CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For the second time since 2018, the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation is calling on the West Virginia National Guard to help it give a break to some overworked correctional officers.
Gov. Jim Justice signed an executive order Thursday calling on the Guard to help during the next year.
State Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy said the DCR needed similar help four years ago.
“Bless the governor for doing this, that’s what the National Guard will be doing for us, giving these people some time to take off work,” Sandy said during a Friday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”
Sandy said it’s not uncommon for some correctional officers to work in excess of 60 hours a week.
State Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Bill Crane said the Guard proudly supports other state agencies in time of need.
“Our personnel have accomplished this mission in the past with success and we have a great group of volunteers who are ready to step up and alleviate the staffing shortages for our state’s correctional officers,” Crane said in a Friday news release. “The most important thing we can do is ensure that there are appropriate levels of safety and security in facilities across the state to help ensure our citizens and the men and women of corrections are safe.”
There are currently 1,006 worker vacancies across the entire DCR with the most in the correctional officer entry level position.
“That’s 277 (vacancies),” Sandy said.
A lot of those are in Eastern Panhandle facilities where the vacancy rate tops 60%.
Sandy said anywhere from 80 to 125 members of the Guard could help fill shifts. He said the Guard helped for about 6 months in 2018.
Guard members volunteering for the duty will begin training in Charleston on Monday. They’ll report to facilities throughout the state on Aug. 22. The service will be considered State Active Duty status.
The work of the Guard will be in a support role. Members will not have direct contact with inmates. They’ll perform duties having to do with “administrative functions, control center management, camera operations or other duties that are not in direct contact with inmates.”
There were 109 service members who helped in the state’s jails and prisons in 2018.
Sandy said they’ll continue to work to fill the many vacancies. He said Corrections had its vacancies down to 500 in January 2020 following three years of raises supported by Gov. Justice but then COVID hit and that changed everything when it comes to recruiting and retaining workers.
“It’s competition with everyone now in our world,” Sandy said.
Entry level correctional officers are paid $33,000 annually.