National Guardsmen called to West Virginia to staff prisons
West Virginia National Guardsmen now have a new job: working in jails and prisons. The new gig is due to an order from Governor Jim Justice, who declared a state of emergency to address labor shortages among corrections officers and other facility staff. More than 50 National Guardsmen will fill administrative positions starting this month, after an orientation on Aug. 22.
The dozens of military and airmen are volunteers, according to the National Guard. The deployment to the operational field of prisons in West Virginia is expected to last up to one year, the duration of the state of emergency. It is currently unclear which units the volunteers came from.
According to the governor’s office, the staffing shortage is severe in the eastern panhandle region of the state. Justice cited two examples there, where a regional prison had a staff vacancy rate of 64% and a juvenile center had one at 61%.
“It’s really important that we do this now or we’re going to end up with a bad situation and it could end really badly,” Justice said during an order briefing on Thursday, August 11.
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The deployment order comes after the state legislature failed to approve a locality pay raise for corrections officers. The judge said in a press release that given the staffing problems, he was declaring the urgency of finding a way to address these shortages. However, although justice reports prison officers, guards will not have direct contact with inmates at facilities, according to the National Guard. Instead, they will work in administrative roles, operating security cameras and assisting in command centers.
This is the second time in recent years that the West Virginia National Guard has deployed to jails and jails across the state. In 2018, 109 guards worked at 18 facilities in a similar capacity for six months.
“Our staff has accomplished this mission in the past with success and we have a large group of volunteers who are ready to step up and ease staffing shortages for our state’s correctional officers,” Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, the Adjutant General West Virginia, said in a statement on the deployment: “The most important thing we can do is to ensure that there are appropriate levels of safety and security at state facilities for help ensure the safety of our citizens and the men and women of corrections.”
The move is also part of a larger trend to use troops and veterans to fill labor shortages across the country. The largest area has been health care, with the National Guard deploying around California, New York State and other parts of the country to train and serve as nursing assistants and provide life-saving care. health. The West Virginia National Guard also serves in this capacity, assisting in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Florida, the idea is taken further, with the state’s governor calling for uncertified veterans to fill in as teachers.
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