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Corrections official corrects himself

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Regional Jail Authority Executive Director Joe DeLong told a legislative interim committee Monday that the authority is not obligated under its regulations to provide 15 days of severance pay to employees terminated for gross misconduct.

"My initial statement that it is required by rule that these people be paid their severance is not accurate," DeLong told a legislative oversight committee on regional jails and corrections.

The policy was debated last month, after the authority provided William Roy Wilson, a correctional officer at the Southern Regional Jail, with $3,100 in severance pay -- after he was arrested for felony charges of soliciting sexual favors from female inmates.

In October, DeLong told lawmakers that he was required under authority regulations to provide the severance pay, and said he was looking at revising the legislative rule.

DeLong said Monday that further review of the rules and regulations shows that severance pay can be withheld for employees terminated for gross misconduct.

"The rule, as we delved into it more closely, does define acts of gross misconduct that a person does not need to be paid the severance," he said.

DeLong said he has been looking at modifying the regulation so that employees suspended during internal investigations could continue to draw pay for up to 15 days, which they would receive eventually as severance pay if they are terminated.

He said correctional officers are frequently cleared of the allegations made against them but face financial hardship by being suspended without pay for two weeks or more.

"It would take care of those employees who are victims of false allegations," DeLong said.

Also Monday, DeLong confirmed that about 20 employees at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville currently are suspended without pay, including 15 who are under investigation for instances of excessive use of force against inmates.

In one case, excessive force resulted in the hospitalization of an inmate, he said.

Not all of the suspended employees committed acts of violence against inmates, he said. Others participated in cover-ups under what DeLong called the "buddy system" at the regional jail: "See nothing. Report nothing. Do nothing."

"That culture concerns me more than the use of force," DeLong told legislators.

DeLong said the authority hopes to install surveillance cameras to monitor activity in the regional jails, but said the project will be expensive.

He said bids to install the first surveillance system, at Tygart Valley Regional Jail, came in at about $500,000.

"It is going to be a significant investment on the front end," he said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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