(WRIC) — Dozens of corrections officers painted a frightening picture of the inside of Virginia’s state prisons during a town hall in Emporia Thursday night. They spoke directly to Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland about staffing, security concerns and low pay.

8News has exposed that corrections officers are understaffed and underpaid for more than a year now.

A counselor at a prison told the secretary that staffing is so short, sometimes there’s just one person manning a post at night. Michael Gary, a retired corrections officer said, “The only way we are honestly getting this job done right now is we are cutting corners.”

Several corrections officers warned the staffing shortage is a danger, not only to them but to all of Virginians.

David Beckles, a corrections officer shared this scenario, “If you have no staff to give a lunch break, who is going to come to your rescue when there is an altercation or a counselor gets assault or two inmates are fighting, that’s a problem.”

“We’ve gotten lucky in Virginia,” said corrections officer David Matthews.

The staffing shortages often mean working overtime but the officers claimed they’re not getting paid for it. They also told the secretary they are often on-call without any standby pay.

The Commonwealth’s corrections officers keep watch over some of Virginia’s most violent criminals, yet the average starting salary for a corrections officer is nearly 32.6% less than the starting salary for a Virginia state trooper. Data shared in the town hall shows the average starting salary for a corrections officer in Virginia is $38,062 but the average starting salary for someone in law enforcement is $40,742.

“Not to taking anything away from law enforcement but we need to be on equal par with them because we put our life on the line every day,” said retired corrections officer Michael Gary.

Secretary Moran told the town hall crowd the officers do deserve more.

“We need to pay correctional officers more, we need more correctional officers.”

However he also shared what’s cutting into their pay- the rising cost of health care for an aging prison population.

“$200 million we are spending on health care now,” said Moran.

Ultimately, more pay for the officer it comes down to budget and the General Assembly’s next session. The GA would have to approve raises.