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Correctional officials discussed ways to increase pay as a means to reduce turnover and the correlation between higher salary and lower turnover rates

Andrea Lannom
The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.

CHARLESTON — Because salaries are not competitive with surrounding states and in-state Federal Bureau of Prisons, the staff turnover rate is on the rise in the state Division of Corrections, Division of Juvenile Services and Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.

At a legislative interim session on Sunday in Charleston, correctional officials discussed ways to increase pay as a means to reduce turnover and the correlation between higher salary and lower turnover rates.

According to a report from the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, turnover rates increased in the three agencies from 29.2 percent in 2014 to 32.2 percent in 2016.

At the time of the report, West Virginia ranked lowest in the nation for correctional officers’ starting salary ($22,584). In July, the State Personnel Board voted to approve a $1-an-hour pay increase for state correctional officers amounting to $2,080. This applied to all seven classifications of correctional officers as well as new hires.

Officials said although West Virginia may not be the lowest in the nation after that increase, it’s still low on the list.

Paul Simmons, acting deputy commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Corrections, said West Virginia’s starting salary in 2016 was $22,584 and had a 35 percent turnover rate. The Delaware Department of Corrections, he said, has a starting salary of $31,586 and had a turnover rate of 7.3 percent.

“There is a correlation between the amount of money starting out and retention,” Simmons said. “As you go up the scale, the higher the salary, the lower the turnover rate.”

David Farmer, executive director of the state Regional Jails and Correctional Facility Authority, listed starting salaries for correctional officers in surrounding areas, which were higher than West Virginia’s. States’ starting salaries ranged from $30,000 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to $49,000 in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

Farmer said he is in the process of getting data from other states. He said increasing pay could help retain people with experience or those who leave for federal jobs. The agency is trying to get data for young officer retention.

Officials also discussed overtime pay. For 2016, overtime costs for the three correctional agencies totaled more than $13 million, according to the report.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said in his review of the overtime figures, assuming agencies paid $30,000 a year salary with 33 percent for benefits, agencies would have been able to retain 145 people in 2016 and 172 people in 2017.

“This would cut into vacancies substantially,” Shott said. “We’re not going to get away with overtime. That’s optimistic, but if we’re paying a more competitive rate, odds are we would cut into the overtime figure and more closely staff where we need to staff in those facilities.”

For 2016, 448 correctional officers left the Division of Corrections. More than 75 percent left within their first two years of service and more than 66 percent left within their first year, the report said.

The total number of vacancies for all Division of Corrections staff increased by 55 percent from 2013 to 2016 increasing from 168 to 261.

William Marshall, director of the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services, said the agency is short an average of seven correctional officers at the facilities. He said the average hiring is about 15 officers per month. However, he said they are losing about five officers a month.

“The effect it has on us is we have to lock down facilities,” Marshall said. “We have to lock residents in their rooms because we don’t have enough staff to provide for a safe facility. When we do that, it erodes the fabric of our mission to try to provide treatment and education because we don’t have enough officers to go to different parts of the building.”

Farmer said the agency has developed a pay plan that goes through automatic pay increases. Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, co-chair of the committee, asked agencies to put together a pay scale proposal from the Division of Corrections with rank and longevity along with what it would cost the Legislature to fund. He also asked the agency to create a five-year projection for what it costs to run the organization.

He said he wants these numbers before the legislative session so the committee can work with the joint finance committee to see how to fund pay increases.


©2017 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)