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Virginia Department of Corrections chief paints dire picture of prison staffing

The perimeter of Greensville Correctional Center, which is protected by multiple layers of...
The perimeter of Greensville Correctional Center, which is protected by multiple layers of fencing, razor wire and guard towers.(Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 7:58 AM EDT
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The head of Virginia’s prison system, Harold Clarke, told lawmakers Wednesday his department is short 1,500 correctional officers, leaving essential posts unmanned and forcing remaining workers to work double shifts and come in on days off.

“We’re doing our best to manage a dire situation,” Clarke said.

His comments came during the inaugural meeting of a legislative committee tasked with studying staffing and employment conditions within the Department of Corrections, which, with more than 10,000 workers, employs more people than any other state agency.

Clarke blamed the low pay offered by the department for the hiring difficulties, a problem he said is largely concentrated in facilities in urban areas where there is more competition for employees.

The 1,500 vacancies among guards represent a quarter of all correctional officer positions — an increase of 43 percent since last summer, according to the department. Meanwhile, the turnover rate has steadily increased to 25 percent every year, while turnover rates at other state agencies have remained relatively consistent at 15 percent.

Clarke said the staffing shortfalls have not risen to the level of needing to shut down facilities or stop accepting inmates but said the situation has made facilities less safe because the remaining staff works longer hours, impairing performance and lowering attention rates.

Even with drafting, in which corrections officers are mandated to stay and work a second shift and come in on days off, 404 posts the department considers essential remain unfilled every day, Clarke said. He said that amounts to 17 percent of positions.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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