West Virginia National Guard completes support role at corrections facilities
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia National Guard has completed its support operations in West Virginia correctional facilities, officials said.
The guard was dispatched in December by Gov. Jim Justice to support staff in the prisons. The mission was concluded Tuesday.
More than 100 national guardsmen from the Army National Guard and Air National Guard assisted at 18 prisons, regional jails and juvenile facilities in Justice’s executive order between Feb. 8 and Tuesday.
Service ribbons were awarded on Tuesday at the National Guard headquarters in Charleston. Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy, of Wood County, and representatives of the Corrections and Rehabilitation leadership team presented a plaque as thanks for the assistance.
The plaque features a former prison door key from the Mount Olive Correctional Complex. Personnel also received department Freedom Pins from Sandy.
Guardsmen provided relief for correctional staff who had been working mandatory overtime and back-to-back shifts because of vacancies.
Assistant Commissioner David Farmer recounted how one officer had missed his child’s first three birthdays because of his schedule. Thanks to the boost to staffing, he was able to schedule the fourth birthday off.
“That’s what moves me, what this did for our men and women in the field,” Farmer said. “You had a direct effect on people’s lives at home.”
Leadership at the correctional facilities had repeatedly praised the participating soldiers and airmen for their work ethic, attention to detail and professional approach to the assignment. Officials from other states, meanwhile, have inquired about the staffing mission.
“The West Virginia National Guard applied the same principle to working the corrections mission as we would to responding to a state emergency,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the National Guard. “We provided critical work in a support role to the leading agency so that they could ensure public safety continued to be upheld while the appropriate civil authorities addressed a long-term solution.”
The soldiers and airmen performed administrative functions to free up facility correctional officers for direct supervision of inmates or juvenile residents. These functions included conducting perimeter security checks and staffing towers and other monitoring stations.
The Office of the West Virginia State Fire Marshal, part of Military Affairs and Public Safety, continues to provide support to correctional facilities.
Corrections and Rehabilitation, created by separate legislation that also became law on July 1, consolidates the former Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Division of Juvenile Services.
Sandy encouraged those gathered Tuesday to consider careers in corrections or to recommend it to friends. He also asked the mission participants to send him suggestions for recruiting and retaining correctional staff.
At least five guardsmen have been hired as full-time correctional staff with numerous others applying or considering.
“I’m very excited to work at the Donald R. Kuhn Juvenile Center because I like the people I work with, and the new pay increase is a bonus to the working environment,” said Spc. Sean Hamlin of the 111th Engineer Brigade. “The facility has amazing staff and has welcomed the West Virginia National Guard very professionally and that’s why I’m excited to start working there.”