CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Plainclothes staff members at Huttonsville Correctional Center are now required to work as correctional officers once a week to alleviate continuing guard shortages.
It's a temporary fix as prison officials struggle to fill 35 to 37 vacancies at the medium-security prison in Randolph County, state Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said Tuesday.
Correctional officer shortages, a high turnover rate and mandatory overtime are at "crisis levels" within state prisons, Rubenstein said. Low pay is the biggest contributing factor to these shortages, he said. West Virginia has the 49th-lowest starting salary for full-time correctional officers, at just $22,584.
The shortages -- coupled with chronic inmate overcrowding -- create a safety threat for tired and overworked correctional officers, Rubenstein told a legislative interim committee last week.
Within the past six months, Huttonsville has experienced a dramatic drop in correctional officers -- much larger than shortages in the past, Rubenstein said. Huttonsville is one of the largest employers in Randolph County, but the generations of staff that once populated the prison have left the region for better economic opportunities, he said.
Rubenstein said he sees similar trends in other prisons like Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County, where correctional officers are subject to mandatory 60-hour workweeks.
Huttonsville Correctional Complex can use as many as 383 employees, and is built to house 1,138 inmates.
Corrections officials are on a "recruiting mission" for Huttonsville, but it hasn't been enough to fill the vacancies, Rubenstein said. Plainclothes units of 45 employees are required to work as uniformed correctional officers until the problem is resolved.