Virginia jail employee vacancies, turnover causes employees security, recidivism issues | State

(The Center Square) – Vacancies and high turnover rates in Virginia correctional facilities, which have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, are raising concerns about worker safety and the ability to effectively manage day-to-day operations.

Virginia has consistently maintained one of the lowest relapse rates in the country, but staff shortages and inexperienced staff could compromise some of that success. Harold Clarke, the Virginia Justice Department director, told lawmakers during a joint committee meeting that bottlenecks could force the department to restrict certain activities, operations, and programs such as training, personal property handling, visits, and mail.

“Vacancy rates can affect our ability to provide safe environments in our prisons and safe communities,” said Clarke. “Without trained staff, it is not possible to safely offer programs and services related to relapse reduction.”

The department has 12,864 funded positions, of which only 10,492 are filled, which corresponds to a job rate of almost 18.5%. Many of these vacancies are for key positions such as law enforcement officers and supervisors who have filled 5,726 positions out of 7,367 funded positions, an vacancy rate of more than 22%.

In addition, many workers lack experience. In 2021, a quarter of security staff had been with the state for two years or less, and nearly 50% of security staff had been with the state for less than five years. In almost a third of the facilities, half of the employees had between zero and five years of experience.

Clarke noted that in addition to the risks to service delivery, the turnover rates of the two facilities with the most serious assaults on staff had a turnover rate of around 50%, and many of the assaults took place on inexperienced workers and in facilities with increasing vacancies . He said vacancies create a dangerous cycle that includes decreased performance, decreased alertness, more mistakes, long hours, and more accidents.

The fluctuation rates for corrections have been consistently higher for years compared to other government agencies, but have worsened during the pandemic. In fiscal 2021, the department had a turnover rate of 25.8% compared to other government agencies that had a turnover rate of 15.7%.

In 2020, employee compensation claims increased 58% as the number of vacancies increased and the department also saw higher rates of sick leave, higher health care costs and higher absenteeism. This led the department to increase their overtime, which may have contributed to the high turnover rate.

Clarke suggested that the state make some changes to starting salaries to improve vacancy and turnover rates, such as increasing the starting salaries for positions. He proposed increasing the starting salaries for law enforcement officers from about $ 35,000 to about $ 44,000, along with increases for other positions. He also suggested more opportunities for salary increases for those already employed.

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