Inmate sex case highlights pay issue
A Southern Regional Jail correctional officer arrested last month for sexually abusing female inmates legally collected more than $3,100 in severance pay from the state while sitting behind bars.
State jails director Joe DeLong told the Regional Jail Authority board Thursday he hopes to work with lawmakers next year to revamp how the authority deals with suspended and terminated employees.
On Sept. 20, the West Virginia State Police arrested William Roy Wilson, 39, of Beckley on felony charges of soliciting sex from female inmates. Authorities said Wilson traded cigarettes for sex with three women under his supervision at Southern Regional Jail.
That same day, State Auditor's office records showed Wilson was issued a $3,143.53 termination check.
Even though Wilson allegedly committed felonies on the job, DeLong said state law required the authority to give Wilson a severance check.
"He obviously was terminated, he was arrested, he was sitting in one of our cells, and he was collecting a paycheck . . . because state statute requires him to be paid for 15 days after his termination," DeLong said.
The Regional Jail Authority Board agreed to allow DeLong to start working on crafting a better way to deal with corrections officers suspected of breaking the law while on the job.
The state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has assigned an investigator from the Division of Juvenile Services to conduct an independent investigation in Wilson's case.
DeLong said records showed Wilson had shown a disturbing pattern of behavior for years.
"It appears there were several allegations for many years against this officer that went uninvestigated," he said. "So we've asked for some outside help to come in and look at that."
DeLong said the authority is going to take a zero-tolerance policy against officers who abuse their power.
But at the same time, he said he doesn't want to punish those who are wrongly accused.
DeLong said he's beginning to work with the Communications Workers of America union, which represents state corrections officers, and lawmakers to revise state laws regarding pay for terminated and suspended employees.
Under state law, whenever an inmate makes an allegation against an officer, the officer is suspended without pay pending the result of an official investigation.
If the officers are cleared, they are given back pay to cover their time off. But DeLong said they can wait up to a month for a decision.
"We've had instances where we've had correctional officers that were cleared, and they got their back pay, but on the time they were on suspension they were pawning off some of their belongings to make their bills," he said.
"We starve them out, which just isn't fair to these folks."
DeLong said he wants to work with lawmakers to develop a system that gives more flexibility to deal with paying people on suspension.
In one scenario, DeLong said they could use money from a potential 15-day severance check to put officers on a suspension with pay.
"If we have someone that's suspended, we can pay them for up to 15 days during that suspension," he said. "However, if that ultimately results in a termination, then that 15 days is what's counted toward their severance."
"It's not costing us any more, but it's just giving us the ability to not starve those out who haven't done anything wrong," DeLong said. "It's going to be more fair to our staff."
The Regional Jail Authority has had a problem staffing jails in recent years. Earlier this year, staff vacancy rates were as high as 12 percent.
By implementing new schedules that cut down on mandatory overtime, officials have brought staff vacancies down. However, wrongful allegations brought by inmates still drive officers to other jobs.
DeLong said dealing with wrongdoers while treating good officers more fairly could improve employee morale and keep good officers on the job.
"We have a lot of wonderful, hard-working, dedicated correctional officers, and I don't like seeing their reputation damaged because of a very few," he said. "We're going to work very hard to try to eliminate the very few problems we have out there."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.