(Tyler Arnold, The Center Square) – W. Va. Gov. Jim Justice is taking executive action to address the state’s staffing shortage in correctional facilities and criticizing the General Assembly for failing to address these issues during the regular session earlier this year.
To alleviate the shortages, the governor declared a state of emergency and is sending the W. Va. National Guard to add personnel to adult and juvenile correctional facilities.
He did not say how many national guard members would be deployed or to which locations they will be assigned, but some correctional facilities, particularly in the eastern panhandle, are facing severe shortages.
As of this order, the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail in Hampshire County has a 64% vacancy rate and Vicki V. Douglas Juvenile Center in Berkeley County has a 61% vacancy rate. This means nearly two-thirds of positions are not filled in these locations.
“I was disappointed by the lack of action on this bill during the legislative session,” Justice said in a statement.
“Of course, we will continue to work with all stakeholders moving forward to perfect the legislation, get it reintroduced, and, ultimately, get it across the finish line, but we need to do something to address the staffing shortages in our jails right now.”
“These are critical positions and if numbers continue to dip, failure to act could become a safety concern,” he continued. “That’s why I’m taking action and calling this State of Emergency now.”
The Gov. supported legislation during the regular session, which would have established a $10,000 locality pay adjustment for correctional officers to locations in which it is necessary for safety and recruiting and retaining employees.
The bill advanced through the House Finance Committee, but never received a vote on the House floor, which effectively killed the legislation.
Correctional officers in the eastern panhandle earn far less pay than neighboring counterparts in Maryland do, which the governor’s office argued is making W. Va. noncompetitive.
The starting salary for a correctional officer in W. Va. is $33,214. In Md., a person in that position will earn $43,370 right off the bat.
W. Va. is also behind some of its other neighbors, although not by as much. In Va., a person in that position would start with $34,380, in Ohio with $37,630 and in Pa. with $43,370.
According to the Gov’s office, the W. Va. Division of Corrections & Rehabilitation has been forced to assign non-uniformed support staff to fill mandatory security posts and has been forced to assign a significant amount of mandatory overtime.
The Gov.’s office argued that the tough working demands also contribute to the vacancies.
The Center Square reached out to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.