West Virginia governor deploys National Guard to deal with staff shortage in state jails

The Washington Examiner reported this week that Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has declared an emergency in his state’s jails. 

Corrections staff shorthanded and underpaid

The governor’s office released a statement on Thursday explaining that National Guard troops will be deployed “to alleviate staffing shortages at adult and juvenile correctional and detention facilities.”

The Examiner noted that West Virginia correctional facilities are chronically understaffed, a fact which is likely due in part to low rates of pay for personnel.

As the paper pointed out, correctional officers in the state have an annual starting pay of $33,214, a figure well below that seen in neighboring states.

By contrast, their counterparts in Ohio and Pennsylvania start out at  $37,630 and $40,270, respectively. Meanwhile, officers in Maryland begin their career earning $43,370 annually.

Governor seeks a legislative solution

Justice’s statement referenced a piece of legislation he supported which “would have afforded a $10,000 locality pay adjustment for Correctional Officers across the state where locality pay is necessary for maintaining critical missions of safety and security and to preserve the [Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation]’s ability to recruit and retain employees in a competitive manner.”

However, Justice expressed disappointment over the bill’s failure to pass and said that his emergency declaration was necessary until a permanent solution to staffing shortages can be found.

His statement noted that as it stands, staff at many facilities have been put on mandatory overtime and officers at some facilities have been reassigned to other locations away from their homes and families.

This is something which “adds additional burden and strain to an employee’s home life” which contributes to burnout and additional staffing shortfalls.

The governor concluded by saying that his plan to use National Guard troops will be employed as a stopgap measure until a permanent solution can be found.

“Of course, we will continue to work with all stakeholders moving forward to perfect the legislation, get it reintroduced, and, ultimately, get it across the finish line, but we need to do something to address the staffing shortages in our jails right now,” he said.

“These are critical positions and if numbers continue to dip, failure to act could become a safety concern. That’s why I’m taking action and calling this State of Emergency now.”

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