Because of low pay, the state has difficulty attracting qualified people to work in the state's prisons. A reduced work force leads to 16-hour days for the prison guards on duty.
All that overtime exacerbates the problem by burning out workers.
"The biggest issue is pay," Jack Ferrell, an organizer for the Communications Workers of America, told legislators.
"You can't put people out there doing these jobs and paying them pennies. It's a dangerous job.
"I'd say 90 percent of correctional people have high blood pressure. The divorce rate is high. A lot of them are using alcohol."
Prisons in West Virginia have 150 unfilled positions and 2,200 uniformed employees. State officials are working with the National Guard to recruit Guardsmen to work in corrections.
But the state prison with the most job vacancies - the maximum-security Mount Olive Correctional Center in Fayette County - is the one that most needs a full staff.
Regional Jail Director Joe DeLong said the long shifts increase the issues corrections officers face.