In its proposed budget for 2020-2021, the New River Valley Regional Jail Authority accounts for a potential $179,500 increase in funding for salaries and wages, including a $5,695 increase in funding for compensatory overtime, as a result of legislation currently moving through the state government.
According to Superintendent Gregory Winston, who offered a report on the jail’s financial position during the authority’s Feb. 14 public meeting, the jail currently has 30 vacancies. “That obviously requires that we pay some overtime,” Winston said, as current staff try to compensate for empty positions.
According to the jail’s website, multiple positions are currently available for both correctional officers and licensed practical nurses. Requirements for potential correctional officers include a high school diploma or GED, valid driver’s license, good credit record and lack of a criminal record, according to the website. In addition, new hires must complete certification in basic training requirements as established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services, a process known as attending academy.
Since the Authority’s last meeting in November 2019, the jail has seen 15 terminations, three of which were retirements, and 14 new hires. Winston said that the jail is contemplating offering a “bounty” to current staff to incentivize recruitment. If a current employee recruits someone who successfully completes the application and onboarding processes, that employee will get a bonus, with a subsequent bonus if the recruited employee stays for one year.
Andy McCready, an authority member from Pulaski County, said during the Feb. 14 meeting that the financial committee has discussed potential strategies to increase recruitment and retention, including increasing the salaries of younger folks currently working at the jail and the salary offers to new recruits. Currently, the starting salary for a correctional officer is $32,578.
McCready detailed challenges the Dublin facility is facing with retaining employees, who are often “jumping ship” to work on the police forces of neighboring counties, particularly Montgomery. McCready said that while salaries may be higher in Montgomery County, the young employees aren’t considering the comprehensive picture of salary and benefits offered by the jail—including potentially shorter commute times.
The regional jail is effectively taking a loss on sending new recruits to academy for training, McCready said, if those employees leave after less than a year of employment. McCready said the authority should consider asking new recruits to sign a contract with a provision that they must work for the jail for some minimum amount of time.
One authority member pointed out that the regional jail is a “stepping stone” to other careers in law enforcement, and the fact that neighboring localities are attempting to recruit jail employees is largely a good trend, that reflects well on the caliber of people the jail hires.
However, Winston told the group that the regional jail is not only losing employees to other law enforcement jobs, but to other job opportunities in general in the New River Valley. He also said that the strong economy—currently the unemployment rate in Virginia is 2.6%-- has led to staffing troubles. “If the economy takes a dive, we’ll be fully staffed,” Winston said. “Obviously we need to create an environment that’s professional and caring.” He added, “Losing them to another jurisdiction is not as bad as losing them to Volvo (for example), because then they’re leaving the business entirely.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated in its opening sentence that the authority was requesting more funding for salaries and wages. Superintendent Winston clarified that the per diem requested from localities will remain unchanged during the next fiscal year, but increased revenues may come via proposed legislation.