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Editorial: Regional Jail Authority deals with costly, unsafe, unsustainable cycle

From The Charleston Gazette-Mail:

Taxpaying citizens of West Virginia are rightly concerned at the lack of oversight last week at South Central Regional Jail, where an inmate not only escaped, but his absence escaped detection for 37 hours.

Todd Wayne Boyes, 43, escaped from the regional jail near Southridge Center around 6 a.m. Wednesday, the Gazette-Mail’s Guiseppe Sabella reported last week.

Boyes’ escape was not noticed until 7 p.m. Thursday, Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina said in a news release. Jail staff, the release states, failed to notice Boyes’ disappearance during three end-of-shift head counts and two overnight counts.

He was on the lam for four days before being captured early Sunday near Laredo, Texas, attempting to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico.

Boyes left the jail in khaki trousers and a dark green or gray jacket, posing as a civilian or “trusty.”

He was indicted in June on charges of attempted murder, fleeing, destruction of property, possession of a stolen vehicle and unlawful possession of a firearm. The attempted murder charge was dropped after Boyes pleaded guilty to three other charges. He was scheduled to be sentenced last Friday.

The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has suspended four officers at the jail without pay as part of the escape investigation, MetroNews reported Monday.

Failure by the jail staff to notice the inmate missing for five head counts is inexcusable, but so is the state’s ongoing mismanagement of its Corrections Department salary and personnel issues. The department has been operating in a state of crisis due to low salaries for officers and the vacancies those low salaries — combined with the stress and risk of the job — create.

The problem has been well documented for years.

Regional Jail Authority executive director David Farmer told a legislative interim committee in September that regional jails lost 600 officers last year and currently have 255 vacancies — or about one in three officer positions.

“We do have a staffing crisis,” he said, adding, “They usually leave in the first six months. They don’t even make it through the academy.”

Delegate Andrew Robinson noted in a Daily Mail Opinion column last month that staff shortages at South Central Regional Jail mean officers regularly work 16-hour shifts four to five times a week.

“Working 60-80 hours a week, these employees are asked to put significant stress on themselves and their families, while working for near-poverty wages,” Robinson wrote.

Now with four officers on unpaid leave, it’s scary to think of the stress placed on the remaining staffers.

The solution is easier identified than corrected, but the Regional Jail Authority must pay its corrections officers competitive pay, or the state will continue the revolving-door cycle of hiring new officers and training them only to see many of them leave for less risky jobs, and then repeating this costly, unsafe and unsustainable cycle.

 

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