina, director of communications for the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Now, two PSD employees are assisting prison maintenance employees in locating a leak the PSD identified, said Tammy Roop, office manager for the Gauley River PSD.
“All our stuff is fixed, and we’re waiting to turn on the valve to give them water,” Roop said Friday.
About 1,000 people were incarcerated at the state’s only maximum-security prison Friday, below the facility’s total capacity, Messina said.
Inmates’ accessibility to showers wasn’t completely clear Friday. Work had been done to get portable showers to the prison, but officials were aiming to bring some of the prison’s regular showers back online as of 2:30 p.m. Friday, Messina said.
As of Friday afternoon, the state was providing bottled water for inmates and staff to drink, and tanker truckloads of water were being used for sanitation and cooking, Messina said.
Portable toilets also had been set up, Messina said.
Mount Olive houses inmates who are serving sentences for felony offenses. The regional jail system houses people who are awaiting trial and those who are serving sentences for misdemeanor crimes and some nonviolent felonies.
As of Nov. 14, the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation was operating over capacity by 803 inmates, Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Betsy Jividen said during a presentation to the West Virginia Legislative Joint Judiciary Committee later that month.
During the committee meeting on Nov. 18, Jividen also said there were at least $193 million in unfunded maintenance issues at the state’s regional jails, including “incredible” sewage issues that she said were compounded by overcrowding.
Taking about two years to build, the Mount Olive Correctional Complex began accepting inmates in early 1995. The prison was constructed to replace the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, which was just shy of 129 years old when Mount Olive opened.
The West Virginia Legislature, in the late 1980s, allocated money for what became Mount Olive after a 1986 riot and subsequent 3-day hostage situation in the West Virginia Penitentiary, in which two inmates were killed and several other inmates and guards were injured.
The inmates provided authorities with a list of grievances during the standoff in January 1986. Among their grievances were living conditions, the quality of food, recreation facilities and cells with more than one inmate. They also said the management style of the warden at the penitentiary at the time was a factor in the riot.
The Legislature also established the Regional Jail Authority system in the 1980s, amid overcrowding in the state’s prisons and county jails.