Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about the water use limitations in place for prisoners in Wallens Ridge State Prison in Virginia due to drought conditions.

Dear Warden Robinson:

First, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Keramet Reiter, in the U.S. Program here at Human Rights Watch earlier this week. We understand that Big Stone Gap is suffering from a serious drought and that this has put Wallens Ridge State Prison in a very challenging position.

However, we are extremely concerned about the information you shared with us regarding the provisions that are being made for inmates in your facility. We have two primary concerns:

  1. You informed us that prisoners are receiving two 16-ounce bottles of water per day, in addition to the water they receive with their meals. This does not meet minimum health standards for daily water intake. Minimum standards for daily water intake are universally recognized and set at 2.5 – 3 liters per day (or approximately 85 – 101 fluid ounces). Although this may include food intake, if food is to offer a significant fraction of the necessary water intake, then the food must be comprised of a sufficiently high percentage of water, i.e. a diet high in fruit and vegetables. The bare minimum of 2 liters (68 fluid ounces) of drinking water per day is an absolute minimum and reflects survival only. This does not include water for personal hygiene such as dental hygiene, which requires an additional minimum 4 fluid ounces per day. (Prisoners have reported to us that they have had to use some portion of their bottled water allotment in order to brush their teeth.)
  2. Four times daily, prisoners’ toilets are flushed. If prisoners are forced to stay in a cell for up to four or five hours after defecating without being able to flush a toilet, this is a potentially grave health hazard. For sanitation purposes, the minimum daily allowance of water for flushing purposes is set at 2 to 6 liters (0.5 to 1.6 gallons) per day. If toilets are not kept clean, they may rapidly become a source of disease for the user, particularly if water for hand washing post defecation and prior to eating is compromised. A minimum of 20 liters (5.2 gallons) per person per day is recommended to account for combining waste disposal and related hygiene.

Given Wallens Ridge State Prison’s failure to meet these basic health standards, we are concerned that prisoners in your facility may be suffering from dehydration. Risks of even mild dehydration include increased risk of urinary tract infection, headaches, syncope (fainting), fatigue, and constipation. The risks of severe dehydration include shock, seizure, and arrythmias. At the very least, inmates may suffer fatigue, and reduced metabolic rate, at worst, there may be inmates whose renal function is compromised, and a reduction in water intake could have serious consequences. Those with diabetes, cardiac and renal problems are especially vulnerable.

We expect that you will look into these matters immediately and raise the standards of water allotment at Wallens Ridge State Prison to at least minimally-required health levels.


Jamie Fellner, Esq
U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch

Dr. Annie Sparrow, MBBS, MPH, MRCP, FRACP
Researcher, Human Rights Watch

cc: Director Gene M. Johnson
P.O. Box 26963
Richmond, VA 23261-6963