Randy Yohe Published

Fixing W.Va. Corrections Crisis Has Hints Of Possible Resolution

Gray haired man with glasses in a shiny 3 piece suit speaking about jail officer shortages.
Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, speaks on the corrections crisis.
Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

Legislators say fixing the state’s corrections crisis is not just about money.  And when it does come to money, they say it’s not just about a one-time funding fix. 

Information from the WV Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows there are still more than a thousand open jobs overall. The vacancy rate for corrections officers alone is more than 33 percent. The state’s correctional system consists of 11 prisons, 10 regional jails, 10 juvenile centers and three work-release sites.

In a media briefing earlier this week, Gov. Jim Justice said there may be some steps taken toward resolution next month.    

“It’s likely in August before we can have a special session,” Justice said. “Our folks are meeting constantly with the folks upstairs.”

Folks upstairs means legislators. Rep. David Kelly, R-Tyler, and House Jails and Prisons Committee Chair, said the meetings are constant and moving toward a consensus.

“We’ve been working diligently through the summer,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to come up with a plan that everyone can get behind. I think we’re getting closer and closer, and it would be my hope and my desire that we could present something in our August interim legislative meetings.” 

Kelly said there are issues that need to be resolved besides the low pay scale for West Virginia corrections personnel when compared to border states. 

“There’s a lot of factors that go into these discussions,” Kelly said. “One of the things is, how can we make a pathway forward to try to reduce the overcrowding there?”

Kelly said discussions also include incentives to recruit corrections personnel other than simply using money. He said possible college payments were under discussion, but said there has been no talk about subsidizing childcare.  

Kelly said the often-discussed raises, locality pay and possible bonus amounts have not been agreed upon. He did say however, that they will not be packaged as a one-time funding fix, but designated over perpetuity – as “base building.”        

“If any legislation is passed,” Kelly said. “It will be built into the budget every year thereafter. That’s what I mean by ‘base building’.”

Kelly said keeping 379 national guard members working corrections jobs under an emergency executive order, duties costing taxpayers $20 million a year, can’t last.

“Those numbers are unsustainable,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to find a pathway forward, to turn the light out above the dome, and to get people through the door that can be hired and that we can retain.”

Justice began his correction crisis comments by giving a potential resolution date and expressing hope for a conclusive outcome. He ended those comments with not quite as much optimism..

“There’s no point in calling a special session, spending your money for two or three days or a week or whatever it may be,” Justice said. “To listen to 15 different solutions and go nowhere. We don’t need that. We’ve got to come to an agreement, and we’re working on it.”