The pay hike represents an emergency measure to combat crippling staff shortages, and the TDCJ board is spending money that isn't actually budgeted for their agency, about $20 million per year extra, the Statesman reported:
The changes, effective May 1, will boost salary of a starting officer from $23,046 to $25,416 and compress seniority requirements to allow new officers to achieve higher pay grades in fewer months.
In addition, the agency will be offering a recruitment bonus of $1,500 for new officers who go to work at state prisons considered understaffed. Typically, about 20 of the 106 prisons fall into that category.
"Our correctional officer staffing situation is the most urgent operational challenge we face as an agency," Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston said.
As of the end of February, Texas prisons had 22,765 officers and 3,594 vacancies, about a 14 percent deficit.
In the most recent year, statistics showed 43 percent of officers quit in their first year, compared with the overall turnover rate of 24 percent.
"One of the things we attempted to do in these changes is address the early turnover," Livingston said. "Clearly I think it's fair to say turnover always will be higher in the first year than will be in the entire group. Our goal here is to close that gap."
The changes essentially eliminate the third step of a nine-step salary scale for corrections officers. For example, in their ninth month on the job, an officer now will be making $28,546, a level previously achieved at the start of the 15th month. Future increases likewise come six months sooner, meaning on officer reaches top scale of $33,946 in his 91st month on the job rather than his 97th.
Unanswered in the coverage so far, the Lege just increased Youth Commission JCO pay to match salaries at TDCJ, but now with this increase there's a disparity again. Will the TYC conservator boost pay to match TDCJ's salary move (that money isn't budgeted, either), and if not, won't it worsen the problem of employees at youth prisons leaving to work at adult facilities?
"It's money we don't have," Livingston acknowledged. "Clearly the adjustments will require moneys for salaries above and beyond what we have budgeted, but we still have an obligation to try to make our budget work."
He said one option that would require approval of the governor's office and the Legislative Budget Board was transfer of money from his department's 2009 budget into the current budget.
The boost in guard pay is necessary, long overdue, and arguably even more needed at TYC. It's just a shame that the state lets itself get forced into these situations through crisis rather than planning for them responsibly when the Legislature is in town.
UPDATE: See fuller coverage from Mike Ward at the Statesman. According to his account, only COs in their first 16 months on the job will receive pay hikes. Pay scales for veteran COs will remain the same.