Huttonsville prison staffing must be addressed

An editorial from The Inter-Mountain of Elkins

ELKINS, W.Va. — Understaffing problems at a local prison need to be resolved quickly.

The Huttonsville Correctional Center is 25 percent understaffed, and last week HCC Warden Marvin Plumley met with Delegates Bill Hartman and Denise Campbell, state Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein and other state representatives at the prison to tour the facility and brainstorm about how to alleviate the growing problem.

Currently more than 100 positions at the prison are vacant – out of roughly 395 jobs total.

In addition to the hardships this places on the current HCC employees – including working mandatory overtime – it’s worth considering the safety problems that could arise from having a prison operating with only three-quarters’ worth of a staff.

Understaffing has been blamed in recent violent incidents at state prisons across the U.S.

In early May, two inmates died and several people were injured in rioting at a Tecumseh, Neb., prison as inmates took over part of the complex for several hours before guards were able to retake control.

Officials said the prison is understaffed. Tecumseh’s remote location made hiring and retaining guards a challenge, sometimes leading to limited staffing and mandatory overtime shifts, which officials said can create dangerous working conditions.

In the span of one week last August, at least three separate incidents took place in a Lansing, Kan., prison in which officers were hurt trying to control inmates.

Union officials said the prison was understaffed and the guards were working a lot of overtime. The Kansas Department of Corrections said the job vacancies had nothing to do with budget problems, as the money to hire new officers was there. The problem was finding enough qualified people who want to do the job.

That rings a bell. The HCC has been hosting recruiting events and trying to get the word out to potential employees, but with little luck so far.

Plumley is advocating the state legislature raise the base salary for correctional officers in order to attract more applicants.

The Randolph County Technical Center in Elkins will introduce a law enforcement program this fall. The course is arranged so all students attend three classes before deciding between a law enforcement or corrections seminar to complete the course. School officials have said correction officer completers will finish the program fully certified and prepared to enter the work force – hopefully helping to fill some of the many vacancies at the prison.

Campbell understands the importance of getting the prison fully staffed.

“It’s a safety issue for many people who work inside the facility and around the area,” she said. “There’s over 1,200 prisoners in that facility and to be short that many positions and to have your staff so worn out is of great concern.”

Amen. Here’s hoping the state can find a way to better staff HCC before an incident like those in Nebraska and Kansas happens here.

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