A major Virginia jail probably violates the constitutional rights of prisoners by failing to provide adequate medical and mental-health care, according to a report released Wednesday by the Justice Department.
The Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth does not provide proper emergency care for sick inmates, risks harm to mentally ill prisoners by placing them in solitary confinement for long periods, and fails to adequately screen or administer medicine for those needing psychological treatment, the report found.
The investigation was prompted by the 2015 and 2016 deaths of two inmates, which generated widespread media coverage and sparked probes by state agencies and police that found significant issues.
Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, who suffered from schizophrenia, was arrested after stealing $5 worth of snacks and died at the jail while awaiting a transfer to a state mental hospital in August 2015. Henry Clay Stewart, 6o, who violated probation on a shoplifting charge, died of a perforated liver a year later and just days after filing a grievance complaining that he was not receiving adequate treatment.
The Justice Department’s civil rights division and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia jointly conducted the investigation of the jail, which houses 1,100 inmates from the Hampton Roads area. About 50 percent of the jail’s population is taking psychotropic medications and a quarter have been diagnosed with mental-health issues.
“Our investigation uncovered evidence of significant violations of inmates’ constitutional rights to adequate medical and mental-health care, as well as violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act,” said U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia. “We look forward to working with the jail to ensure the rights of those incarcerated are not violated.”
Officials with Hampton Roads Regional Jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday after the report was released.
The report recommended the jail hire more medical staff, ensure adequate intake screening and health assessment procedures are in place, develop procedures to ensure the mentally ill are receiving appropriate and timely treatment, and conduct regular audits of medication administration for those with psychiatric issues.