US prison
Prison inmates wearing firefighting boots line up for breakfast at Oak Glen Conservation Fire Camp #35 in Yucaipa, California, Nov. 6, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The Department of Justice announced Monday it launched a civil rights investigation into the conditions at Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia. Investigators will look into whether the facility violates the constitutional rights of inmates.

“All prisoners, including those with mental illness, have a constitutional right to receive necessary medical care, treatment and services. The Justice Department will conduct a thorough investigation, led by the facts and the law, to review conditions in the jail,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.

Attorney General Mark Herring requested a probe into the prison conditions after Jamycheal Mitchell, a 24-year-old mentally-ill inmate died at the facility in August 2015 and 60-year-old inmate Henry Stewart died in the jail this August.

“This is an important development that should help provide some answers about the troubling recent deaths at the jail, as well as a broader picture of how medical and mental health care have been provided and what changes have been made under the jail’s new leadership. The public needs to know what has been going on in this facility and whether people's constitutional rights are being protected,” Herring said Monday.

According to the Huffington Post, eight inmates have died in the facility in less than a year and a half. Last August, Mitchell’s body was found by other inmates inside the jail and a $60 million lawsuit filed by his family alleged the body had withered away by the time it was found. Prior to Mitchell’s death, a Portsmouth judge had twice ordered for him to be treated at Eastern State Hospital for mental health problems. A state investigation revealed the inmate was not placed on the hospital’s waiting list despite officials receiving the second order.

This August, Stewart died in the jail two days after he filed an emergency grievance form about his medical care. The form reportedly stated that the inmate had repeatedly asked for medical help.

Meanwhile, interim jail superintendent and Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe said the jail was working toward improving conditions.

“We expected to hear from DOJ and look forward to cooperating with the DOJ investigation going forward. The Hampton Roads Regional Jail staff has been working tirelessly to improve jail operations and delivery of services. We are confident that DOJ will recognize the positive efforts being made. We look forward to DOJ providing additional expert insight and recommendations during their investigation,” McCabe said.