As jails emergency continues, senators consider bill for pay bump in competitive areas

While West Virginia faces a continuing emergency over jails staffing, senators are moving a bill that would provide additional pay for corrections officers in areas with high economic competition.

The Government Organization Committee advanced Senate Bill 464 to provide additional locality pay of up to $10,000 a year in addition to the officer’s salary. The bill is also referenced to the Senate Finance Committee.

The extra money would kick in where the corrections commissioner determines it’s necessary for maintaining safety and security and for recruitment and retention.

A fiscal note estimates that cost of applying the extra money to facilities where vacancies exceed 40 percent would be about $6.7 million.

Gov. Jim Justice declared an emergency in the jails system last August, allowing the National Guard to provide support in indirect support roles. Jails officials have noted that can’t be sustained financially forever.

In this year’s State of the State address, Justice pleaded with lawmakers to boost pay for corrections officers, particularly in border counties where competition for workers is intense.

Corrections officer positions at West Virginia jails are at a 33 percent vacancy rate, officials told lawmakers earlier this session, with those remaining often working 12 or even 16 hour shifts.

All told, at the end of December, the number of vacancies was more than 1,000.

That situation has ripple effects, officials have told lawmakers, including the possible  exhaustion of workers who remain and affecting safety in the jail system.

The state established a $1,000 signing bonus for new hires who would promise to stay on for a year. If they don’t stay, the amount is deducted from the final pay check.

A House of Delegates bill, 2879, would more broadly provide a both a pay raise and a bonus for corrections officers.

That legislation would provide a $6,000 hiring and retention bonus. Employees who are already on board would be paid the $6,000 bonus.  Newly hired officers would get $3,000 immediately and another $3,000 after three years.

The bill also offers a separate $10,000 pay raise to officers. Initially it would be a $5,000 raise on July 1, 2023. Then a $2500 raise in 2024 and anther $2500 raise in 2025.

The House bill passed through the jails committee and also has been referred to House Finance. The total estimated cost of that bill is $47 million.

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