Governor calls an end to emergency declaration in West Virginia jails system

Gov. Jim Justice on Friday declared an end to an emergency declaration he put in place almost two years ago over staffing in West Virginia’s jails and prisons.

“Today’s a huge day in West Virginia,” Justice said during a news briefing, praising National Guard efforts to perform supporting roles in the jails system.

Justice issued a state of emergency Aug. 11, 2022, to address critical staffing shortages at correctional facilities in West Virginia. The declaration allowed facilities to bring in National Guard personnel. The governor Friday said 731 members of the National Guard provided support.

Justice touted recruitment and retention of corrections personnel. He described 238 graduates from corrections training since the start of the year.

“There has been recruitment efforts. There has been pay raises. And at the end of the day we have made real progress,” Justice said.

State Corrections Commissioner Billy Marshall told lawmakers at interim meetings earlier this week that all National Guard personnel are finally drawn down from jails and prisons.

“It’s bittersweet because they’re fantastic and they did an amazing job for us as you all know. They brought a level of professionalism and regiment that was needed,” Marshall said, adding that about 30 members of the National Guard have come on board the corrections system as full-time officers.

“I think it says a lot about what they’ve seen. They’ve had the opportunity to work in our facilities, and they’ve elected to stay and continue our mission with us. I think that’s a really great testament to what we’re doing.”

He said the vacancy rate among uniformed corrections officers is down to 12% while the vacancy rate among non-uniformed personnel is 20%.

“So those numbers are far greater than what we expected this early, but much better than they were in the past.”

Bill Crane, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, spoke at the briefing with the governor and praised members who took part in supporting the jails.

“I’m just proud of the team and the effort that went into this mission. Every mission that we’re asked to do, our team always steps up to the plate and just absolutely knocks it out of the park. I couldn’t be more proud of our service members,” Crane said.

“Working with Commissioner Marshall, he has done a phenomenal job. He did a great job with the team. Could not be prouder of how well they took care of our members while they were in the correctional facilities and helping with that mission.”