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Regional Jail Authority wants to hire 100 new full-time workers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Regional Jail Authority members Thursday endorsed a novel plan for reducing personnel costs -- by hiring 100 new full-time employees.

Salaries for 100 new correctional officers for the state's 10 regional jails will cost about $2.4 million annually, but should reduce the authority's overtime pay costs by at least $3.6 million a year, executive director Joe DeLong told the authority.

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

In the 2011-12 budget year, Regional Jails had a total of $31.8 million in employee compensation, but nearly one-fourth of that amount, $7.2 million, was for overtime pay, usually at time-and-a-half.

DeLong said that when staffing plans were originally designed for the regional jails, the plans failed to account for employees being off for holidays, vacation days or sick leave.

That means the current 648 correctional officers have to make up the difference through overtime -- often with mandatory overtime built into their schedules.

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

Besides the overtime costs, the understaffing contributes to burnout and high turnover rates, and to liability suits and Workers' Compensation claims for incidents and accidents that occur because employees are overworked, he said.

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

Because of the overall cost savings, the additional employees will not affect the per-diem rates counties pay to house prisoners, and ultimately could reduce those rates, he said.

Vivian Parsons, with the state County Commissioners' Association, and Patti Hamilton, with the state Association of Counties, said their members support 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 staffing plan would not be affected if the recommendations of the Council of State Government's Justice Center, which are meant to alleviate prison overcrowding, are adopted and successful in reducing the number of state prison inmates, DeLong said.

All of the overcrowding in the regional jails is attributable to Division of Corrections inmates being housed in the jails because state prisons are full, he said. If the recommendations are successful, the jail populations will drop back to the original design capacities for the facilities.

"If the Council of State Governments' work is all enacted, and is highly successful ... it's only going to relieve the overpopulation of inmates that weren't intended to be here," he said.

The jails require a certain minimum staffing level, 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.

The hiring plan will have to be signed off on by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Division of Personnel.

DeLong said there should be no problem finding applicants to fill the new positions at most of the regional jails.

"In eight of our 10 facilities, we are not having problems getting applicants," he said.

He said the exceptions are at two of the more rural locations, the Tygarts Valley Regional Jail in Barbour County and the North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County.

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


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