CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Governor Jim Justice reinforced his commitment to keeping West Virginians safe on Thursday with the ceremonial signing of legislation providing major pay raises to correctional employees while streamlining and modernizing the state’s corrections system.
The pay raise legislation, House Bill 4142, will increase wages across-the-board at the Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Division of Juvenile Services by a total of $6,000 within two years, starting July 1.
Governor Justice had championed the correctional pay increases as part of his legislative agenda. These pay hikes are in addition to the raises for teachers, state troopers and other state employees that also passed this session. On Thursday, he cited how such raises were out of the question just a year ago.
“Today, West Virginia is on a better path,” Governor Justice said. “This gives me great pride, to do not only goodness but just what’s right. It’s just what’s right.”
Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy explained how the legislation will deliver a tremendous boost to starting correctional officers who sign on before July 1.
“This bill has an opportunity to take those individuals from $24,000 to $32,000 over the next three years,” said Secretary Sandy said of HB 4142. “But rather than just putting money out there, this bill also develops a career path so those correctional officers know what their futures will be.”
The other legislation signed Thursday will unify most of West Virginia’s corrections-related operations within a new Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This new agency will include a Bureau of Prison and Jails, a separate Juvenile Services Bureau, and a Community Corrections Bureau to consolidate and streamline the existing three agencies.
The new Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation and its companion Division of Administrative Services, also created by House Bill 4338, will remain part of the W.Va. Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. Secretary Sandy launched this monumental overhaul of the Mountain State’s correctional operations immediately following his appointment by Governor Justice in late 2016.
Among its numerous benefits, House Bill 4338 will leverage the buying power for the state’s prisons, regional jails and juvenile facilities by allowing them to unify their contracts for medical, dental, mental health, food, equipment and other goods and services for the first time. It similarly unifies numerous functions including bookkeeping, human resources, payroll, transport, offender classification, education and rehabilitation, and construction and engineering.
“This is about what our government is supposed to do,” Governor Justice said.
The bill’s three-year cap keeping the “per diem” cost for housing inmates at $48.25 will benefit counties and municipalities. It will also help law enforcement reduce costs and travel time, meanwhile, by dropping off arrestees at designation holding cells at correctional facilities if they’re closer that the area’s regional jail.
Sandy also noted that the savings expected from the consolidation will help DMAPS absorb what would be the counties’ share of the costs from the correctional pay raises, as regional jails’ operational funding comes from the per diem payments.
House Bill 4338 takes effect July 1, while setting a deadline for its implementation of July 1, 2019.