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State prisons and Valley jails facing staffing shortages

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 5:14 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - The Virginia Department of Corrections is experiencing what they are calling “the worst staffing crisis the department has ever seen.”

The DOC is facing a shortage of more than 1,600 correctional officers. Jails in the Valley are dealing with a similar situation.

“We’re having, I think, the same challenges other employers in the Valley, recruiting qualified and staff that are willing to come to work,” Superintendent of Middle River Regional Jail Jeffery Newton said.

MRRJ is allowed to have 160 jail officers, but right now, 33 of those positions are vacant.

Newton says the shortage of staff has led to more overtime being worked and training backlogs.

“This month alone, we’ve received zero applications to be a jail officer. A couple three years ago, we’d get 15, 20, 30 fairly routinely,” Newton said.

But with COVID-19 more people have had concerns with working in a congregate setting.

“But we spend a lot of effort training folks in how to work in this environment and how to be safe,” Newton said.

The coronavirus is also making daily operations even more challenging.

“We’ve had to implement different protocols for processing people into the facility, which creates some population management issues for us as we do our best to keep the virus out of the facility,” Newton said.

Right now, the MRRJ has around 700 people in the facility.

“We don’t control who comes to jail, how many folks come to jail. We set our budget this year that we would house no more than 750 folks, and we’ve been able to do that since April,” Newton said.

He says at this point, they are still able to accomplish what they need to on a daily basis, despite being hopeful to hire more employees.

The DOC is looking to increase starting salaries by 25 percent to recruit and retain more officers, but Middle River isn’t able to do that right now.

“We’re working with the state and local jurisdictions about that. We don’t really have a plan for the future. I think we offer currently what I would consider a competitive wage,” Newton said.

He adds they invest many hours every year in training staff and providing them with what they need to succeed. He also says that working as a jail officer is a unique experience.

Anyone that is interested in a position at MRRJ is able to tour the facility to get a better idea of all the jail offers.

You can get more information by going to their website.

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