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Eastern Panhandle jail to save by adding 10 officers

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Eastern Regional Jail is in the process of recruiting and hiring 10 new correctional officers thanks to a pilot program recently implemented by the state’s regional jail authority.

Joe DeLong, executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, said the program has created a uniform schedule for correctional officers at the state’s regional jails and has increased staff, saving a significant amount of money in the jail authority’s personnel services budget.

“It’s been a very, very successful initiative for us and one of the jails that has always done a great job of scheduling anyway has been Eastern Regional Jail. The administrator over there and his staff have always operated as one of our most efficient entities that we have in the state, but these additional positions will allow them to be even more efficient,” DeLong said.

The scheduling changes and staffing increases started off as a pilot project at one jail and expanded after it proved to work well, DeLong said.

The Eastern Regional Jail recently added the 10 vacancies for correctional officers within the past two days as part of the recently implemented and expanded pilot project. DeLong said the staffing increases will cut down on overtime costs.

“When I took over the jail authority a couple of years ago, one of the things that stood out very quickly was almost 25 percent of our personnel services budget was going to pay for the cost of overtime,” DeLong said.

Officials say the regional jail authority was spending more than $7 million per year to cover overtime expenditures, accounting for nearly a third of the jail authority’s $30 million personnel services budget.

“We really needed to understand why we were having all this overtime. It came down to a few areas. Number one, we didn’t have very good control of the place and we had to increase those controls and have more accountability on people’s time,” DeLong said.

That, itself, wasn’t the main issue, according to officials. Studies found that even if the jail authority was 100 percent staffed, there weren’t enough staffed positions within the jail authority to cover all shifts without forcing some correctional officers to work mandatory overtime hours.

A plan was put into place at every jail to have the same same uniform schedule for correctional officers. The schedule allows correctional officers to have every other weekend off at all of the state’s regional jail facilities.

Correctional officers spend less time at state-run facilities, but still work a normal 40-hour work week. The staffing increases have also cut costs.

“We sat down with the governor and said that the jails would actually be more efficient and our payroll would be reduced if we could replace some of these time and a half positions with full-time positions. The governor graciously let us add positions at one jail to pilot it,” DeLong said.

As a result, just in the last year, overtime costs have been reduced by $2 million and actual expenditures in the personnel services budget have decreased by more than $400,000. When the program is fully implemented, DeLong said the budget will be reduced anywhere from $2 million to $3 million after all 125 new positions are in place.

DeLong said the starting salary for an entry level correctional officer who meets the base requirements of having a high school diploma and one year of work experience is $22,500. Once an entry level correctional officer completes training, within the first year their salary begins to increase based on performance.

“Anytime you can actually create jobs at a savings to the taxpayer, that’s kind of unique. We’ve been able to do that and have been able to do that through a lot of hard work by the people at the facilities and implementing a new way of doing things,” DeLong said.

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