We were just as surprised as the Mason County (W.Va.) Commission — and pretty much everyone else — last week when it was announced that not only will the Lakin Correctional Center in West Columbia retain its all-female population (thus retaining jobs), but the state is exploring ways to add additional prison space to house female prisoners.
The news is welcome to many in the Ohio Valley who are employed at the correctional facility for women. There had been, for the last several months, talk of swapping the all-female population with an all-male population. Lakin’s female population – about 500 prisoners — would have been transferred to the Sugar Grove Naval Facility in Pendleton County in the eastern panhandle region of the state.
After exploring several options, including moving the female inmates to Sugar Grove and the West Virginia National Guard facility in Point Pleasant, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin opted to keep Lakin as-is, as well as proposing additional space for the inmates in Mason County.
Tomblin’s office said proposed upgrades and operating costs at Sugar Grove would cost far more than those at Lakin.
All of this bodes well for not only Mason County, but all of the Ohio Valley as it means the possibility of additional jobs and local tax income. Gov. Tomblin should be commended for performing his due diligence and exploring all possible options and, above all, keeping and adding jobs to the local economy.
Lakin employs people from all across the tri-county region, including Gallia and Meigs counties in Ohio. While there was never a threat of job loss at the facility, the prospect of watching over an all-male population has its challenges. Corrections officers are trained to handle both female and male prisoners, but the latter has a reputation for being much more violent.
Still, female inmates also present security challenges and corrections officers must be no less vigilant with them as they would be with male inmates.
And that brings us to the issue of salaries for corrections officers. In West Virginia, the starting salary is $22,000 – about $15,000 less than that of federal corrections officers. It costs the state about $25,000 to care for one inmate in its prison system, which is a few thousand dollars more than some correctional officers are paid annually working to care for those inmates.
It’s been reported by our newspapers that some corrections officers work second jobs. Their salaries qualify them for medical cards, food stamps and HUD housing.
Let’s hope the state addresses this issue next on its agenda. Being a corrections officers is a dangerous job. Worrying about putting food on the table is a distraction they don’t need.
— Michael Johnson