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Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography Committee for Legislative Oversight of Territorial Jail and Correctional Facilities Co-Chair David Kelly listens to a briefing from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on job vacancies for Corrections Officer and Staff.

CHARLESTON — Despite recruitment efforts and incentives, efforts to retain and staff corrections officers and staff in West Virginia have largely ebbed, and vacancy rates remain at crisis levels.

Members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Regional Correctional and Correctional Facility Authority heard reports Sunday afternoon from officials with the state’s Division of Correction and Rehabilitation (DCR) during the first day of ad hoc meetings in April at the state capitol building.

“We are still currently working on vacancy rates with our staff,” said DCR Commissioner William Marshall. “Our morale is very good. … I see a lot of really good things happening in our facilities with our staffing levels. More things can only be achieved if we can put more people in there and put people in the right places.”

According to Marshall, the department’s overall employee vacancy rate is 1,022, with 27% of job vacancies as of Sunday. The corrections officer vacancy rate alone is 729, or a 32% vacancy rate for officers. There are eight facilities with vacancy rates of 40% or more, Marshall said, including some facilities with 60% to 70% vacancy rates.

There are more than 10,000 inmates in the state’s correctional system, spread across 11 prisons, 10 county jails, 10 juvenile centers, and three labor release sites. Marshall said there are more than 3,800 DCR employees. They recently hired 147 new employees, while also losing between 60 and 80 employees, creating a revolving door.

The state has been in a second state of emergency due to the correctional job vacancies crisis for the past nine months, with Gov. Jim Justice issuing a new state of emergency last August. Since then, more than 300 West Virginia National Guard personnel have assisted personnel facilities along with some DNR employees. The use of the National Guard in the country’s jails and prisons is expected to exceed $20 million.

“Are you saying we’re spending more money in terms of getting the National Guard into the facility than it would cost even with the increase in the salaries of the Correctional Services and Corrections Officers we’re going to hire?” asked delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion.

“Yes,” Marshall said.

“Two things are unsustainable: having the National Guard there is unsustainable … It’s also unsustainable to expect our officers in this state to be able to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week, week in and week out,” said Commission on Legislative Oversight of Provincial Prisons and Correctional Facilities Co-Chair David Kelly, R. Tyler.

The base salary for a Corrections Officer Class I is $33,214 with a salary increase of 7% to $35,360 for corrections officers after their first year on the job and promotion to Correctional Officer Class II. and a promotion to Correctional Officer Third Class.

State employees, including corrections officers and staff, also received a $2,300 increase with the passage of the budget law that goes into effect July 1st.

There has been talk of a possible special session to address issues of corrective vacancies, although legislative temporary meetings will be held in May in Huntington, the next opportunity for a special session will be between August 6-8 coinciding with the next series of temporary meetings. A private session without ad hoc meetings will cost approximately $35,000 per day.

“We welcome the possibility of holding a special session in hopes of addressing some of the department’s wage requirements,” Marshall said. “This would be most welcome by us.”

The bills were recommended for passage by committees in the state Senate and House of Delegates, but they never made it past their finance committees or into the Chamber.

House Bill 2879 would have awarded corrections officers with three years of service a $6,000 bonus starting July 1. New prison and corrections officers would have received a $3,000 sign-on bonus, plus a $3,000 bonus once three years of service had been accumulated. House Bill 2895 would have given corrections officers a cost-of-living stipend of up to $10,000 per year. Senate Bill 464 authorized local pay for correctional officers working in severely understaffed facilities.

“I want your people to know that we hear them and we’re trying to do what we can to get something going for them that’s going to be a positive thing to try to attract people and try to keep people,” Kelly said. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a problem for all West Virginians, and we need to try to solve it.”

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