Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Screwing prison guards out of overtime short-sighted

One out of four Texas prison guards will quit their jobs this year, and I understand why. Pay sucks, especially compared to street cops, and they work longer hours in a depressing, overcrowded, dangerous environment. It's frankly hard to imagine who would want to be a prison guard in Texas if they could possibly find other work.

Adding insult to inury, now Texas has quit paying most guards overtime according to an item by Mike Ward in the Austin Statesman I meant to post about a couple of weeks ago ("
Prison workers overtime held back," Jan. 15). That's unbelievably short-sighted - a recipe for driving away your employees in droves. Reported Ward:

"It's one more reason to find another job, and a lot of people are doing that," explained Arlan Foster, 53, an eight-year veteran correctional officer and union leader at the Plane State Jail outside Dayton, east of Houston. "Making people work overtime and then not paying them is not a good way to keep good people, even if the law allows that." ...

Texas' prison system, the second-largest in the United States, has approximately 23,500 correctional officers. At the end of November, it needed another 2,700 to be fully staffed.

At the prisons, the vacancies mean that guards must cover more than one gate, that convicts don't get to use recreation yards, that two officers are assigned to housing units instead of three, that some "pickets" — guard towers — might temporarily go unstaffed.

"That means people have to do more on their shift, cover more inmates, do more," Foster said. "We used to work eight-hour shifts. Now we're working 12-hour shifts, four days on and four days off. If you've ever worked 12-hour shifts in this environment, you know how tiring that schedule is. All you do is work, go home and sleep (and) come back to work.

"Fatigue definitely becomes a factor."

Between 500 and 600 correctional officers quit each month. That necessitates increased recruiting and training programs that, officials concede, at best just keep pace with turnover, which was 23 percent in 2005. But working in a prison is a high-stress job, they quickly add, and the Texas Youth Commission, the only other agency with correctional staffs, had a turnover rate of 32 percent last year.

"We're doing better (on retention and recruiting) than we were," Johnson said. "We hire every two weeks now. . . . We've added six more recruiters. Staffing over the past four months has improved."

Still, the view among correctional staff members is that the working environment at prisons has gotten progressively worse during the past two years: The number of vacant jobs has increased, wardens have extended shifts to stretch staffing, and guards at some prisons are not allowed to go home after their shifts end because the incoming shift has too many vacant positions.

Blame the Governor, in part, for vetoing legislation that could have reduced prison overcrowding, and the Legislature for not adequately budgeting guards' pay.

But in the big picture the situation had grown untenable well before they made those bad decisions last year. Our prisons are jam packed and there's no money to build more or even adequately staff the ones we've got. Most Texas prisoners committed nonviolent offenses to get there, but sentences are so long that often violent offenders must be released to make room. Texas needs to set priorities, to better distinguish which offenders really need to be incarcerated and which ones could be supervised through stronger probation or other alternatives to incarceration. As retiring state Rep. Ray Allen says, we need to better distinguish between those we're afraid of, and those we're only mad at.

We'd better start soon, while Texas can still find enough people willing to take these crappy jobs. Once we can't, then what will we do?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

"then what will we do"

Just like every other US industry - hire illegal aliens!

Anonymous said...

This downgrading is probably deliberate. Look for somebody manipulating the system to create a real or bogus demand so that they can meet it, or pretend to, and cash in bigtime.

Anonymous said...

We could always send our prisoners to prisons in other countries. Oh wait we're already doing that.

kaptinemo said...

Push is coming to shove financially, all over the country. The 'broken windows' hypothesis of cracking down on - and giving jail time for - what amounts to very minor offenses (like cannabis possession) when compared to actual crimes like murder, rape, child molestation, armed robbery, etc. is bearing the fruit many drug law reformers had warned it would. Namely, full prisons and no way to pay for their upkeep. And now the prison guards are leaving because there's no money to pay them.

If this doesn't sound any warnings about the necessity to re-evaluate what constitutes a crime serious enough to warrant incarceration (I obviously don't believe drug possession does), then I don't know what does. The 'champagne taste' DrugWar is meeting the 'beer budget' realities of a nation trillions of dollars in National Debt and simply cannot afford the policy of trying to incarcerate its' way out of its' social problems any longer.

No amount of sermonizing from prohibitionists will cause the ocean of red ink the Nation threatens to drown in to magically vanish; it's long past time for the debate they have tried to move Heaven and Earth from ever having, namely: Can we afford to have a War on Drugs any longer, if it risks allowing the aforementioned murderers, rapists, child molestors, armed robbers, etc. loose because mandatory minimums for drug offenses demand room be made for (ahem) 'druggies'?

Dave said...

I think it's time to consider relaxing some of the drug policies in this nation. Looking at a lot of the crap guards have to go through, it'd be a cold day in hell when I took that job.

Anonymous said...

Hire anather warden to fix it. If that dont work hire another warden. If that dont work hire another, then another, then another ,another, another, another, another ,another............................Oh well, you know what i mean!

Anonymous said...

Grits my foot! we're lucky to get pancakes at that place. And thats if we get a long enough break to choke one down! These twelve and a half hour days are intolerable.You might get that break. This situation makes grits seem like ribeye. If you think a new warden will change it,well I got some ocean front property ,if you know what I mean. Done been there , done that! Bring on the grits!

Anonymous said...

I am curently a correctional officer for the texas dept. of criminal justice. the state required that we maintain 240 hour on the books before getting paid for overtime. since then it has been taken out of policy and we are to be paid for all overtime worked. but this only leaves me with one question, what is their motive?

Anonymous said...

at least tdcj emloyees are paid for overtime. tyc employees have to put any overtime on the books to take time off at a later date, which they are so short handed no one can get time off, so who wants to work over time for no money and no time off?

Anonymous said...

I am currently an officer with TDCJ. Not getting paid for overtime is one issue and another is working overtime one day and being told that you are required to take off with in that work cycle so you will not get overtime is another. Who wants to work a twelve hour day and them not get paid for that over time just to take 4 hours off two or three days later. Another issue is a 2% raise. Who are they kidding? A lot of the officers work 30 or miles from their residence. What do you think the gas prices are doing to them. They are paying more to drive to work than that 2% will cover. Not to mention everything else that is going up because of the gas prices. We were all expecting a decent raise this year. Would not suprise me to find that within the year TDCJ will see a 4,000 officer shortage.

Anonymous said...

wow, i just passed my preliminary test to become a CO, know you guys are scaring me, not the offenders, the system itself....

Anonymous said...

Thousands of trustees do work for TDCJ everyday outside prison walls and they are considered so valuable by TDCJ budgeteers that they are not even considered for parole! What irony-these trustees help TDCJ avoid paying overtime pay to the guard force! It is a good thing that few guards have a clue as to what the big picture is.