W.Va. house candidates call for reform in recruiting and retaining correctional officers

Meanwhile, two candidates vying to represent the Southern Regional Jail’s district, 45th, were...
Meanwhile, two candidates vying to represent the Southern Regional Jail’s district, 45th, were getting out front on their search for solutions on Thursday.(New, Taylor, & Associates)
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 2:56 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - On Tuesday, WVVA News shared an internal email including Southern Regional Jail’s upper management team from November of 2021, showing nearly 40 of the jail’s cells without running water.

The email exhibit was part of a federal civil rights suit filed by a number of attorneys on behalf of inmates last Thursday. Leaked internal email from Southern Regional Jail shows nearly 40 cells without water in November (wvva.com)

However, as of Thursday, September 28, there was still no comment from the Governor’s office on the email. The exhibit was accompanied by multiple videos by correctional officers showing inmate cells without water in the Spring.

A report by the Department of Homeland Security in April specifically stated that all of the cells had running water. See report here: Gov. Justice releases results of DHS investigation into conditions at Southern Regional Jail (wv.gov)

Meanwhile, two candidates vying to represent the Southern Regional Jail’s district (45th) are getting out front in their search for solutions ahead of the November election.

Christian Martine received the Democratic nomination for the seat. He recently accompanied attorney Robert Dunlap on a visit to the jail, where he said he spoke to some of the national guard officers providing support. He said some expressed an interest in taking a more active role in addressing inmate problems. Currently, their scope is limited to support functions as indicated by the Governor’s emergency order last August.

“If we don’t take action, our hand is going to be forced. And when it is forced as a state to take action, it’s going to be far more expensive, far more litigation, than if we roll up our sleeves and admit that there are issues and get started right now.”

Eric Brooks is the Republic nominee for the district. A retired and seasoned correctional officer in the federal system, if elected, he hopes to help the state step up pay and benefits for correctional officers. In an area where the regional jail sits less than two miles from the federal prison, he said state officers can leave for the federal system and make as much as $17,000 more.

“You can obviously see the attraction that someone has to leave the state corrections and go to work for the federal system. It’s something we have to deal with that’s unique to Southern West Virginia and our area.”

He also suggests putting pensions of correctional officers on par with law enforcement, so they can receive state income tax exemptions and matching dollars from the state. “They’re the hidden heroes of our community, working behind the fence with these folks who are Pre-trial or once they’ve been sentenced.”

Both candidates believe money spent helping to retain officers could be money saved over time, especially in jails where overcrowding puts inmates and officers at risk.