CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When the 2018 Regular Legislative Session opens in January, a Boone County delegate predicts lawmakers will see a “bipartisan, common sense approach” to addressing rampant staffing shortages in West Virginia’s jails and prisons.
Delegate Rodney Miller (D-Boone, 23), a former Boone County sheriff, has seen the problem firsthand.
He was part of a legislative delegation that visited Fayette County’s Mount Olive Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, on Monday.
“This is a culture of its own almost, a small city of its own,” Miller said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“At the same time, we’re starting to see the same type of impact with the overworked staff, underpaid staff at a place that’s keeping the baddest of the bad out of society.”
At Mount Olive on Monday, the day of the visit, 93 of the 363 staff positions were vacant.
In a facility that houses 1,028 inmates, Miller said there were 38 uniformed and civilian workers on the job — what prison officials indicated was the minimum necessary to maintain operations.
Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha, 37), Delegate Joe Canestraro (D-Marshall, 04) and Delegate Andrew Robinson (D-Kanawha, 36) also toured Mount Olive.
“They (corrections officers) typically work a 12 or 16 hour shift and, with being understaffed, they’re working five or six 16 hour shifts,” Robinson said.
Traveling with the lawmakers was along with Elaine Harris with the Communications Workers of America, the representative organization for correctional officers.
Because of staffing shortages, Miller reported being told more than $200,000 in overtime is paid out each month at Mount Olive.
Statewide, state officials estimate correctional officer staffing is at about a 22 percent vacancy rate which equates to hundreds of positions.
“We’re at a point in our division to where it’s dangerous,” Joseph Tyree, director of recruiting for the state Division of Corrections, told lawmakers earlier this month.
“We’re asking people to work 16 (hours) in a row. We know that once you work past 12 hours, your attention, your ability to do those things fall off.”
Miller agreed. “Long hours, sometimes, can lead to mistakes,” he said.
Currently, the minimum salary for corrections officers is around $22,000 annually. Tyree has requested implementing across the board pay raises starting at a minimum salary of $31,000.
In addition to Mount Olive, similar delegations have visited other prison and regional jail sites across West Virginia since the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.
The 2018 Regular Legislative Session begins on Wednesday, Jan. 10.