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West Virginia Prisoners Protest Visit/Phone Restrictions

Prisoners at the Mount Olive Correctional Center in West Virginia staged a walkout on Monday morning August 30, 1999 to protest a new visitation policy and problems with the phone system.

More than 200 prisoners gathered in the prison's recreation yard and sat down. Most of them had walked away .from industry jobs. After 90 minutes Warden Howard Painter promised to meet with four prisoner leaders and said he will begin a weekly closed-circuit television address to keep the prison population informed about what the administration is doing.

The protesters complained about restrictive visitation policies enacted after a female visitor smuggled a gun inside the maximum-security prison August 8. They also cited interruptions in telephone service, and demanded that prisoners locked-down in the Quilliams II unit (a "supermax" segregation unit) be given back lost privileges.

Warden Painter agreed to restore privileges to the Quilliams II prisoners, who had been without showers, hot meals, or television since the August 8th gun-smuggling incident.

"I do know that [Painter] made cigarettes and coffee available to [the Quilliams II prisoners]," Corrections Commissioner Paul Kirby told the Charleston Gazette. "We're going to see if we're looking at a communication problem," he added.

"My experience has always been that whenever you have a sit-down like this, my staff and I would be talking to every inmate and staff member in that institution," said Donald Bordenkircher, a criminal justice professor at a college near the prison. "Take a look at whatever people are upset about, and correct what you can... and if you fail to do that, my experience is that you better duck."

Prisoners and family members complained bitterly about the restrictive visiting policies, contending that they were being punished for mistakes made by guards who allowed a woman to smuggle in a gun without searching her properly.

The telephone complaints centered around the contract between the prison system and its "inmate telephone system" provider, Computer Integrated Communications, Inc. Prison officials admit that CIC has cut off phone service to some areas of the state. The company was involved in bankruptcy proceedings, and federal courts refused to allow the state to dissolve contracts with the firm.

"I think they have some legitimate complaints," said Kirby. Telephone contact with the outside world is "a very substantial" benefit for prisoners, he said. He also promised that the visitation policies would be revisited. "I certainly think from what [prisoners] said that some of this can be worked. out."

Kirby expressed concern about what he sees as "possible [outside] help in planning" the protest. He wants to find out if a candlelight vigil held by Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants at the state capitol to protest visitation policies is related to the prison protest that occurred two days later.

If the prison protest and CURE vigil are "sort of tied together... that's not good," Kirby said, refusing to elaborate.

Source: The Charleston Gazette

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