State of emergency declared in W. Va. jails, prisons due to staffing level

Officials say low pay, the nature of the job and work schedule deter people from applying for jobs in the corrections system


By Lacie Peterson
The Charleston Gazette, W. Va.

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — West Virginia National Guard members have been authorized to provide support in the state’s correctional facilities.

On Dec. 22, Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency because of the staffing level in the state’s jails and prisons.

In this Tuesday, July 3, 2012 photo, inmates walk in the yard in front of a cellblock at the maximum-security Mount Olive Correctional Center in Mount Olive, W.Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
In this Tuesday, July 3, 2012 photo, inmates walk in the yard in front of a cellblock at the maximum-security Mount Olive Correctional Center in Mount Olive, W.Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In an attempt to slow turnover in the corrections system, Justice signed a second order that same day to remove the cap on the annual leave that correctional officers may take, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office.

The executive orders come after a report from the Legislative Oversight Committee on the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority showed that all 10 of the state’s regional jails are overpopulated.

The facilities also are understaffed, with officials saying low pay, the nature of the job and work schedule deter people from applying for jobs in the corrections system.

In declaring a state of emergency, Justice authorized Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy to utilize the West Virginia National Guard to staff the jails until “legislative and operational remedies can be developed and implemented.”

Personnel rules for state employees cap the amount of annual leave employees can carry over from one year to the next, and if employees have any time above that cap, they lose it.

Because of job vacancies at Mountain State jails and juvenile facilities, remaining staff members have been required to work overtime and not use as much of their annual leave.

Joseph Tyree, the state director of correctional recruiting, said in November that some officers have been put in positions where they’ve worked as many as five 16-hour double shifts in a row.

“The state recognizes that these employees are subject to unused annual leave expiring at the end of this calendar year, and that they have not been able or permitted to use the annual leave that they have accrued through no fault of their own,” Justice said in the order.

The order regarding annual leave applies to all correctional officers and employees of the Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Division of Juvenile Services.

For perspective, employees at the Huttonsville Correctional Center have a combined 600 hours of unused annual leave, and 2,000 annual leave hours were still on the table for officers in juvenile services, according to the release.

In the release, Sandy applauded the governor for the executive order.

“The hard working men and women of our correctional agencies have been going above and beyond to protect West Virginians from some of the worst individuals society has to offer,” Sandy said.

The pay for correctional officers in West Virginia is among the lowest in the country.

In September, a $1-an-hour pay raise went into effect for correctional officers.

The West Virginia Personnel Board approved the raise in July. It included a $2,080 increase in the base salary for Level 1 correctional officers, from $22,584 to $24,664, an increase of about 9 percent.

©2017 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

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