CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Cecil Messer was laid off from the coal industry three weeks shy of working a full 20 years in the mines. Speaking on MetroNews Talkline he explained he wanted to find steady work to support his family of four. The job he landed as a Correctional Officer in the state’s Division of Corrections making $10.87 an hour, a huge drop from his take-home pay at the mines for two decades.
“The yearly salary I make, I’m a very proud person,” explained Messer on MetroNews Talkline. “But I qualify for some public assistance.”
The dangers associated with the job are not unlike the different kinds of dangers faced in the mining industry, but a lack of manpower has left Messer and in fellow officers in precarious situations. The Division of Corrections and the Regional Jail Authority have actively tried to add to their staff, but the long hours and low pay are a hindrance.
“There’s been an increased amount of assaults on those officers and the non-uniformed staff,” said Elaine Harris of the Communications Workers of America. “We have two pieces of legislation, a bill in the House and a bill in the Senate, that we think is very important.”
Harris said pay is always an issue but safety is a bigger concern. Some guards in the state’s juvenile facilities are facing more aggressive inmates, some of whom are no longer juveniles. One of the bills Harris and the guards are actively pushing is to immediately remove juvenile inmates and transfer them to an adult facility the day they turn 18.
The pay may be a bigger obstacle with the state’s budget problems. Harris said to do so state leaders will have to think more creatively. She said Division of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy has been receptive to innovative ideas.
“These are professional men and women who go to the work place every day and night,” Harris said. ‘We’ve got to do something.”