State Senator: Jail staff and state troopers must be legislative priority this year

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A Monongalia County State Senator believes it’s time for the State Legislature to address ongoing staffing issues in West Virginia’s State Police and prison system.

“I think that should be a key priority of the Governor and the leadership in the legislature this legislative session,” Beach said Tuesday on WAJR’s Morgantown AM.

Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia, 13) believes the budget won’t be as big of an issue during the 60-day regular legislative session kicking off next week, meaning legislators should be ready to solve issues that have been ignored in past years.

“The budget’s not going to consume as much of the conversation as it has in the past two years,” he said. “We’re looking at a little easier time to deal with that. Things seem to be falling into place for us, and we can probably focus on other things that are probably important to folks across the state of West Virginia.”

Look no further than public safety — namely the salaries and compensation for state troopers and prison employees.

Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia, 13)

“It’s well below the national standards,” Beach said. “As a matter of fact, the State Troopers are having a hard time filling out the classes each year for troopers and their training here in West Virginia.”

Beach said that’s made recruiting new classes difficult for nearly four years now. Last February, State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill projected 40 of the then-645 troopers would retire by January 2019, increasing the urgency of need for a new cadet class.

“When was the last time you actually saw a State Trooper out there checking for speeds with the radar gun?” Beach said. “It’s not happening a lot. They’re off in other locations, and they are kind of splitting the duties of patrolling our highways with our county and local sheriff’s departments.

And yet that, Beach said, pales in comparison to the problems in West Virginia’s jails. Just last month, a group of lawmakers touring Mt. Olive Correctional Facility were informed that the prison was doling out more than $200,000 in overtime pay each month to employees due to staffing shortages.

“That’s just a ticking time bomb,” Beach said. “These folks are working major hours of overtime that’s unnecessary. We’re asking secretarial staff to be pulling duties in prison. That shouldn’t be occurring, and it’s putting these folks in a risky situation.”

Late last year, an inmate at South Central Regional Jail walked out of the building and led authorities on a four-day chase, which was blamed — among several things — on the immense staffing issues. One out of every three possible positions in the jail system is reportedly vacant.

The regular legislative session begins Jan. 10.

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