The Times West Virginian

Local News

July 18, 2014

NC Regional Jail making services better

GREENWOOD — The West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority met with local and county officials at the North Central Regional Jail Thursday to discuss how to control costs and improve services.

The regional meetings have normally been held in Charleston. However, this year the meetings are being held in 10 regional facilities, with five meetings completed, and five more scheduled between now and November.

Authority Executive Director Joe DeLong said that they decided to move the meetings into the communities to be able to address local issues better.

“This was our way to say, forget about all the stuff that’s going on all over West Virginia … Let’s worry about what the issues are at the North Central Regional Jail, and what we can drill into and help and make our services better,” DeLong said. “It’s just a matter of getting out into the communities and letting people participate.”

The meeting started with an overview of the issues by DeLong.

DeLong said that major human resources issues include high employee turnover, excessive overtime costs, high training costs, low morale and burnout among employees, and increased inmate litigation. The issues are interrelated, DeLong said, and they have made strides in addressing these issues over the past year.

Burnout, employee turnover and liability risk all are exacerbated when employees are forced to work too many hours, DeLong said. And with high employee turnover, you get increased training costs to train new correctional officers (COs). DeLong said that 68 percent of first-year COs leave in one year, and 50 percent of COs overall leave.

So DeLong said that they went to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, and, in a time with a state hiring freeze, asked the governor to hear them out on a proposal to cut costs by hiring an additional 150 workers. One reasoning behind the proposal is this: A worker working overtime is paid time-and-a-half, or 150 percent, while a worker with benefits included is being paid only 134 percent, a savings of 16 percent.

DeLong said that they brought the data to back them up, and a gradual rollout of the plan was implemented. Between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2014, there was a total jail payroll decrease of $396,000, with only 75 positions added out of the 150 positions so far.

DeLong said they would also like to increase pay for COs, so that they can increase retention of employees.

“Our pledge is we feel we can better compensate our people at a lower cost,” DeLong said. “And anybody who looks at that and says, ‘Well, that’s not possible,’ probably would have been the same people who would have said that, ‘Well, it’s not possible to add 150 new positions to save money,’ but we did.”

The system also faces technology and infrastructure issues, DeLong said. These issues include aging facilities, reactive approaches to facility maintenance, inadequate use of technology, and an increase in sexual assault claims.

Two improvements were the creation of an asset planning division and a change in how money is distributed to increase accountability. In addition, surveillance cameras and audio recorders have been installed to decrease sexual assault liability. The establishment of an office of internal affairs also means that there will be dedicated staff who specialize in dealing with sexual assault claims, allowing claims to be investigated promptly.

Finally, the system also faces cost control and revenue enhancement issues. To help combat this, the system has begun to aggressively renegotiate contracts to make federal contracts more in line with those the federal system has with other surrounding states.

DeLong said that the changes they have made are data-driven.

“It’s not crazy ideas. It’s data-driven stuff,” DeLong said. “It’s looking at the experts. It’s finding out what information is out there from a national trends standpoint to make us run better. We just need to open up our minds to those better ways, and look at the statistics and follow the statistics on what works.”

The North Central Regional Jail serves Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Pleasants, Ritchie, Tyler, Wirt and Wood counties, and is located in Greenwood in Doddridge County. It was built in 2001 for $24.4 million.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.

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