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There are currently 1,027 vacancies in the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, according to a presentation Tuesday by Brad Douglas, the agency’s acting commissioner, to the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.
That adds up to a 33 percent vacancy rate for officers and a 27 percent vacancy rate overall.
“I’ve got a little bit of hope that is slowing down a bit,” he said. Since the implementation of our $1,000 incentive, we’ve paid that out 45 times. So 45 officer hires in a month and a half to two month period is pretty good.”
In contrast to the overall numbers, Douglas said some of the regional jails have a 60 to 70 percent vacancy rate.
“So, even though we definitely have some facilities that stick out with extremely high correctional officer vacancy rates,” he said, “the rest of them are not necessarily in a good place. So I want to highlight that for the committee.”
Committee Co-Chair Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, asked Douglas about the program to use members of the West Virginia National Guard in correctional facilities, following an order by Gov. Jim Justice last August.
“We now have over 300 Guard members coming in to help us,” Douglas said. “It’s just been a huge benefit and boon to our agency. We gave staff a break where we could and we’re very thankful for their assistance.”
Guard members work only in non-inmate contact positions in the jail. He explained they patrol the jail perimeter and the front gate, for example. He said the current jail population is approximately 4,700 inmates which he noted is easier to manage than 5,500 where it has been.
Kelly expressed concerns about the program, however.
“I think it’s important for the government to note this, I think it’s important for members of this body, I think it’s important for the people of West Virginia, to know that it is not sustainable to expect the National Guard to remain in our jails,” Kelly said. “Am I correct with that statement?”
Douglas agreed with Kelly saying the program was always designed to be a short-term solution.