CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two regional jails and two juvenile detention facilities in West Virginia have worker vacancy rates near or above 50% state lawmakers learned Tuesday.
State Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Chief of Staff Brad Douglas told a legislative interim committee the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult on staffing especially at the Eastern Regional Jail and the Vicki Douglas juvenile facility in Martinsburg and the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail and the Chick Buckbee juvenile facility in Hampshire County.
Douglas said worker vacancy rates range from 47% to 56% at the facilities.
“It’s bad when it’s at 30 percent. It’s bad when it’s at 35 percent. It’s really bad when it’s at 50 to 55 percent,” Douglas said.
Correctional officer staffing issues are nothing new in West Virginia but it was getting better before the pandemic, Douglas said. A high of more than 800 vacancies statewide a few years ago was cut down to about 500. The state made the jobs more attractive by making several moves including increasing pay.
“We were feeling good about what we’ve done, we made some progress,” Douglas told lawmakers. “Unfortunately, since the pandemic, things have swung back the other way.”
He said there are currently 751 worker vacancies statewide.
Several steps have been taken to try and fill the gaps in the Berkeley and Hampshire county facilities, Douglas said.
“We’re moving staff from one facility to the next on a daily basis to cover those shifts. We’re obviously running quite a bit of overtime and we’re asking for volunteers from other parts of the agency,” Douglas said.
The starting salary for a Correctional Officer 1 is currently $30,664 a year. That’s better than it used to be, Douglas said. The workers are currently paid $14.75 an hour. Before recent pay raises it was about $11.00 an hour.
Douglas said they are competing with places like Sheetz and Aldi for workers. He said those businesses are now paying more per hour. He also said the state of Maryland recently offered a starting salary of $55,000 for applicants with any kind of correctional officer experience.
Douglas said West Virginia is trying to keep up with new aggressive advertising and one-stop hiring events but admitted it’s difficult.
Senator Charles Clement, R-Wetzel, asked Douglas how long the division can sustain shifting around workers to cover the vacancies.
“It is a tough situation we’re in right now sir,” Douglas said.