CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard answered the call from Governor Jim Justice in late December to support staff at the state’s correctional facilities. It successfully concluded that mission on Tuesday.
More than 100 WVNG personnel – 106 Army National Guard and three Air National Guard members – assisted at 18 prisons, regional jails and juvenile facilities in response to Governor Justice’s executive order between Feb. 8 and July 31.
The National Guard marked the mission’s end Tuesday at its headquarters in Charleston, with the awarding of service ribbons. Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy and members of his Corrections and Rehabilitation leadership team presented a special plaque as thanks for the crucial assistance. The plaque features a former prison door key from the Mount Olive Correctional Complex. The mission personnel also received DMAPS Freedom Pins from Secretary Sandy.
The mission provided relief for correctional staff who had been working mandatory overtime and back-to-back shifts because of vacancies. Assistant Commissioner David Farmer recounted how one officer had missed his child’s first three birthdays because of his schedule. Thanks to the boost to staffing, he was able to schedule the fourth birthday off.
“That’s what moves me, what this did for our men and women in the field,” said Farmer, a veteran of the regional jail system. “You had a direct effect on people’s lives at home.”
Leadership at the correctional facilities had repeatedly praised the participating soldiers and airmen for their work ethic, attention to detail and professional approach to the assignment. Officials from other states, meanwhile, have inquired about the staffing mission.
“The West Virginia National Guard applied the same principle to working the corrections mission as we would to responding to a state emergency,” said Major General James Hoyer, adjutant general of the WVNG. “We provided critical work in a support role to the leading agency so that they could ensure public safety continued to be upheld while the appropriate civil authorities addressed a long-term solution.”
The soldiers and airmen performed administrative functions to free up facility correctional officers for direct supervision of inmates or juvenile residents. These functions included conducting perimeter security checks and staffing towers and other monitoring stations.
The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office, also part of Military Affairs and Public Safety, continues to provide support to correctional facilities in response to Governor Justice’s Dec. 22 executive order. Governor Justice’s multi-year pay increase legislation for all correctional facility staff, which took effect July 1, promises to improve staffing across the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Corrections and Rehabilitation, created by separate legislation that also became law on July 1, consolidates the former Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Division of Juvenile Services.
At least five WVNG members who took part in the mission have since been hired as full-time correctional staff, with numerous others applying or considering that move.
“I’m very excited to work at the Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center because I like the people I work with, and the new pay increase is a bonus to the working environment,” said one of the new hires, Spc. Sean Hamlin of the 111th Engineer Brigade, “The facility has amazing staff and has welcomed the West Virginia National Guard very professionally and that’s why I’m excited to start working there.”
Secretary Sandy urged those gathered Tuesday to consider careers in corrections, or to recommend it to friends and neighbors. He also asked the mission participants to send him suggestions for recruiting and retaining correctional staff.
Director of Communications
West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety
West Virginia State Capitol
Building 1, Room W-400
Charleston, WV 25305
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