MORGANTOWN – West Virginia University College of Law third-year student Jaden Rhea’s West Virginia Law Review article about the privatized prison transportation industry has earned her one of 15 Burton Distinguished Legal Writing Award for Law Schools for 2018.

“Countless state and local jurisdictions throughout the United States entrust for-profit privatized prison transportation companies to extradite their prisoners across the country, and, unfortunately, tragic stories and widespread abuse are far too common within the industry,” Rhea told the West Virginia Record.

Jaden Rhea
Jaden Rhea | WVU Law

Rhea said the issues from this trend in the prison transportation system arise from the federal Jeanna’s Act, first enacted in 2000.

“Because Jeanna's Act inadequately protects the public, guards and prisoners during transport, my article argues that it should be amended to include provisions that address the protection of the basic human needs of prisoners during transport, mandatory safety requirements for prisoners and higher training requirements for guards, and higher civil penalties for violations,” Rhea said.

Rhea said her inspiration for the law review article came from a New York Times story that was published in partnership with the Marshall Project. She said the New York Times’ series “has exposed the abuse within the industry.”

“I did further research and realized there is a limited amount of research in this area and it is an industry that has received little coverage in legal scholarship,” Rhea said. “In addition, my mother is an educator at a maximum-security women’s prison, and I have dedicated this article to her.”

Rhea said she has “learned an incredible amount from this experience,” and hopes “this recognition is able to bring the privatized prison transportation industry and its abuse out of the shadows and into the light,” including making lawmakers or other persons in positions of power aware of the need for change and accountability within the industry.

A lifelong West Virginian, Rhea said “this award is a huge honor, and I am incredibly grateful to have brought this recognition to the West Virginia University College of Law, the West Virginia Law Review and West Virginia University as a whole.”

Following her graduation from WVU Law in May, Rhea said he would like to work as a judicial clerk or begin practicing litigation at a law firm, but she is currently unsure of her specific plans.

West Virginia Law said in a news release that Rhea and the 14 other Burton legal writing award honorees will be recognized at a dinner at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., on May 21.

Rhea’s article, “Highway to Hell: The Privatized Prison Transportation Industry and the Long Road to Reform,” was published in the fall 2017 edition of the West Virginia Law Review.

“She writes that prisoners are often physically abused during transport and left in overcrowded vans for extended periods of time with limited access to food, water or restrooms,” the release said.

WVU Law said the Burton Awards is a national program of the Burton Foundation, “a nonprofit academic and educational organization focused on major legal accomplishments.”

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