HD26 - Staffing Needs in Virginia's Prisons

Executive Summary:
During the proceedings of the Crime Commission in 1994, discussions were held regarding the impact of new state policies abolishing parole and revising the sentencing guidelines on prison staffing levels. Delegate Clifton A. Woodrum, Vice Chairman of the Commission, proposed that the Crime Commission conduct a staffing study of Virginia's adult correctional institutions. Delegate Woodrum introduced HJR 490 in the 1995 General Assembly which directed the Crime Commission to study the staffing patterns of Virginia's correctional institutions, the classification of correctional staff, the employee turnover rate, and security needs of each institution and develop appropriate recommendations to address the findings. The study was assigned to the Corrections Subcommittee, chaired by Rev. George Ricketts, Sr.

Crime Commission staff reviewed several previous staffing studies, conducted interviews with prison staff as well as the central office staff of DOC. Site visits were made to several correctional facilities. Staff also sent surveys to surrounding states regarding staffing ratios, salary structures, training requirements, and prison management strategies. The information collected indicated that Virginia's staffing levels for security positions are commensurate with surrounding states as well as its salary structure and training requirements. The Corrections Subcommittee of the Crime Commission found that the critical area of security staff turnover was impacted by several factors: the nature of the job, benefits, and high levels of overtime were the three that required some improvement. Recommendations were made to develop a differential pay system for correctional officers serving in maximum security facilities to compensate for the higher risk and stressful conditions of that job. Corrections Subcommittee also recommended that the Crime Commission conduct a study to determine a means of providing more equity with jail personnel in retirement benefits for correctional officers. The Corrections Subcommittee recommended that correctional officers receive monetary compensation for overtime rather than adjusted time off.

The review of staffing levels for non-security positions, particularly treatment staff, showed an almost 16% reduction in treatment staff while there was only a 1.77% reduction in security staff in the past two years. This staff reduction took place at a time when prison populations were significantly expanding and most correctional institutions were either double-bunked or double-celled to accommodate the increase. The Corrections Subcommittee of the Crime Commission expressed serious concern for the treatment staff reductions, commenting that this could have serious ramifications on long-term public safety when inmates who need treatment are mandatorily released without receiving treatment. The Corrections subcommittee recommended the addition of three treatment specialists for each of the sixteen medium security facilities. The Corrections Subcommittee recommended that JLARC be requested to conduct a comprehensive study of the non-security staffing needs of Virginia's correctional institutions and report to the 1997 General Assembly with recommendations to address staffing needs in the next decade.

The Corrections Subcommittee reviewed the utilization of volunteers by the DOC and found that volunteers made significant contributions to the resources of DOC. The Corrections Subcommittee recommended that a regional volunteer director be added in each of the four regional offices of DOC. This position will work with recruitment and training of volunteers for the institutions within the region.

In reviewing both security and non-security staffing needs and auxiliary staff issues, Clime Commission staff found that the DOC had no personnel policies regarding drug testing of employees. The Corrections Subcommittee recommended that the DOC adopt policies which require drug testing of all potential employees and random drug screens of institutional staff with direct inmate contact.

The final recommendations made by the Corrections Subcommittee are to request the DOC to implement a pilot on unit management to determine the effectiveness of integrating security and program staff to manage individual housing units. This management approach is utilized in the federal prison system and operates with a team, led by a unit manager, managing inmates in a unit rather than institution-wide. This system of management requires that inmates with similar problems and needs be housed together. The success of unit management is highly dependent on appropriate classification. The Corrections Subcommittee recommends as an adjunct to the unit management that the DOC evaluate its classification system and consider expanding the system to make it more flexible.