West Virginia Declares State of Emergency Over Jail Staffing

CHARLESTON (AP) — Gov. Jim Justice has declared a state of emergency over short-staffing at jails.

An executive order by Justice authorizes the secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety to use the West Virginia National Guard to help keep watch over juvenile and adult lockups until legislative and operational solutions can be developed and implemented.

The move comes after a Legislative Oversight Committee report in October found that all 10 of the state’s regional jails held more inmates than they were designed to, and more than 300 staffing vacancies combined existed at the facilities.

Justice’s order says excessive amounts of overtime aren’t conducive to safe working practices and environments.

Justice issued a second order allowing correctional employees to carry over into 2018 annual leave that they would otherwise lose. That’s because working overtime prevented them from taking the time off.

The annual leave order applies to workers within the Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Division of Juvenile Services.

According to the Justice administration, the move saves almost 600 hours of leave at the Huttonsville Correctional Center alone. And throughout Juvenile Services, the order will preserve more than 2,000 hours of annual leave.

“The hard working men and women of our correctional agencies have been going above and beyond to protect West Virginians from some of the worst individuals society has to offer,” Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy said in a statement. “Due to their dedicated service and long hours at work, many have been unable to take their earned vacation this year.”

Officials have cited low pay as one of the main reasons for the shortage. The State Personnel Board recently approved a $2,080 salary pay raise for correctional officers, while also boosting starting salaries by $2,080.

The Division of Corrections also has started an advertising campaign to attract new applicants, the legislative report says.