CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Just days after the West Virginia Legislature wrapped up its 60-day session, there is already talk of a special session. The focus would be to fix problems in the correctional system. This has been an ongoing problem for years, and now it is getting worse.
West Virginia now has more than 1,000 vacancies at its jails and prisons, including correctional officers and staff. State and union leaders say those shortages are making the facilities more dangerous.
Last August, a state of emergency was declared over staffing and financial problems in the jails, and the national guard was called into help. Most everyone agrees the big problem is pay. For example, federal corrections as well as prisons and jails in most of our neighboring states pay much higher average salaries than West Virginia. So, many trained officers here cross the border for better pay.
“So, we go to try to keep up. And not just try, we’ve got to keep so, you know, so that people want to come here and they want to stay,” said Elaine Harris, of the Communications Workers of America, the union that represents correctional officers.
“We have to focus on it. We had 60 days to do something. And when you have record, after record, after record surpluses like the governor says, why not put focus where our needs are? Our correctional system, our jail system. We need to fix it and we need to fix it now,” said Del. Doug Skaff, (D) Kanawha – Minority Leader.
There was a bill in the legislature to raise the base pay for all corrections officers by $10,000, but in the end, they all got the same $2,300 raise that all other state employees will receive.
Right now, Kentucky and Virginia are the only states in the region to pay less for correctional officers than West Virginia.