Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) issued a state of emergency Thursday, activating the state’s National Guard to help fill empty shifts at county jails that are facing staffing shortages.
The staffing challenges at adult and juvenile correctional and detention facilities have reached critical levels, the governor’s office said in a press release. Justice, who encouraged a bill that would increase pay for correctional officers by $10,000 a year, blamed the shortage on the failure to pass legislation that would have made pay in the state more competitive. Such a bill was passed by the House of Delegates Finance Committee but never got to a full vote in the House, the governor’s office noted.
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“I was disappointed by the lack of action on this bill during the legislative session,” Justice said in the press release. “Of course, we will continue to work with all stakeholders moving forward to perfect the legislation, get it reintroduced, and, ultimately, get it across the finish line, but we need to do something to address the staffing shortages in our jails right now. These are critical positions and if numbers continue to dip, failure to act could become a safety concern. That’s why I’m taking action and calling this State of Emergency now.”
The starting pay for correctional officers in West Virginia right now is approximately $33,214, whereas elsewhere in the region, the starting salary for officers is $34,380 in Virginia, $37,630 in Ohio, $40,270 in Pennsylvania, and $43,370 in Maryland, according to the release.
The staffing shortage forced officers to work mandatory overtime, Justice noted, and led to jails temporarily reassigning correctional officers to other facilities to cover the mandatory minimum for staffing. The relocation and overtime have led to a higher burnout rate, which only added to the staffing issues, the news release said.
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Justice did not specify how many members of the guard will be activated or how long the emergency declaration would be in effect but said the state of emergency should not last more than a year. However, if the adjutant general and the Department of Homeland Security agree, the order could be extended if staffing shortages persist.