CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia corrections officials and lawmakers are looking at raising salaries in hopes of filling vacancies in regional jails.

State Regional Jail Authority executive director David Farmer told a legislative corrections oversight committee on Sunday that raising regional jail salaries “has to be a positive,” The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports . Farmer told the interim committee that $6.9 million in overtime was paid during the 2016-17 budget year, as officers had to work mandatory overtime to make up for vacancies on staff.

Regional jails currently have more than 200 unfilled correctional officer positions.

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott said he estimates the $6.9 million would cover benefits for 172 officers and starting salaries of $30,000. That’s an increase of more than $5,000 over the current starting salary.

There’s a 35 percent turnover rate for officers, corrections division acting deputy commissioner Paul Simmons said. By comparison, Delaware has a less than 8 percent turnover rate with a $31,580 starting salary, and Massachusetts, with the nation’s highest starting salary of $51,365, has a rate of about 4 percent.

Delegate Shirley Love asked Farmer if he believes shortages and overtime contributed to an inmate’s Oct. 25 escape from South Central Regional Jail. Farmer said the state police investigation is ongoing, but with some inexperienced staff working 16-hour shifts, it “would have to have some effect.” Authorities said on Friday that three South Central jail employees were charged with permitting escape, a misdemeanor.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.