New officers could create safer environment in WV jails - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

New officers could create safer environment in WV jails

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J.T Binion has spent 16 years behind bars at South Central Regional Jail.

But he's not an inmate. He's a correctional officer.

"This job's mentally stressful," said Sgt. Binion, who now works as a supervisor. "Sometimes you take it home.... it's hard to turn that switch off."

Binion worked at least 60 hours every week until June, when the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority hired 14 new officers to shave overtime pay.

"It takes a toll on the family," Binion said. "The wife doesn't necessarily understand it, kids don't understand why you're gone all the time."

The hiring wave represents a pilot program that gages how the state can tackle understaffing issues within the jail system, according to Joe DeLong, the director of the Regional Jail Authority.

"Our issue has not been in the past finding the applicants, it's been retaining applicants," Delong said.

Currently, 74 officers work at South Central Regional Jail with several spots still open, according to Binion. For many years, the facility operated with less than 50 or officers. South Central Regional Jail has never been fully staffed since it opened, Binion said.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old with a GED or high school diploma. DeLong explained those eligible must pass a mental and physical examination, in addition to a drug test.

But DeLong said the problems start after the hiring process.

"Burn out is the number one issue why people leave this field," he said.

A study done by West Virginia University revealed the inefficiencies in the jails' scheduling practices.

Binion said in the past, officers rotated day and night shifts after several months. The new schedule consists of three shifts: morning, day, and night, with staffers assigned to a permanent shift.

The plan alleviates the overtime that accompanies a 24-hour facility.

"I gotta tell you, it's great to be able to go home after a 40-hour work week and spend time with my family," Binion said.

Since its inception in June, the pilot program saved South Central Regional Jail approximately $18,000 in personnel costs, according to DeLong. At this rate, SCRJ could see almost $200,000 in savings. If applied to all nine jails across West Virginia, the state could save between $1.5 and $2 million.

Delong added that the authority's personnel budget amounts to $34 million, nearly a quarter of which go towards overtime pay.

The director said he hopes the correctional officers can eventually receive the savings yielded by the new schedule.

"We'll present those savings to the board and other decision makers and see what type of proposals we can come up with," DeLong said.

Within a few months, he said he hopes the authority can expand this program to all nine jails.