WASHINGTON ― Federal investigators are launching a civil rights investigation into the conditions at Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia, a facility where eight people died in less than a year and a half. The Justice Department made the announcement Monday, several months after Virginia lawmakers requested a probe.
One inmate, a mentally ill 24-year-old named Jamycheal Mitchell, died last August after spending four months behind bars following an arrest for allegedly stealing $5 in goods from a convenience store. Another man, Mark Goodrum, died there last November after he couldn’t afford a $100 bail bond in connection with a misdemeanor pot possession charge he picked up for smoking marijuana in his own home. Yet another inmate, 60-year-old Henry Clay Stewart, died there this August, two days after he filed an emergency grievance form about his medical care.
Goodrum’s death, along with several other inmate deaths at Hampton Roads Regional Jail, was first reported as part of The Huffington Post’s jail deaths project, which seeks to chronicle every jail death that happened in the U.S. in the year following the death of Sandra Bland on July 13, 2015. Our analysis indicated that Hampton Roads Regional Jail was one of the deadliest jails in the country over the course of the year we examined. Several families have questioned the medical care their loved ones received.
The Justice Department’s investigation will examine whether the jail “violates the constitutional rights of inmates to adequate medical and mental health care; violates the constitutional rights of inmates who have mental illness by secluding them in isolation for prolonged time periods; and violates the rights of inmates who have mental illness by denying them access to services, programs and activities because of their disability,” according to a press release.
“All prisoners, including those with mental illness, have a constitutional right to receive necessary medical care, treatment and services,” Vanita Gupta, who heads the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department will conduct a thorough investigation, led by the facts and the law, to review conditions in the jail.”
Mark Krudys, a lawyer representing both the Mitchell and Stewart families, said he’s glad DOJ is investigating the “systemic problems” at the jail. “We applaud the Department’s decision to investigate those issues across the board for all inmates,” Krudys said. Krudys has already filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Mitchell family, and will be filing a lawsuit in connection with Stewart’s death shortly. He said it “remains to be seen” what will happen to the Hampton Roads Regional Jail investigation under the incoming Trump administration’s Civil Rights Division.
“This should be an issue that is of concern to both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Following the attention surrounding Stewart’s death, Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe was placed in charge of managing the facility in September. McCabe was in charge of the Norfolk City Jail during a federal probe in the 1990s. In a recent interview, McCabe told The Huffington Post he has already implemented several changes at Hampton Roads Regional Jail, including centralizing medical care. Hampton Roads Regional Jail is unique from other jails because it takes in inmates with significant medical and mental health problems who normally would be housed in other jails in the region. But there have been no additional deaths since McCabe took over.
“It’s been an uphill climb here for the first few months, but we’re getting to where we need to be, and I think all of us have been able to see a lot of improvement,” McCabe said.
Several inmates at the facility have been rushed to the hospital in the past few months. At one point a few weeks ago, McCabe said, five inmates were being guarded at the hospital.
McCabe said in a statement on Monday that he was “confident that DOJ will recognize the positive efforts being made.” McCabe said the jail will be cooperating with DOJ going forward.
This post has been updated with comment from Mark Krudys and Bob McCabe’s statement from Monday.