Gov. Jim Justice said his administration will continue to support West Virginia’s overloaded jail system while also searching for better ways to recruit and retain corrections officers.
Justice declared an emergency in the corrections system in August because of staffing shortages. The declaration meant getting help from the West Virginia National Guard.
During legislative interim meetings this week, lawmakers were told that the staffing issue has not improved.
The governor was asked today what more could be be done by West Virginia News reporter Charles Young.
“We’ll do whatever we have to do,” Justice said. “One good thing about the National Guard is they have stepped up and always been ready to go. And, without any question, whatever we’ve got to do we’ll do.”
Recent reporting showed 1,010 vacancies out of 3,800 total positions in the jail system, according to Brad Douglas, the acting commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Corrections, as he spoke at legislative interim meetings.
“So, total overall vacancy rate currently is 26 percent. Amongst officers, it’s 32 percent, which is high. At some select jails, it’s as high as 75 percent officer vacancies,” Douglas said.
Senator Charles Clements asking during interim meetings about the assignment of National Guard personnel to help with the corrections system.
“How much longer are we going to be able to keep these people?” Clements, R-Wetzel, asked during a Tuesday meeting of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.
Douglas responded, “That’s a good question. So we’re tracking that money very closely because that is an expensive process. We reimburse the National Guard for their salaries. So I don’t know the answer to your question, but not forever.”
Governor Justice today alluded to attempts to increase the pay of corrections officers.
“Hopefully we’ll get that through this year,” he said, “but for right now if we need additional National Guard troops we’ll send them.”