CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Leaders in the Justice administration say they’re aiming to bump starting salaries for corrections officers to $30,000 over the next three years.
The administration says it intends to put forth that proposal, including increases on a scale, as the legislative session begins next week.
Although starting salary has been a focus of the current staffing problem, proposal would not apply just to new employees. The proposal would gradually increase salaries at all levels by $6,000 over three years.
Corrections officers at West Virginia’s prisons and jails have experienced such rapid turnover that Gov. Jim Justice issued a State of Emergency within the past week.
Starting salary for West Virginia corrections officers has stayed the same since 2009 — $22,584. That’s the lowest in the nation and about $2,000 below the federal poverty level for a family of four.
“The big picture is, because of our compensation levels, we have not been able to keep corrections officers at the level we need them to be. There’s been a significant turnover,” Justice administration chief of staff Mike Hall said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“People come, and they’re trained and they find other jobs other places.”
Hall appeared on “Talkline” with Jeff Sandy, secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. It was the first time the administration has discussed the State of Emergency since declaring it Dec. 22.
.@jsandyWV & Justice Administration Chief of Staff, Mike Hall, talk with @HoppyKercheval about the State of Emergency over corrections officers’ shortage/pay. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/xDMPeZm0c6
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) January 3, 2018
The State of Emergency declaration called for using members of the National Guard to augment staffing at prisons.
Hall and Sandy said the National Guard account for about half of 93 people from a few agencies being used to fill in on roles at prisons and jails. The other participating agencies include Homeland Security, Capitol Police and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
None will directly interact with prisoners, they said, but instead will reduce the overall workload in other areas.
“At Mount Olive, one of our maximum security prisons, they will patrol the outside of the fences, which are being manned by corrections officers, allowing those corrections officers to go back into the facilities with inmates,” Sandy said.
“Others have control towers — secured environment in which that individual can quickly be trained to open and close doors upon command from radio communication.”
Over the longer term, the Justice administration hopes to address the staffing problem by making salaries more desirable.
“If you mitigate all that turnover, the thing actually almost pays for itself in the sense that loss of revenue and retraining is mitigated by making that decision,” Hall said.
Sandy said the department has sent out letters to former corrections officers, trying to gauge whether those who have left would be willing to return for higher pay.
” A good many of those individuals are willing to come back if the money they receive is more than what they left for,” Sandy said.
Sandy said the department also has been working on a visual representation to depict the proposed salary scale.
“Under our proposal if an individual stays with us six years, they may attain rank of sergeant and can see what they will be making,” Sandy said.
The state has needed to address corrections officer salaries for years, suggested Elaine Harris, international representative for the Communications Workers of America.
“The crisis has been there for some time,” said Harris, whose organization represents corrections officers.
“I believe if it’s gonna happen, this is the year it’s going to happen. In good budget years and in difficult budget years, this problem has been there.”
Delegate Rodney Miller, a Democrat from Boone County, has been among those trying to draw attention to the wage scale for corrections officers.
Speaking today on “580 Live” with Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, Miller described momentum for a salary increase.
“There’s a lot of state employees that are very deserving of a raise, but I would say that right now corrections officers are at a crisis level,” Miller said. “I think they came to the top of the heap.”
Miller said he believes a $6,000 across-the-board payraise for corrections officers is about right.
“They probably deserve more, but that’s probably the most reasonable we can get to at this point,” Miller said.
“We’ve got to do something. We can’t sit on our hands and do nothing.”