983 vacancies in regional prisons and correctional institutions | State and region
CHARLESTON — The Legislative Oversight Committee on the Regional Prisons and Correctional Facilities Authority heard testimony on Tuesday from Brad Douglas, chief of staff for the W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR).
Douglas’ talking points included current DCR staffing concerns, as well as several recent “legislative initiatives” designed to bolster the state’s rehabilitation efforts.
“At the end of June, we had 983 vacancies in total,” Douglas began. “It’s a lot worse than when we thought it was really bad a few years ago. We started doing really well after the consolidation of the corrections and the salary increase of the ‘2-2-2’ corrections that the legislature and the governor passed a few years ago.
The “Corrections Consolidation” and the “2-2-2” salary increase were both enacted in 2018. The “consolidation” saw the restructuring of several departments under the Department of Corrections umbrella, while the The pay increase provided an additional $6,000 in salaries for current executives, as well as a starting salary increase for new hires.
“Covid did the same thing to us it did to a lot of people, and it has gone downhill ever since,” Douglas said. “We have had significant problems recruiting and retaining staff. It’s hard work on the best day.
Despite increases in the salaries offered to correctional officers in recent years, Douglas noted, they remain “not as competitive as we thought.”
Douglas explained that the vacancy rate for officers statewide is “about 30 percent.”
“I also want to point out some facilities that are worse than that,” Douglas added. “We now have officer vacancies 70% at Vicki Douglas Juvenile Center, 53% at Chick Buckbee Juvenile Center, 58% at Eastern Regional Jail, 65% at Potomac Highlands Regional Jail, 48% at the Northern Regional Prison and 42% at Western. Regional Jail.
The current starting salary for a corrections officer in West Virginia is $33,214.
“In the last six years alone, we’ve gone from a starting salary of $22,000 to $33,000, which is just amazing,” Douglas said. “But unfortunately the situation we’re in right now with our competitors – everyone else has increased their pay rate as well.”
Douglas explained that the significant staffing shortage resulted in some officers having to work five 16-hour shifts a week, before shifting the discussion to the state’s recently adopted ‘work release pilot program’. . Douglas touted the program as one of the most positive DCR developments in recent years.
“The beds (in work release centers) are not full now,” Douglas told the committee. “We still have a few beds in these establishments, but we are working every day to fill them.”
Douglas said stricter guidelines enforced during the Covid-19 pandemic limited the DCR’s ability to relocate inmates to work release facilities, but those restrictions were lifted last April.
“We are still moving inmates and determining if they are suitable for work release because the work release unit is really the last stop,” Douglas said. “So it’s going to take us a little while to fill those beds, but that’s what we’re working on.”
To be eligible for placement in a work release facility, an inmate must be classified as “minimum security” and be released within 24 months. While enrolled in the program, participants leave the facility each day to go to work and have access to a “variety of reintegration services,” according to Douglas.
“We are very proud of our work release units,” added Douglas.
“Are the empty beds in the work release program due to people who just don’t qualify? ” Of the. Bryan Ward, R-Hardy, asked at the end of Douglas’ presentation.
“It’s entirely due to Covid,” Douglas replied. “Because we weren’t moving people during Covid, we fell behind. We have offenders who will be placed in these facilities. It’s just a matter of getting them down the system.
“This is a world-class program, and it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves over the years,” Douglas added, before explaining how the program’s ability to grow at the future is limited only by the staff.
Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, then changed the conversation slightly when he asked for an explanation of some statistics regarding those released from incarceration under the “non-violent offenses program.”
“There were 28 people whose parole was revoked,” Clements said. “I was just wondering, out of curiosity, were these technical violations or serious infractions?”
Although Douglas did not have this readily available information, he explained that parole revocations accounted for only about eight percent of offenders released under the non-violent offense program. The remaining 92% are usually removed from parole after successfully completing one year.
“What the research has shown is that there’s really no public safety benefit to keeping people on parole for long periods of time,” Douglas said. “They will inevitably do something that might not put me in jail or put you in jail – like having a beer on a Friday night – but will land them in jail. And that starts a whole other cycle of being in jail and losing your job, et cetera.
The Oversight Committee will meet again during the interim legislative session in September, when it receives a full report regarding the per diem prison charges.