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Virginia: Meet Minimum Water Requirements for Basic Health Standards in Prison

Letter to Director Johnson and Warden Robinson

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

We twice expressed our concerns to Warden Robinson that prisoners at Wallens Ridge State Prison were not receiving adequate supplies of water – either for drinking or for hygiene purposes. The warden responded to our first letter, indicating that prisoners were receiving 100 fluid ounces of water per day, but the warden did not respond to our second letter reiterating that we were still concerned about conditions at Wallens Ridge.

We understand that the drought has put the staff at Wallens Ridge State Prison in a very difficult position. Nonetheless, we would like to see the following changes implemented:

  1. Increase the frequency of flushing toilets. Prisoners tell us that toilets are only flushed four times daily at set times. Inmates, who are double-celled at Wallens Ridge, may be compelled to live within tiny, enclosed spaces within sight and smell of their own and their cellmates’ fecal material for up to hours at a time. This is unpleasant and degrading. We doubt other inhabitants of the area have renounced flushing their toilets after defecation. It is also a health hazard, particularly if water is not being allocated for hand-washing purposes. One prisoner said of these conditions: “They have actually turned a cell into two-man kennel.”
  2. Provide additional water and soap or additional hand wipes, so that prisoners can maintain hygiene in these difficult situations. Prisoners say that they have been forced to use their scant drinking water to brush their teeth, to shave, and to rinse their hands after defecating. Furthermore, multiple prisoners alleged that the hand wipes they have received are not anti-bacterial hand wipes. If drinking water is distributed in plastic bags, which have been handled by many people who have not been able to wash their hands (as prisoners have described), provide cups for drinking water.
  3. Ensure that prisoners receive adequate drinking water on a daily basis. The one hundred fluid ounces of drinking water per day, which the warden indicated prisoners at Wallens Ridge have been receiving, represents a bare minimum, survival standard. Prisoners have written to us indicating that the lack of drinking water is exacerbating health conditions, such as having only one functioning kidney.

Over the past month, since we last wrote to Warden Robinson, we have continued to receive—daily—letters from prisoners and calls from relatives of prisoners regarding the conditions at Wallens Ridge. Every letter and caller has described similar conditions to those we raised in our initial letters to Warden Robinson.

We hope 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.

Thank you for your continued concern.


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

cc: Warden David Robinson
272 Dogwood Drive
P.O. Box 759
Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

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