CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A lack of cells at prisons around the state has turned Randolph County's Huttonsville Correctional Facility into a "nightmare" for staff, the state's top prison official said Monday.
State corrections commissioner Jim Rubenstein told members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority there are not enough private or semi-private cells in state prisons, so many inmates at Huttsonville live in a more open, dormitory-style setting.
That makes it difficult for staff to isolate potentially dangerous inmates.
"It's a nightmare. I won't try to minimize that point," Rubenstein said.
He said Huttonsville also is facing a high number of unfilled correctional officer positions. The prison has more unfilled jobs than any other state facility, which is forcing staff members to work overtime.
The prison has 259 correctional officers, but as of last month, it needed 39 more to be fully staffed. The facility houses more than 1,100 inmates.
Rubenstein said Huttonsville previously has not had difficulties with understaffing -- Mount Olive Correctional Facility in Fayette County usually leads the state in unfilled positions -- but the number of vacancies has jumped significantly over the last few months.
The bad work environment caused by the lack of cells is one reason for the jump in turnover, Rubenstein said, but there are other factors. Officers have to work long hours and often are required to work overtime too. Federal prisons also lure away experienced correctional officers, with promises of better pay and benefits.
He said the Division of Corrections is working with the West Virginia National Guard to get returning soldiers work in state prisons.
The division also is considering changes to its application process. Rubenstein said potential employees previously were given a written test and then a separate psychiatric evaluation to weed out applicants with a propensity for violence.
Now, the psychiatric evaluation is built into the written test, but Rubenstein said the test probably is flagging too many applicants as unfit for service.