CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill Monday that would increase salaries of certain corrections employees.
The bill, which was requested by the governor, provides for a $2,000 increase over the next three years for employees of the Division of Corrections, the Division of Juvenile Services, and the West Virginia Regional Jail Facility Authority.
The committee substitute for House Bill 4142 added language to say correctional officers, correctional trainers, parole officers, or employees at correctional facilities, or complexes, regional jails, detention centers or correctional facilities would be included in this group.
“This is a big emergency that we heard about from the secretary of corrections,” Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said.
In December, Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency because of staff shortages at state correctional facilities. He also signed an executive order giving the secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety the authority to develop and oversee use of divisions including the West Virginia National Guard to maximize staffing at correctional facilities until legislative and operational remedies are implemented.
Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said the goal of the bill is to get salaries at least to the median range of the country.
“The theory is to retain corrections officers and drastically reduce the amount of overtime paid,” Fast said, later adding. “This is something the government needs to spend money on in order to run efficiently.”
In 2016, 448 correctional officers left the Division of Corrections with more than 75 percent leaving within their first two years of service. A report from Military Affairs and Public Safety also cited high turnover rates and that West Virginia ranked among the lowest in correctional officers' starting salary.
Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, voted for the bill but voiced his concern that the bill would not cover corrections officers at the Stevens Correctional Center in Welch.
“It's hard for me to swallow that the corrections officers at Stevens Clinic in McDowell County will receive nothing from this bill,” he said. “They house state prisoners, 440 that the state does not have beds for. They wear the same uniform, have exactly the same training and could walk out of Welch corrections today and walk right into any other facility in any other facility. They wear the same uniform, have the same training but will receive no additional compensation.”
Stevens' officers are not covered by the raise because they are employed by the county, not the state.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
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