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Editorial: More staffing at regional jails pays off in many ways

Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:03 AM

The West Virginia Regional Jail Authority's plan to hire more correctional officers is designed to save money, but it also should help provide a safer environment for the overcrowded facilities.

The 10 regional jails, including the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville, regularly take the overflow from the state's prison system, meaning many of the facilities often are housing more inmates than they were designed to hold. In recent years, manning those operations has resulted in routine overtime that costs the authority about $3.6 million a year, the Charleston Gazette reported last week.

Bringing on 100 new full-time workers to fill the overtime gap would cost about $2.4 million, which provides more than $1 million in potential savings.

But it also will help guard against burnout in these already stressful jobs.

"Our people are worn out," Executive Director Joe DeLong told the authority. He estimated many are scheduled for 48 hours or more each week. "They're tired, and they're leaving their guard down."

That is a concern because violence in the regional jails has increased with the overcrowding, including both inmate assaults on correction officers and inmate-on-inmate altercations. Those problems contribute to high turnover.

Long-term, the state will be working to reduce inmate population in the state prisons, thereby relieving some of the pressure on the regional jails. But until then, the regional jails need an adequate staffing plan that keeps correctional officers fresh and alert.

The hiring plan must be approved by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Division of Personnel, but it seems to be a reasonable step.

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