CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety wants to consolidate its prison, jail and juvenile justice agencies into a single division, according to a new bill.

The bill, presented Friday to the House Judiciary Committee, would create the “West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation” within DMAPS.

Under the legislation, agencies within the DMAPS’ new division would include the Division of Corrections, the Regional Jail and Correctional Facilities Authority and the Division of Juvenile Services.

Betsy Jividen, commissioner for the state Division of Corrections, told lawmakers they’ll be able to work more efficiently under the collaboration.

“I truly believe that this consolidation is going to allow all of these correctional agencies to fulfill the mission in a much more efficient and cost productive way,” she said.

The plan, developed by DMAPS Secretary Jeff Sandy and his team, has the the support of Governor Jim Justice.

According to DMAPS officials, the reorganization would allow for a greater focus on adult facilities, juvenile services, community corrections and offender services including drug treatment.

It’s a comprehensive program that is designed to rewrite state laws to improve inmate accountability measures to address county jail costs.

Joe Thornton, director of correctional operations for DMAPS, said agencies will be able to benefit from one another’s programs.

“Research and technology, correctional industries, training and staff development — those areas that DOC already has what i would call a very robust structure in place to serve DOC. By bringing juvenile services and regional jails into this model, they’ll stand to benefit immensely from a lot of these services,” he said.

The move comes after Justice declared a staffing shortage at West Virginia’s prisons jail and juvenile facilities amount to a State of Emergency.

Right now, there are more than 600 correction officer vacancies in the state.

Employees are having to work up to 16 hour shifts because there are not enough people on staff. Because of low pay and the additional hours, many workers have quit their jobs.

Lawmakers adopted a resolution earlier this month to increase the annual starting salary for regional jail employees $30,000. The current starting salary is around $22,000.

Mike Coleman, deputy director of correctional operations for DMAPS, said he believes “there’s a better way” to address problems within West Virginia’s correctional system.

“A way that makes more sense for state government, the other government customers that we serve and for the people of West Virginia,” Coleman said.

The bill has not yet officially been introduced in the Legislature.

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