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Delegate David Kelly: Failure to address correctional officer vacancies in West Virginia is ‘unconscionable’

By Steven Allen Adams, Special to The Journal of Martinsburg

CHARLESTON — With vacancies of officers and staff at West Virginia’s correctional facilities and regional jails remaining at an all-time high, Delegate David Kelly said Gov. Jim Justice and lawmakers need a special session to fix the issue.

Delegate David Kelly, R-Tyler

Kelly, R-Tyler, is chairman of the House Jails and Prisons Committee. In a Facebook post Thursday, Kelly criticized lawmakers for ending the 2023 legislative session March 11 with no bills to recruit or retain correctional officers and staff.

“We have to do something. We cannot keep ignoring the problem and think it’s going to change,” Kelly said. “We cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. The numbers don’t lie.”

According to the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the overall vacancy rate for the division is 1,037, with 28% of positions unfilled as of March 31. That’s up slightly from 27% around March 9. The correctional officer vacancy rate alone is 748. The 33% vacancy rate for officers has remained static from earlier in March.

More than 10,100 inmates are in the state’s correctional system, spread out in 11 prisons, 10 regional jails, 10 juvenile centers and three work-release sites.

Justice has declared a state of emergency twice over the past six years for the prisons and regional jails due to severe staffing shortages, including in August 2022. The West Virginia National Guard was ordered to assist with staffing needs until this August. Since last August, the vacancy rates have only increased. The state of emergency beacon on top of the Capitol remains lit.

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