CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — West Virginia continues to face a critical shortage of corrections officers in its prisons and jails, and now the union representing those officers wants something done.
The state dealt with a critical corrections staffing shortage four years ago, and now it’s facing the same crisis again.
The Mountain State’s jails and prisons are currently short by 742 corrections officers. When you add in vacancies from support staff, the number of open jobs exceeds 1,000, according to the Communications Workers of America union which represents corrections workers.
Four years ago, West Virginia had the lowest corrections pay in the six-state region. A couple of big pay raises now puts the Mountain State in the middle of the pack, but many officers are still leaving for higher pay in neighboring states or at federal prisons. The union says more pay raises are in order.
“They are to be applauded. They go to work each day, each night, if they work all nights. They go to work and really not knowing whether they are going to return home to their loved ones,” said Elaine Harris, of the Communications Workers of America.
In Aug., Governor Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency in the corrections system and called out the national guard to help. But the guard can only help with support staff work, and not law enforcement functions.
Some believe a special session of the legislature needs to be called to address the problem.
“There’s federal monies that have been given to each of the states under ARPA. We would ask the governor to look at that and to do some type of a bonus. Something to give people a bump up,” said Elaine Harris, the union representative from CWA.
One of the biggest concerns is the pay disparity between the state and federal corrections systems.
Officers can leave West Virginia’s prisons for the federal system, and immediately make an average of $17,000 a year more.
West Virginia has 12 federal corrections facilities.