Members of the House of Delegates amended a bill Thursday to include a $10,000 pay increase to help combat a corrections officer shortage they say has reached critical levels.
The House Committee on Jails and Prisons added the pay increase to House Bill 2879, which now awaits approval by the House Finance Committee before advancing to the House floor.
The bill originally called for and still contains a $6,000 retention bonus to all Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees who have worked for the department for three years. New hires and those with less than three years would receive $3,000 and would get an additional $3,000 once they reach the three-year plateau, according to the bill.
The fiscal impact of the bonus would be over $15 million, according to a fiscal note accompanying the bill.
The $10,000 raise for corrections officers would be spread out over three years — $5,000 in 2023 and $2,500 a year the next two years. The bill would raise the starting salary for an entry level officer to $43,000, once fully implemented. A fiscal note for the pay raise has not yet been developed.
Corrections officers last received a pay increase in 2018, a raise that provided $2,000 a year for three years. Delegate Eric Brooks, R-Raleigh, joined others on the committee in asking the Legislature as a whole to adopt the amended bill.
“This is going to move out of this committee, but there’s more work to be done to get this across the finish line. I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to do that,” Brooks said.
The bill was drafted in response to recruitment and retention problems in Corrections, where a staffing shortage prompted Gov. Jim Justice to declare a state of emergency and activate the West Virginia National Guard to fill vacancies.
The cost to employ the National Guard through December was $3.5 million, with a total cost of $17 million estimated for the fiscal year, Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner William Marshall said.
The department has spent $22 million on overtime through the past fiscal year, he said.
Committee Vice Chairman John Paul Hott, R-Grant, asked how the division is handling staffing shortages in day-to-day operations.
“What would you have to do if shift was over and there wasn’t adequate staffing for the next shift, and it was time for officers to leave? How would that be handled?” Hott asked.
That happens often, Marshall said.
“If we don’t get enough volunteers to cover that shift, then it ends up being a ‘volun-told’ situation. That makes for a disgruntled and a cranky employee,” Marshall said.
Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said the bill should have included a contract requirement to prevent the state from losing money on training officers who then leave for higher-paying positions elsewhere.
“I know we have this problem of retaining our correctional officers. We spend lots of time and money to train them, and then they’ll go work for the feds or go to another state,” Fast said.
Marshall said the state invests about $15,000 in the training of each corrections officer.
“That’s expensive. And it’s like a door. They just keep going right through it,” Fast said.
Marshall said the division recently began issuing a $1,000 sign-on bonus that can be withheld from the employee’s final paycheck if they don’t work at least one year. The bonus has been paid about 45 times. The division hasn’t had to ask anyone for the money back yet, he said.
Marshall said he was uncertain if such a policy could be applied to a larger amount. He questioned if it would be possible to recoup money when someone broke their contract.
“I don’t know how much of a figure it would have to be to take it off,” he said. “And I don’t know how much the cost would be for legal fees to go after someone. We sometimes have difficulty getting their uniforms back, so there are challenges that exist with those things.”