CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has issued a state of emergency due to the staffing levels of the state’s juvenile and adult detention and correctional facilities.
An executive order signed by Justice on Dec. 22 said the state is at a crisis dealing with the housing of adults and juveniles who are both awaiting trial and who have been sentenced. The order said the number of correctional officers is less than what is safely recommended to operate the state’s detention and correctional facilities.
Under the state of emergency, the executive order said the secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety has the power to develop and oversee the use of all of its divisions, including the West Virginia National Guard to maximize the staffing of the state’s detention and correctional facilities until legislative and operational remedies can be put into place.
On Friday, Justice issued an executive order that preserves thousands of hours of annual leave for correctional officers and staff. Vacancies at West Virginia’s prisons, regional jails and juvenile facilities have required staff to work overtime throughout 2017, leaving them unable to take their use-or-lose annual leave.
The state of emergency executive order said excessive amounts of overtime are not conducive to safe working practices.
Hundreds of correctional officers’ positions are empty across the state, leading the ones that are employed to work long hours over an extended period of time.
With correctional officers’ starting salaries less than $25,000 a year, Boone County Del. Rodney Miller said the shortage is endangering staff, inmates and the public.
Concerns about jail overcrowding also have surfaced. The Western Regional Jail in Cabell County, for example, was built in 2003 and designed to hold 394 inmates, David Farmer, executive director of the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, told lawmakers during a recent tour. It serves five counties. He said 197 beds had been added throughout the years, with a total of 591 beds. For inmates who don’t have one of those beds, plastic cots have been purchased to ensure the inmates aren’t sleeping on the ground.
You can read the full release by the Governor below: