CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – It is being called a “crisis in corrections” as most West Virginia jails and prisons are facing critical staffing shortages.

Many lawmakers are back in Charleston this week to deal with it. As with a lot of job vacancies, a lot of the problem is driven by the competition for workers, and what states are willing to pay for them.

As of now, there are more than 1,000 job vacancies in the West Virginia corrections system. That is just over 1/4 of the entire workforce.

While West Virginia continues to train new corrections officers and other staff, they often leave after a year or so, because neighboring states and the federal system, all pay a lot more money. Big corrections raises are being called for in the Mountain State.

“What I would like to see happen is to give them a $10,000 across-the-board raise, immediately, not spread it out. That would be my desire,” said Del. David Kelly, (R) Tyler – Jails & Prisons Chairman.

“The men and women working 70–80-hour weeks in these facilities are at their limit, and probably passed it, and we just keep nodding in agreement with one another that it’s a serious public safety crisis.  At this point, talk is cheap, I don’t know what else to say, other than we are failing the brave men and women that work in our jails and prisons – and we’re likely one jail or prison riot away from being negligent,” said Del. Mike Honaker (R) Greenbrier.

“You’ve got to be competitive to draw the people into this profession. But then at the end of the day, you’ve got to have something that’s going to, you know keep them there,” said Elaine Harris, Communications Workers of America, the union that represents corrections workers.

Governor Jim Justice (R-WV) has signaled he is inclined to call a special session of the legislature to fix the corrections staffing crisis once and for all. But he wants House and Senate leadership to have a deal in place for the pay raises, and other fixes, before he calls all lawmakers back to Charleston. Special sessions are expensive, costing taxpayers $40,000 dollars per day.

West Virginia’s jails and prisons have been under a state of emergency since August 2022.
There are concerns, we may pass that anniversary date this August, without a fix in place.