According to a new investigation by Christie Thompson at Think Progress, after January's chemical spill in the West Virginia watershed, "there was one group that many forgot: the 429 prisoners locked in Charleston’s overcrowded jail, who were entirely dependent on the state to provide them clean water." Thompson reports that despite official claims to the contrary, inmates were provided in some cases only 16 oz. of water per day during the clean up. Many were forced to use contaminated tap water or risk total dehydration.
Thompson reports that Joe DeLong, the executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, originally told the Charleston Daily Mail that inmates were given eight bottles of water a day and had "essentially no access to the contaminated water." Before tap water was turned back on, DeLong said the jail underwent a "very extensive" flushing for two or three days. They weren't aware of inmates reporting health problems from the toxic water. But that wasn't true.
In actuality, a spokesman from the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety confirmed to Thomspon that "inmates were given far less than eight bottles a day, and that the flushing process was much less extensive than what jail staff initially described." Now, inmates are reporting serious health problems due to consuming contaminated water. Thompson interviewed many of them, and you should read her investigation in full here. It's already sparking outrage on Twitter ("rage-inducer," "downright monstrous").
One former inmate told Thompson that he tried not to drink the contaminated water at first, but "that lasted about a day. I was just extremely exhausted. I got headaches, felt like I couldn’t do anything. My urine was dark yellow, almost orange." Another concurred: "We was all stressing. Cause hell. We was thirsty."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.