UPDATE: West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed several bills designed to reduce vacancies in the state’s jails and prisons, increase pay scales for correctional officers, and offer retention incentives for non-uniform correctional staff. 

The bills were passed as part of the recent Special Session of the West Virginia Legislature, called by Gov. Justice on Aug. 6.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s state Legislature approved millions of dollars in raises and bonuses for corrections employees Tuesday, the same day as a lawsuit was filed against Republican Gov. Jim Justice and other state leaders over working conditions in the state’s regional jails and prisons.

The Republican-dominated state Legislature approved more than $21 million in pay increases for corrections officers and bonuses for other staff, along with a number of other policies meant to lessen the burden of jail and prison workers. The spending bills were passed during a special session called by Justice earlier in the week.

The funding for corrections passed along with a number of other appropriations, including $150 million to the State Road Fund for equipment and paving and $45 million to support Marshall University’s growing cybersecurity program.

The special session came a year after Justice declared a state of emergency and called on the state National Guard to help stop steep worker attrition at the state’s jails and prisons, which have a vacancy rate of more than 30%.

Justice previously declared a state of emergency for the state’s jails and prisons in 2017.

“We’ve got to take care of the people that are making sure we don’t look like a Third World country out there with the way that we’re taking care of our prisons,” Republican Del. Brandon Steele of Raleigh County said on the House floor Tuesday.

Action on the bills came as a federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday seeking to force the state to spend $330 million to improve prison and jail conditions and fill worker vacancies. The lawsuit alleges “inhumane living conditions” in the correctional facilities and accuses Justice and others of ignoring overcrowding and failing to provide regular funding for upkeep, WVNS-TV reported.

A spokesperson for the governor didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Lawmakers approved over $21 million for correctional officer pay increases Tuesday, and two one-time bonuses of $2,294 for other jail staff who are not correctional officers, like kitchen staff — one payment will come immediately, and another six months later. The total cost of the bonuses will be around $71,127.

Additionally, lawmakers passed a bill requiring that the state provide temporary identification cards to people released from incarceration at no cost. The legislation was a clarification of a bill passed in 2019 that said the state must make “efforts to assist” people in obtaining identification cards after release.

The new legislation also increases the time the temporary identification cards are valid, from 90 to 180 days. Republican Del. Larry Kump said the bill seeks to help reduce recidivism in the state corrections system.

Another bill passed Tuesday requires larger cities in the state to pay county commissions for the daily costs of housing certain inmates in jails who appear before a magistrate court instead of a municipal court. A different bill authorizes the state Supreme Court to develop a pretrial release program for people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors. The original version of the bill that passed the Senate earlier in the week also included non-violent felonies, but that was scrapped by the House.

“Although the House amendment slightly narrows the potential programs that the Supreme Court may develop, it provides a starting point that may be expanded in the future,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo said before the Senate greenlit the House’s version Tuesday night.

Another bill that passed would bar the use of state funds for medical procedures in state jails and prisons unless they are medically necessary, as defined by the medical professional treating the patient. Lawmakers approved an amendment that would allow for birth control to be covered by state funds if requested by an inmate.

Some of the funding for the appropriations approved this week is to come from the $1.8 billion surplus the state ended the fiscal year with in June, while other funding involves reappropriating money from other sources.