Officer Roy Cole was well liked by his co-workers, and even his supervisors on the Wayne Scott unit in Brazoria county. Many had great things to say about the father of one son, who leaves behind a pregnant wife. And yet through the grief many are experiencing, there remains unanswered questions.The Back Gate is right this event leaves unanswered several critical questions: How frequently had Officer Cole worked overtime recently, and did TDCJ's mandatory overtime policy contribute to his death? Are there other, similar incidents of which TDCJ is aware? Will the mandatory overtime policy change, now, or will anything be done differently to prevent this from happening again?
Officer Cole, was working his day of mandatory overtime on the Scott unit that night, and he put in four extra hours per unit mandate. The Wayne Scott unit, which is like alot of TDCJ facilities, remains chronically understaffed due to the agencies ongoing staffing shortages that now top 2,800 officers.
The Backgate has learned that over a years time, there have been many more of these incidents that may be attributed towards the current staffing shortage that plagues TDCJ. Due to the shortage, officers are mandated by unit administration to work either on their off time, or after their original shifts, sometimes at a moments notice, or be subjected to disciplinary action.
Officer Cole was confirmed to be working after his original shift ended on the night he died as he drove back home some distance away from the unit.
This tragic event brings up once again the horrendous circumstances within TDCJ where officers are threatened with disciplinary action if they refuse to stay over to fill open positions on the units (emphasis added). Some employees, being single mothers, or fathers, have encountered child care issues that have forced them to quit, or be disciplined after they have had to refuse to stay over at a moments notice.
"These issues have been ongoing for years " stated one Huntsville administrator. That same administrator went on to say that even though most don't agree with the current overtime implementation plan, there seems to be no end in sight. "When Category one positions are in jeopardy of being unmanned, we have no choice" he went on to say.
Category one positions are those positions that are mandated to be manned on the units by the TDCJ staffing plans. Inmate housing areas are amoung them.
TDCJ's understaffing problems are longstanding and chronic, yet the Legislature plans to build many more new prison beds when there aren't enough guards for the ones we've got. Overtime should be a temporary staffing solution, not just how the agency does business. Given current trends, though, look for more understaffing and demands for COs to work overtime at TDCJ.