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National Guard no longer staffing state’s jails and prisons, official says

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National Guard no longer staffing state’s jails and prisons, official says

May 21, 2024 | 1:32 pm ET
By Lori Kersey
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National Guard no longer staffing state’s jails and prisons, official says
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William Marshall, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, addresses lawmakers during a legislative interim meeting Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Charleston, W.Va. (Will Price | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

Nearly two years after a state of emergency was issued over staffing levels in West Virginia’s correctional facilities, the West Virginia National Guard is no longer staffing the state’s jails and prisons, lawmakers were told Tuesday. 

The National Guard was out of the jail facilities as of May 10, said William Marshall, commissioner of the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Marshall gave an update Tuesday to members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facilities. 

West Virginia’s jails have long faced problems with understaffing and overcrowding and have some of the highest mortality rates in the country. In August 2022, Gov. Jim Justice issued a state of emergency to address “critical staffing shortages” in the state’s correctional facilities. The emergency declaration allowed the National Guard to support the jails by filling positions at the facilities. 

At the height of the state of emergency, about 350 guard members staffed the prisons and jails, Marshall said. 

In August, lawmakers approved legislation meant to address long-standing issues with the state’s jails and correctional facilities, including raising the pay scale for uniformed correctional officers and offering two bonuses for non-uniformed staff members. 

A bill that would have increased pay for non-uniformed jail staffers was introduced during the regular legislative session but died in committee. 

Marshall said the division now has a 20% staff vacancy rate for non-uniformed workers and 12% for uniformed positions. The division’s retention rate for employees has also improved with the help of the pay increase and the opportunity for on-the-job training, he said.

“I think it has a lot to do with obviously the pay to retain, but also with the ability to have the … difference in training, where they don’t have the obligation to be at the academy like they once were,” Marshall said. He added that the change in training requirements is “not eroding any training that they received. The training is good.”

Marshall said one jail is still overcapacity by about 200 but the division is “working through all those issues.” 

With the National Guard out of the facilities, Williams said he expects the state of emergency to be lifted anytime. 

“We’re working with the governor’s office and making sure that we’re able to continue to stand on our own and with the numbers that we’ve hired, the employees we’ve hired, it looks really good,” Marshall said.

This story has been updated to clarify Marshall’s comments about on-the-job training contributing to increased retention rates.