By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Legislature kicked off its April Interim Session, on Sunday, with a full day of meetings. Among the most anticipated of those meetings was that of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority (LOCRJCFA), who heard presentations regarding the critical staffing-shortages experienced at the state’s correctional facilities.
“We currently are still dealing with vacancy rates within our staff,” said William Marshall, commissioner of the W.Va Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR). “Right now we’re at 1,022 (openings) division wide. That puts us at 27% (understaffed).”
Marshall noted that 729 of the 1,022 unfilled positions are corrections officers. This number accounts for approximately 33% of all corrections officers statewide.
“We have eight facilities that currently have 40% vacancies or more,” Marshall added. “And we have some [facilities] that are dealing (with vacancies) in the sixties and seventies.”
At present, more than 300 members of the West Virginia National Guard are being used as temporary staffing to fill the vacancies.
“They’re (National Guard members) doing a wonderful job for us,” Marshall said. “Not sure what we would do without them.”
The National Guard members have been made available to the DOCR as a result of Gov. Jim Justice declaring a State of Emergency due to the staffing crisis. However, that State of Emergency is scheduled to expire on Aug. 14 of this year. According to Marshall, a request has been made for Justice to extend the State of Emergency. Marshall further noted that the DOCR “welcomes” the calling of a Special Session of the state’s legislature to address the staffing crisis. This was something that Committee Chair Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, was also in support of.
“On January 30 we passed a bill out of the House (of Delegates) that dealt with two things,” Kelly said. “The first was a $10,000 across-the-board raise for uniformed officers. The second was dealing with a $6,000 incentive plan.”
“Would that approach cost more or less than the 300 National Guard members?” Kelly asked.
Although somewhat uncertain, Marshall believes that the approach mentioned by Kelly would, in fact, cost more than the use of the National Guard. Estimates show that approximately $17 million will be paid to the National Guard during the current fiscal year, while salary increases and incentive packages will fall in the $38 million range.
“If we were to look at something that included all DOCR folks (including non-officer employees), would we be looking at a considerable amount more?” Kelly further asked.
While once again uncertain of the cost, Marshall stressed the importance of increasing the compensation level of all DOCR employees.
“We have a lot of individuals who aren’t considered officers, but have direct inmate contact,” Marshall said. “I feel that’s why the importance of that (salary increases) is there.”
“I want your people to know that we hear them,” Kelly replied. “We’re trying to do what we can to get something to happen for them that will be a positive way to try and bring people in, and try to keep people.”
Despite the lack of consistent staff, Marshall noted that employee morale is “pretty good.”
“I see a lot of really good things happening in our facilities with the staffing levels that we’re at,” Marshall added. “There can only be greater things accomplished if we’re able to get some more staff in there and get people in the right places.”
The LOCRJCFA will next discuss the correctional facility staffing shortage during next month’s Interim Sessions, scheduled for May 7 through 9 in Huntington. RealWV will provide updates regarding the possibility of a Special Session as additional information is made available.