Delegation of Lawmakers Tour Prison facility on fact-finding mission

MT. OLIVE, W.Va. — Amidst staffing shortages at state-run correctional facilities throughout West Virginia, lawmakers are in fact-finding mode as they examine all the options available to solve staffing shortages.

Delegate Jordan C. Hill (R – Nicholas, 41), Delegate Tom Fast (R – Fayette, 32), Delegate Kayla Kessinger (R – Fayette, 32), and Senator Greg Boso (R – Nicholas, 11) toured Mt. Olive Correctional Facility as part of that process.

Delegate Hill, during an interview on MetroNews Talkine Monday morning, said that the group came away impressed with the correction’s officers and the facility, but the staffing shortages could be plainly seen throughout the entirety of the tour.

“We did find that the staffing is obviously very bad,” Hill said. “They’re in a bad situation, and the main problem is pay.”

The shortage of correctional officers throughout state-run correctional facilities in West Virginia has created a chorus of voices, opining for higher wages for West Virginia correctional officers. Those voices point to the salaries and conditions that correctional officers face: the lowest comparable salaries in the nation and working weeks that go well over 40 and 50 hours due to the staffing shortages.

“These officers are tired and worn out,” Hill said. “It creates even more stress on them. It’s a stressful situation already being a CO.”

Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein is trying to combat the staffing shortages by removing certain work and experience requirements, but Delegate Hill said that can’t be a long-term solution.

“It’s concerning when you’re pulling 18-year-olds straight out of high school and you’re putting them in this situation,” Hill said. “That’s scary. The real solution would be pay raises. The question is, where is the money going to come from for these pay raises?”

During the tour, Hill said they saw first-hand just how difficult it has been to keep the operation at Mt. Olive running.

“We were touring, and [the Warden] took us out into the large yard where the general [prison] population is, and there were hundreds of inmates walking around with two correction’s officers in the yard,” Hill said.

According to Hill, the situation is no better in Mt. Olive’s maximum-security area of the prison, where the most hardened of violent criminals are under a complete lock down.

“They would normally want to put no less than five [officers], but they are so desperate for staff they are down to three a lot of the time,” he said.

There are 93 vacancies at Mt. Olive. Starting pay is below $23,000, and more than 60 percent of new hires leave before their first year is completed.

“They’re trying their best to do what they can with the staff that they have,” Hill said. “And not to get too graphic, but these inmates are throwing feces and urine on these CO’s. For what? Not a whole lot of money.”