They’re asked to protect us from some of Virginia’s most violent offenders, yet 8News has uncovered the state is forcing corrections officers to travel hours on the road, leave their families weeks at a time and live inside tiny trailers.
8News got a look at those trailers, which sit on the front of the property at Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville. We’re told they house 12 to 30 corrections officer who have to share one small bathroom with a 4 x 4 shower.
“The trailers look pretty small from here, I don’t know what they are inside,” said Lillie Arbogast, who lives across the street from the prison. She says another trailer for the corrections officers to sleep in was recently added.
“About a month or two they put the other one in front,” Arbogast explained.
Since 8News first reported on high turnover and low staffing at Virginia prisons, putting public safety at risk, 8News been flooded with emails, letters and calls from stressed and worried corrections officers.
Some writing in emails the situation is “a ticking time bomb.”
One of those insiders revealed the Augusta prison is “96 officers short.” To cover that critical shortage and keep the surrounding community safe, officers from the Marion Correctional Center, which is also short-staffed, are being pulled to work at Augusta.
The Department Of Corrections admits some officers are traveling 3 to 4 and half hours from their homes. They are forced to live in the trailers, away from their families for weeks at a time.
“I wouldn’t want it, I know they miss their family, ” Arbogast said.
Another officer writes, “The trailer was so disgusting.”
Photos from the inside shared with 8News show the floor of that tiny bathroom is nothing but plywood.
We shared images of the trailers that the Department of Corrections describes to 8News as “new barracks” with Donald Baylor, the Director of Organizing for the Corrections Officer’s Union.
“They’re trailers, they’re not barracks. I really wouldn’t want to go there and spend two days in that environment,” he says looking at the photos.
Baylor says these officers are being deployed to prisons they’re unfamiliar with. He says it’s not safe, it’s not what they signed up for and it creates a real challenge for these men and woman who have to suddenly leave their families.
“What if your kids that are in school and you have to provide daycare now for those kids? These are things that these people have to face and it does present many hardships for them,” says Baylor.
The Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke once again declined our requests for an interview.
DOC spokesperson Lisa Kinney tells us “We are working on a number of strategies. They include approving early transfers to Augusta from other facilities and we are offering housing for staff.”
But their efforts might not be fast enough. Another insider tells 8News, “we had three quit just this week because of the stress and having to be away from their families.”
“That explains why you have people looking for the first exit,” Baylor said.
Ultimately, money is a big part of the problem. Despite a recently approved raise by the General Assembly, 8News found the salary for corrections officers in Virginia is still well below the national average.
“When you are losing anywhere from 1,000 to 1,400 hundred people a year that you spent all this money on training, then you have to realize it maybe it’s time to make a long-term investment,” adds Baylor.
If not, the officers who wrote us fears, “it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt or killed.”
8News has reached out to the Governor’s Office and to Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran multiple times, we have yet to get a response.