CHARLESTON, - The West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority is now housing all state-sentenced female inmates at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail as part of an effort to avoid frivolous prisoner lawsuits.
Frivolous lawsuits have cost the state more than $7 million in the past three years and the majority were sexually based, acting Executive Director Joe Delong told the Charleston Daily Mail.
"There are a lot of them that are baseless, I really believe that," DeLong said. "I think, to some degree, we've done a poor job as a regional jail authority from protecting ourselves from the claims that have no merit."
Tygart Valley has 15 female officers who now have primary contact with the female prisoners.
"We've made several changes, and there are more to come to try to protect our staff, inmates and the authority from meritless claims," DeLong said.
Other changes include installing surveillance cameras in all sections leading to prisoner areas. Recording equipment will be installed on all intercoms and internal jail communication lines so officer-inmate communications can be monitored.
DeLong said most lawsuits have been settled because it is less expensive than fighting them in court.
"Some of those settlements we have clear fault and we've had to adjust our processes and make changes," DeLong said, "but there's also just a whole lot of them that are completely without merit that are being settled just because we don't want to pay to litigate them."
But with changes being made, the authority plans to start fighting frivolous inmate lawsuits.
"If we have to spend a little more on the front end to put out the message that we're not going to take this, then I think that's worth it," he said.
He said baseless lawsuits damage the reputations of good officers who are willing to work in stressful positions.