Blog Posts > The High Costs of Cheap Food in West Virginia Prisons
September 15, 2023

The High Costs of Cheap Food in West Virginia Prisons

Since 2015, West Virginia prisons have sent more than $57.1 million out of state to pay for food served in its prisons. Privatizing prison food has resulted in poorer food quality and worse health outcomes. A 2022 class-action lawsuit filed against the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement, including the serving of rotten food and inadequate portions. The complaint included sworn affidavits from four correctional officers at the jail who said that residents were “regularly served spoiled milk for breakfast” and “commonly given what appeared to be undercooked or rotten meat.” 

The WVCBP’s new report examines the impacts of cheap food on the health of those incarcerated in our state’s prisons. A 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found people behind bars “suffer from higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than the general public, conditions caused or at minimum exacerbated by the typical prison diet.” Those results mirrored what WVCBP researchers learned from formerly- and currently-incarcerated West Virginians. One man who had been prescribed a medical diet for kidney disease by the prison medical provider found that the dining service would not accommodate his medical needs. These health conditions developed in prisons come home to our communities, since roughly 3,200 West Virginians come home each year.

You can find Teri and Sara’s full report here.

West Virginia’s Child Poverty Rate Spiked in 2022 After Anti-Poverty Pandemic-Era Programs Expiration

Nationally, the overall poverty rate and child poverty rate rose by the largest amount on record in more than 50 years, according to new US Census data released this week. The data also reveal that too many West Virginians—17.3 percent, or 308,825 residents, lived in poverty in 2022 according to the official poverty measure. Black (28.3 percent) and Latino (22.4 percent) West Virginians were more likely to experience poverty.

West Virginia was the only state to see child poverty increase according to the official measure- spiking from 20.7 percent in 2021 to 25.0 percent in 2022 (Puerto Rico’s child poverty rate also increased).  

The increase in hardship was a result of the expiration of pandemic relief efforts that boosted household incomes and economic security, such as the expanded Child Tax Credit.

“Congress allowed many proven effective anti-poverty policies to lapse, and greater hardship for children and families is the result. Nowhere is that more clear than in West Virginia, where our official child poverty rate increased by 17 percent from 2021 to 2022, ” said Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst for the WVCBP. “We have the tools to ensure more West Virginia children and families have a strong foundation upon which to prosper and thrive. We must take action to reverse the backslide we saw in 2022.”

These findings come from analysis by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy of new data on poverty, income, and health coverage in 2022, released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The expanded federal Child Tax Credit was responsible for a major portion of the record reduction in child poverty in 2021, lifting 2.1 million kids out of poverty. Congress’s decision to let it expire at the end of 2021 is a major contributor to increase in national poverty levels in 2022. Had Congress continued the American Rescue Plan’s Child Tax Credit increase in 2022, about 3 million fewer children would have experienced poverty in 2022— preventing more than half of this year’s increase.

“The good news is that policies like the expanded Child Tax Credit, nutrition support, and premium tax credits for health insurance were incredibly effective in keeping families out of poverty,” said O’Leary. “Unfortunately because policymakers didn’t stand by those investments, more families and children will go without the essentials like stable housing, enough food to eat, and health care to keep them healthy.”

Read our full press release here and stay tuned for a fuller analysis from us next week.

Concerns Arise About Charleston Police Department Overtime Bill

Earlier this month, the WVCBP released a report about ballooning police overtime costs and the other city priorities they crowd out. Last week the report’s author, Sara Whitaker, was interviewed by the WOWK team.

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — It’s not just leadership issues that are stirring up controversy in the Charleston Police Department. The staggering cost of police overtime pay is also raising some eyebrows.

Major events such as the return of the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta and Live on the Levee fuel the need for police overtime. But the city says they also generate a huge economic impact. The city is also boasting of a low crime rate and high arrest rates, but those also come with an increased overtime cost.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy says Charleston Police overtime exceeded $9 million in the past few years, three times what was budgeted.

Watch the story and interview with Sara here.

Registration Now Live for Leading for Justice Criminal Law Reform Coalition Conference November 10-12, 2023

Join us in Wheeling for one of our favorite events of the year: the Leading for Justice Criminal Law Reform Conference.

This year’s conference will include a youth track, for children ages 10-17, who have been personally impacted by the criminal system.

Spots are limited, so register now.

If you have been directly impacted by the criminal legal system, you may qualify for a scholarship to attend at no cost. Please contact Sara Whitaker to learn more.

Sponsorship Opportunities for First-of-its-Kind Black Infant and Maternal Health Convening

In West Virginia and around the country, Black residents are disproportionately impacted by infant and maternal mortality and poorer health outcomes due to deep-seeded structural racism resulting in disparate access to resources and care.

On October 15-16, 2023, advocates and community members will come together to host a community-centered Black Infant and Maternal Health convening in Charleston, West Virginia. 

Attendees will hear from Black researchers, storytellers, health providers, state policymakers and one another about what we do—and what we don’t—know about the state’s Black infant and maternal health crisis. From there we will discuss how we can chart a path forward together to improving Black infant and maternal health through community-rooted policy change and education.

As we are centering community members for this convening, we want to ensure that cost is not a barrier to attendance. As such, we are seeking event sponsors to help cover the cost of the convening, which primarily includes travel, lodging, and meals for our attendees and presenters. As sponsors, you will receive tickets to the convening and recognition on event signage and in the event program. We hope as a sponsor, you will not only financially support this convening, but attend and commit to working with those most impacted by the Black maternal and infant crisis to find a path forward together.

If you are interested in sponsoring or attending this convening please reach out to Kelly here.

Share Your Medicaid Experience with Us!

The WVCBP’s Elevating the Medicaid Enrollment Experience (EMEE) Voices Project seeks to collect stories from West Virginians who have struggled to access Medicaid across the state. Being conducted in partnership with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, EMEE Voices will gather insight to inform which Medicaid barriers are most pertinent to West Virginians, specifically people of color.

Do you have a Medicaid experience to share? We’d appreciate your insight. Just fill out the contact form on this webpage and we’ll reach out to you soon. We look forward to learning from you!

You can watch WVCBP’s health policy analyst Rhonda Rogombé and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care’s Mariah Plante further break down the project and its goals in this FB Live.

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