By Matt Young, WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Brad Douglas, acting commissioner of the W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR), delivered a year-end report to members of the Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority on Tuesday.
Douglas’ report focused on staffing vacancies, deferred facility-maintenance, and inmate population.
“I hate to sound like a broken record, but I want to keep reiterating the same important points that we’ve talked about so often,” Douglas began. “After consolidation of the correctional agencies in 2018, our vacancies dropped pretty well. After the 2-2-2 raise that we incorporated into the correctional officer’s starting salaries, we were having good success hiring.”
The “corrections consolidation,” and the “2-2-2” pay raise referenced by Douglas were both enacted in 2018. The “consolidation” saw the restructuring of several departments beneath the correctional department umbrella, with the pay raise providing an additional $6,000 in the salaries of current officers, as well as an increase in the starting salary of those newly hired. However, despite the initial success brought about by these initiatives, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the hiring of new officers.
“We’re facing the same thing that all other employers are facing,” Douglas added. “It’s just harder and harder to recruit staff to come work, and harder and harder to be competitive with our starting salary.”
According to Douglas, competing employers have increased their starting salaries to match the $15.74 per hour currently offered by the W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which has compounded the difficulty in recruiting prospective employees.
“Near the end of last month we had over 1,000 vacancies,” Douglas noted. “And that’s still true today.”
Douglas cited the Eastern Panhandle region as having “abnormally high vacancy rates,” explaining that Vicki Douglas Juvenile Center has a 67 percent officer vacancy-rate, along with Eastern Regional Jail at 57 percent, and Potomac Highlands Regional Jail at 75 percent.
“But I also wanted to highlight some other facilities,” Douglas continued. “Specifically Northern Regional Jail is at 52 percent, Western is at 45 percent, Huttonsville is at 45 percent, and Mt. Olive is at 43 percent. So even some of the facilities that are relatively in better shape than the worst ones – well, we’re in bad shape.”
Douglas further stated that additional hiring events have been scheduled, and a $1,000 “appointment incentive” was implemented in October for newly hired correctional officers, saying, “So if you come to work for us and you work 12-months, you’re going to get an extra $1,000.”
The $1,000 incentive is provided to new officers on their initial paycheck, and is predicated on the “promise” that officer will remain for the 12-month duration. If employment is terminated prior to 12-months, the officer is required to pay back the incentive.
“Hopefully that sweetens the pot a little bit,” Douglas added.
Earlier this year, W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice signed an emergency order authorizing the W.Va. National Guard to use their personnel to supplement the staffing needs of the state’s correctional facilities. According to Douglas, there are presently “over 200 guard-members working in DCR facilities.”
“That number fluctuates up and down a little bit as people work a few days, and decide they don’t want to do it, or new people come in,” Douglas explained. “But it’s over 200 now. Those guard-members are absolutely critical to safe operations now in many of our facilities, as they cover many of what we call the ‘control posts, or posts that don’t require immediate inmate-contact.”
Douglas named watch towers, front gates and perimeter control as examples of common National Guard-member placement, adding, “They’re covering all of those posts in many of our jails, and they’re very appreciated.”
Regarding inmate population for the duration of the current year, Douglas told the committee, “we’re down a little bit.”
The DCR’s report shows that West Virginia’s inmate population was 9,904 on Jan.1. As of Dec. 6, that population has dropped to 9,812. The high for the year occurred during the summer months, when the inmate population reached 10,081.
“Finally, I wanted to mention deferred maintenance,” Douglas said. “The story there hasn’t changed. We still have millions and millions of dollars in deferred maintenance needs. We’ve identified about $60 million of that as high-priority, public safety projects.”
Douglas noted “door locks and locking mechanisms” as being of vital importance, and accounting for $27 million out of the $60 million he previously referenced.
“That being said, we’re trying to move ahead with the money we do have as fast as possible,” Douglas concluded. “We keep making the most of the resources we do have.”