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Plan to hire 100 at regional jails endorsed

Jan. 25, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

CHARLESTON -- Western Regional Jail could gain anywhere between 10 and 14 new full-time employees if a proposal from the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority is approved.

Members of the state Regional Jail Authority endorsed a plan on Thursday to hire 100 new full-time employees, which would have to be approved by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Division of Personnel.

Executive Director Joe DeLong told the authority that hiring the workers at the 10 regional jails will cost about $2.4 million a year in salaries but should reduce the authority's overtime costs by at least $3.6 million annually.

Employee compensation in the 2011-12 budget year totaled $31.8 million. About $7.2 million of that was for overtime pay.

"We pay out enough money in overtime that it equates with 185 full-time positions," DeLong said.

DeLong said original staffing plans failed to account for employees being off for holidays, vacation days or sick leave. That means 648 current correctional officers have to make up the difference, often with mandatory overtime.

"They're getting their schedules, and they're already scheduled for 48- or 48-plus hours a week," DeLong said.

The understaffing contributes to burnout and high turnover rates. And the long hours for existing employees leads to liability suits and Workers' Compensation claims for incidents and accidents, he said.

"Our people are worn out. They're tired, and they're leaving their guard down," DeLong said.

According to The Associated Press, DeLong said finding applicants for the new positions shouldn't be a problem at most of the 10 regional jails. The exceptions are at the Tygarts Valley Regional Jail in Barbour County and the North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County.

Vivian Parsons of the state County Commissioners' Association and Patti Hamilton of the state Association of Counties said their members supported the proposal.

"While it seems a little counterintuitive that adding employees would bring a cost savings, we have discussed it enough to be quite comfortable with it," Hamilton said.

The regional jails are housing at least 1,700 more inmates than they were designed for because they are handling overflow from state prisons. While regional jails remain overcrowded, staffing those jails requires a certain minimum number of workers, regardless of the number of inmates, DeLong said.

"If you have one person in the tower, whether they're watching 130 people or 170 people, you still need that person in the tower," he said.