Bill Would Raise West Virginia Corrections Officer Pay $6,000

WHEELING — Corrections officers at West Virginia’s state prisons could be earning $6,000 more annually in three years under legislation currently before state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 262, introduced at the request of Gov. Jim Justice, would increase the pay for corrections officers $2,000 a year over each of the next three years, for a total of $6,000. The first pay raise would go into effect on July 1 of this year; the second, July 1, 2019; and the third, on July 1, 2020.

The starting salary for a corrections officer remains at about $24,000, even after a pay raise of $2,080 last September, according to information provided by the State Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Under the legislation, funding for the new pay rates for employees of the Division of Corrections and Division of Juvenile Services would come from the state’s general revenue fund, while the money for the raises for those employed by the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority would be funded from a special revenue fund and not need approval from the Legislature.

SB 262 is presently before the Senate Government Organization Committee, and would next go to the Senate Finance Committee before a full vote on the Senate floor.

Last month, Justice issued an executive order authorizing the secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety to use the West Virginia National Guard, if needed, in the state’s prisons because of employee understaffing.

A legislative report in October found all 10 of the state’s regional jails held more inmates than their designated capacity, and more than 300 staffing vacancies combined existed at the facilities.

It noted that federal poverty guidelines for a family of four have steadily increased since 2010, raising from $22,050 to $24,300 in 2016.

Meanwhile, the starting salaries for corrections officers in West Virginia remained at $22,584 from 2009 until the raise last September.

“From rescuing their hard-earned annual leave to issuing the executive order to bolster staffing, Gov. Justice has shown tremendous support for the men and women who operate West Virginia’s correctional facilities,” said Jeff Sandy, secretary of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. “Gov. Justice’s correctional pay raise plan represents a significant game-changer for West Virginia’s public safety system.”

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said the legislation represents “a step in the right direction.”

“Is it enough? I don’t know if I’m the one to tell you,” he said of the proposed pay raises. “We’ll have to do some research, but it’s a good start.”

Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall, said he’s not sure if the pay increase will help in attracting new and retaining current corrections officers.

But he has been speaking with officials at regional jails and the state Department of Corrections, as well as corrections officers. Canestraro said the consensus is the raise will help.

“I know the raise is for $2,000 per year for the next three years, and that’s probably going to work out,” he said. “I would rather the $6,000 be up front, but even if it’s over time that’s an improvement.”


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