West Virginia has some of the nation’s deadliest jails, with alarmingly high rates of suicide, homicide, and drug overdose deaths, according to a new report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) using data from both the Reuters news agency and the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  

The report, “Overcrowded and Deadly: West Virginia’s Jails are in Crisis” also makes a number of recommendations, focusing on steps to reduce jail overcrowding, which the report links to the high death rate.

The report analyzes records made public by Reuters in 2020. Of the 45 jurisdictions surveyed by Reuters, West Virginia had the deadliest jail system, outpacing the national average death rate in nearly every category of mortality.

Of West Virginia’s ten regional jails, most had death rates that were significantly higher than the national average. Among the state’s regional jails, South Central in Charleston had the highest death rate, 2.4 times higher than the national average. Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, had the highest number of suicides. Western Regional Jail in Barboursville, Cabell County, had the most deaths caused by overdose.

ACLU-WV’s report calls on policymakers to increase alternatives to incarceration, ensure the pretrial release bill passed during the 2020 legislative session (HB 2419) is more effectively enforced, reinforce regional jail staff with better pay, training and working conditions, deliver better health care including mental health and substance abuse care, employ an independent outside investigator to explore every jail death in West Virginia, and increase responsiveness to the needs of incarcerated people particularly in the first 30 days of incarceration.