Governor acknowledges more work might be ahead on West Virginia jails

Gov. Jim Justice signed several bills meant to bolster West Virginia’s jails and prisons while acknowledging the likelihood that more work will need to be done to improve conditions in correctional facilities.

Jim Justice

“Is this going to absolutely solve all the problems and fix everything? Maybe not. Maybe not,” Justice said in the bill signing event in front of the Gene Spadaro Juvenile Center in Mount Hope.

As he has on many occasions, Justice referred to wisdom from his own father, saying “Don’t confuse effort with accomplishment.”

“So, if we need to do more to achieve, we have to do more. If we need to get better at how we perform our jobs and our duties then we need to get better. But we need to accomplish.”

One of the bills that Justice signed, SB 1005,puts $21.1 million toward increase starting pay and change pay scales for correctional officers. Two more, SB 1003 and SB 1004, provide nearly $6 million for one-time bonuses for correctional support staff, divided into two payments that begin in October.

“I am a real believer that if we’ve made the right first step, we’ve solved the problem,” Justice said. “But if we haven’t, we need to solve the problem. So, let’s celebrate today but let’s all be committed to accomplishing, not just trying hard.”

Justice declared a State of Emergency a year ago over the staffing in West Virginia’s jails system, enabling the National Guard to perform support roles. Since then, state officials have been discussing how best to alleviate the staffing shortages.

State officials have described a vacancy rate of 33 percent for corrections officers across West Virginia’s system.

West Virginia lawmakers passed the three bills to address the situation during a special session last week.

At the same time, a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates took aim at overcrowding, understaffing and deferred maintenance.

“Overcrowding, understaffing, and deferred maintenance all have an impact on safety,” the lawsuit states, citing the State of Emergency in corrections.

“The correctional officer shortage in the regional jails affects the security of the jails as the facilities depend on staff and security staff to operate them safely,” the lawsuit contends. “Shortage of staff or overworked staff would have an impact on the safety of the
facility.”

Some state lawmakers agreed that more must be done to address West Virginia’s jails system.

Joey Garcia

Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion, wrote on social media that more work is necessary, noting that nonuniform staff are now in line for bonuses, but not raises.

” I don’t think we did enough and I hope we can convince others to come back to do better for all correctional workers next regular session,” Garcia wrote on the site formerly called Twitter.

Jonathan Pinson

Delegate Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason, told WMOV Radio last week that the legislation came up short by providing only bonuses, not raises, for nonuniformed workers.

“I’m thankful that we’re trying to move the needle and create some progress in this area,” Pinson said. “I don’t feel like we’re taking significant enough of a stand with corrections officers, both uniformed staff and nonuniformed staff in this bill.”

Pinson voted against the corrections bills in the special session last week, saying they were inadequate.

“I believe there is more that we can do,” he said. “My fear is that when this bill is passed it will be a lengthy period of time before we come back and address some of the real problems.”





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