RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Corrections officers have had an ominous warning for the public: Our state prisons are facing a critical staffing shortage.
8News has spent more than year exposing high turnover and low staffing at Virginia prisons. Lawmakers vowed to do something.
“We certainly have to do something to address this problem,” Delegate Roslyn Tyler of the 75th District told 8News back in June of 2018.
“Right now, the General Assembly needs to be doing more,” Delegate Michael Mullin of the 93rd District added.
The General Assembly session has come and gone, however, and there’s been little action when it comes to beefing up prison staffing.Why should we all care? Corrections officers protect us from some of the state’s most violent criminals, but they’ve been telling 8News they are struggling to keep our prisons secure.
“Night shift has only one officer working,” wrote one corrections officer in an email to 8News.
Another anonymously told us this, “They are hiring many undesirable individuals just to have a warm body on post.”
Another writes, “we officers do not have a voice in the General Assembly.”
Donald Baylor, the Director of Organizing for the Corrections Officer’s Association, has tried to be their voice but says it has been rough. Officers have been attacked, counselor’s assaulted and forced to work long hours.
“We are disappointed, but we know the fight goes on,” he told 8News about the lack of legislation passed during the General Assembly.
Corrections officers did get a 2 percent raise like all state employees, but it still leaves them far short of the national average for those who put their lives on the line.A bill that would have given corrections officer’s protection under the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Act failed.
“Basically, the only uniformed public safety group that has yet to be given any protections under worker’s comp, is the corrections officer,” Baylor said. “Mind you, that this is a person who works in one of the most hostile and dangerous environments in the Commonwealth.”
“They feel like the red-headed stepchild of law enforcement.” — Donald Baylor
Another measure that would have called for a study into staffing and compensation at the DOC was tabled. Baylor shared with 8News the rising number of separations from DOC over the last few years.
“In 2013, it was 1077, in 2014, 1236, in 2015, 1,398,” he explained.
However, those numbers shouldn’t be news to lawmakers. Baylor has been sounding the alarm for years and 8News uncovered a presentation dating back to 2014 that warned lawmakers of the high turnover.
“Personally, I am not one that feels that another study is needed. We should be at the point now where we know it’s time to do the right thing,” Baylor said.8News has found failing to act could be costing the state more in the long run.
Data from the Department of Corrections shows last year 1,587 employees — mostly corrections officers — left the DOC.
The cost to recruit each officer is $216.79. The cost to train each officer more than $18,831. The loss to the department when those officers walked away was $30,228,842.73.
“It is it’s a lot of money that we seem to be just throwing out the window,” Baylor said.
Delegate Mike Mullin tells 8News he had high hopes this past session. He says the GA’s first priority is protecting Virginians. He says corrections officers keep us safe and are not being compensated properly.
“That is dangerous,” he said. “We in the General Assembly need to get our act together.”