By Vicki Smith
West Virginia State Police and officials with the Regional Jail Authority are investigating the severe beating of an inmate at the North Central Regional Jail after a fight with a federal prisoner being held at the same facility.
Nineteen-year-old Jeron Hawkins was at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown on Wednesday, but a spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on his status.
Hawkins suffered “very, very serious head injuries, and his family is being notified,” said Joe DeLong, executive director of the jail authority. Hawkins was still alive as of Wednesday afternoon, he said.
Hawkins was convicted of first-degree murder last fall in the 2011 shooting of 28-year-old Lucas Lee outside a nightclub in Morgantown. He was also convicted of malicious assault and had been sentenced to life in prison. In West Virginia’s overcrowded correctional system, though, convicted felons often languish in regional jails until prison beds open up.
The Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram (http://bit.ly/XkuWbI), which first reported the assault, said Hawkins was in an altercation Monday morning with 35-year-old Anthony Young, a federal inmate who was scheduled to be sentenced last week in a fatal 2006 assault at the U.S. Penitentiary at Hazelton.
Federal court records show that Jan. 3 hearing was postponed.
Young is one of several federal prisoners awaiting sentencing in the attack on Willie Myers, who was beaten and stabbed at least four times during a dispute between members of the Bloods and Crips gangs.
Court records show Young is a member of the Bloods; Myers was a Crip.
Young pleaded guilty in November 2011 to federal charges of conspiracy to commit assault, assault resulting in serious injury and making false statements.
DeLong said Young is among 134 federal inmates currently housed in regional jails across West Virginia under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service.
“It’s actually very common,” he said.
The agreement has been in place for more than a decade and allows the state to house those inmates until federal beds open up. Typically, he said, they don’t stay long.
Although State Police are investigating and would bring any charges, DeLong said the authority is also conducting an internal review.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “sometimes inmate-on-inmate assaults are unavoidable.”
DeLong said the jails are full of potentially violent offenders, regardless of whether their crimes violated state or federal laws. The jurisdiction is seldom an indicator of what kind of inmate they’ll be.
Those who have already been through the system and sentenced are typically easier to classify than “the turnkey jail population,” whose formal charges may not indicate whether they also have problems with violence, drugs or mental illness.
“As far as the arresting jurisdiction goes,” DeLong said, “it doesn’t really matter.”
In a review last summer, The Associated Press found that the number of inmate-on-inmate attacks in state prisons surged from 64 in 2007 to 148 last year, even though half the population was in for a nonviolent offense.
In the 10 regional jails, inmate-on-inmate assaults jumped nearly 25 percent between 2007 and 2011.
The Justice Center at the nonpartisan Council of State Governments is currently reviewing West Virginia’s correctional system with an eye to addressing at-capacity prisons and overcrowded jails without sacrificing public safety.
While West Virginia ranks 32nd among states for its rate of putting adults behind bars, it is leading them all in prison population growth.