Avoid Catastrophe At Prisons, Jails

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has proposed a 1 percent pay raise for all state employees. That may not be enough to forestall a catastrophe at one or more state prisons or jails.

As we have reported, the shortage of corrections officers for state prisons and regional jails has grown so serious that Justice has authorized use of the National Guard, if that proves necessary. Some employees whose work normally does not include guarding prisoners have been told that may be added to their duties.

Pay is the problem. West Virginia simply does not pay enough to compete with the private sector, the federal government or other states.

Last summer, state officials authorized a $1,000-per-year raise for corrections officers. That took the starting pay to $24,664. We have not heard that the raise made much difference in attracting and retaining guards.

How money was found to fund the raise makes the problem clear: State officials used cash that had been budgeted for pay but was not being used — because of the enormous number of corrections officer vacancies. About one-fourth of the positions were not filled just a few months ago.

Not having an adequate staff of corrections officers risks a full-blown disaster, perhaps a death or a riot.

Politics seems to prompt state officials to provide across-the-board pay increases to state employees. But this is a situation in which prisons and jails simply must pay enough to ensure staffing is adequate.

Legislators should take another look at the governor’s proposal. If guards need to get more than other state employees, so be it.