The Cost of Prison Overcrowding: Bad for Budgets and Dangerous for Correctional Officers

Special to HuntingtonNews.Net

The West Virginia legislature drafted the “Public Safety and Offender Accountability” Act last week, which proposes reforms to the criminal justice system to ease the growing problem of prison overcrowding.  The issue of state prison overcrowding has been a major concern for West Virginia correctional employees whose safety and wellbeing is compromised by working in the dangerously overcrowded conditions.

 

The tremendous cost of overflowing prisons to taxpayers and society, were the impetus behind the legislature drafting a bill to address the problem.  CWA Local 2055, representing state correctional workers, is advocating the legislature consider the dangerous and stressful work environment overcrowded prisons create for correctional officers.

 

“The fact is overcrowded prisons make work unnecessarily dangerous and stressful for our state’s hardworking correctional officers,” said Elaine Harris, CWA International Representative. “Besides lowering the inmate population, increasing the number of correctional officers could go a long way to improve the overall situation.”

 

As of 2011 the state held 6,700 inmates in facilities built to hold 5,100.  The numbers are more alarming when coupled with the fact West Virginia has the second fastest growing inmate population in the nation.

 “The fact is more correctional officers are needed in West Virginia,” said Harris. “The only way West Virginia can attract and keep the employees necessary for secure and safe prisons is to increase the starting pay to help with recruitment and fund pay increases to retain the loyal, trained employees who dedicate themselves to a career in corrections.”

West Virginia correctional facilities are plagued by high-turnover rates among correctional officers.  Nearly all the correctional officers in West Virginia who quit their jobs in 2011 cited grueling overtime as a factor in their decision to leave according state officials. 

“It’s a cyclical problem, because starting pay is low it’s hard to recruit qualified new hires, that causes constant staffing shortages, due staffing shortages overtime is a constantly demanded of staff, the long hours and dangerous conditions result in officers getting burned out and then quitting or taking jobs with better pay and hours, which leads to more staff shortages,” said Harris. “Until we can improve conditions and pay we aren’t going to be able to break this cycle.”

Harris is working with legislators for solutions to overcrowded prisons and the correctional officer shortages at the current legislative session. 

The “Public Safety and Offender Accountability Act” has been sent to the House Judiciary committee for review. 

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