The authority recently moved all female inmates awaiting placement in Lakin to Tygart Valley Regional Jail in Randolph County.
The jail system then installed surveillance cameras in all corridors and sections of Tygart Valley. Inmates and correctional officers can now be seen at all times.
Regional jails also are implementing regulations from the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which includes a confidential reporting system from inmates, and have rearranged its staffing patterns to hire more guards for less money. Corrections officers receive regular training
"I think we're getting much, much better in creating a more safe and secure environment," Delong said.
He said correctional officers also receive regular training about appropriate relationships with inmates.
"It certainly is an ongoing challenge. In a lot of cases you have very young, not far out of high school correctional officers who are working late at night in environments with seasoned criminals," he said.
While many sexual misconduct cases involve corrections officers abusing their authority and forcing or coercing inmates to engage in nonconsensual sexual activity, Delong said many inmates try to persuade officers to have sex because they know they will receive a settlement.
Even in cases where both parties are willing partners, state law makes clear inmates can never give consent for sexual activity with corrections officers.
"So even if the inmate is the one who instigates activity, the corrections officer is always at fault because the inmate cannot give consent," Delong said. "Unfortunately, there are times that they are able to get our officers to do things that are inappropriate."
Jails have attempted to crack down on this activity by monitoring inmates' conversations with guards.
"When they're needed at one in the morning, they get called over the intercom system. We now record those conversations because a lot of times, inappropriate activity begins with inappropriate late-night conversations, from the cell to the tower officer," he said.
Listening to those conversations allow jail officials to intercede before the relationship goes too far.
Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the state Division of Corrections, said state prisons also train guards to recognize and avoid inmates' attempts to involve them in illegal activity.
"One of the main things from day one that we talk about, you don't have sex with an inmate and you don't get lured into the situations that put you in precarious places and situations where you could compromise yourself and other staff in the facility," he said.
The state's Lawyer Disciplinary Board filed charges against Huntington lawyer Kerry Nessel on May 13, alleging he brought frivolous lawsuits against the state Division of Corrections and solicited business from inmates at Lakin Correction Center.
Nessel, who will appear at a hearing before the board in October, is accused of recruiting inmates who had claimed they were sexually abused and offering them a cut of settlement monies for referring other inmates to him.
Delong acknowledged there has been, at times, "recruiting going on" among lawyers and inmates. He said Nessel was "probably predominately the main guy," although there are a few other lawyers who also are attempting to solicit business from inmates.
Although Delong would not say how many lawyers engage in the unethical practice, he said "you could count them on one hand."
He said the recruiting behavior is being appropriately addressed, however, and the Regional Jail Authority has turned over audiotapes of inappropriate inmate-attorney conversations to "the appropriate authorities."
Delong said his main focus, however, is reducing the number of sexual misconduct cases filed in state jails.
"There's the old saying about people in glass houses," he said.
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