Friday, June 06, 2008

If Texas build new jails and prisons, will more guards come?

Every time you hear some "tuff on crime" Texas pol supporting jail and prison building, the first question to ask them is "Where are you going to find the guards?"

The Texas prison system is nearly 4,000 guards understaffed statewide, and federal prisons, local jails and immigration detention facilities all have similar problems. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice already had to close a wing at one unit (in Dalhart) and reorganize another because they can't hire enough staff.

Now Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman reports on another prison wing closing in Fort Stockton for the same reason ("State closes part of W. Texas prison because of guard shortage," June 5):

Amid warnings that Texas' chronic shortage of prison guards is compromising security and public safety, officials said Wednesday that they are closing part of a remote West Texas prison because they don't have enough guards to properly staff it.

It was the third such move in recent months and signals that the guard shortage is not improving significantly, despite recent pay incentives for new hires that have reduced the guard vacancy rate slightly.

"It's the greatest challenge we currently face," Brad Livingston, executive director of the Department of Criminal Justice, told a joint Senate-House hearing Wednesday.

At the hearing, prison officials said they are closing a 334-bed wing of the 1,375-bed Lynaugh Unit in Fort Stockton that has been operating nearly 40 percent short of staff.

Testimony during the hearing indicated that large amounts of contraband — cell phones, illegal drugs and tobacco — are being brought into state prisons by guards who are being bribed by convicts. A cell phone can bring $400.

"For seasoned correctional officers who take home just $1,900 a month, who are being overworked in an increasingly dangerous environment and having trouble making ends meet, the temptation is great," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "We don't have enough correctional officers to properly search the staff coming on to the units and, if we did, I'm told we might lose as much as 10 percent of our staffing."

The problem runs much deeper, he said, because the agency is hiring guards with questionable qualifications.

"We'll take almost anyone who signs up," he said.

Add to that the remote location of many state prisons, the lack of housing and the low pay, "and you see the dangerous situation we're in," said Whitmire, who has led the oversight committee for well over a decade. "The lack of staff means more inmates are locked in their cells more often, without programs, without recreation, without treatment."

Meanwhile, Fort Bend County finds itself in a familiar position. Pols there convinced voters to approve a jail expansion, but county commissioners don't provide adequate funds to staff the ones they've got. Reported the Fort Bend Herald ("Jobs? County needs jailers," June 4), "No less than 110 people will be needed to staff the new jail, and the sheriff's office is already short 48 employees, said Sheriff Milton Wright." In order to solve the understaffing crisis, Fort Bend County plans to use uncertified jailers, the Herald reports:
In Texas, individuals must be 21 years old to receive peace officer certification, and therefore work patrol and supervisory law enforcement jobs. However, Wright said not all jailers need to be state certified, and he said the prospect of being a civilian jailer could have allure for young individuals in the community.

“But they've got to have a mature personality. They can work here in the jail and get into police academy later. We're going to really be going after 18-year-olds in the community,” he said. ...

Wright said he believes the department will meet its hiring goals but said his office will likely face incorrect assumptions about the job of jailer among potential recruits.

“It's still perceived as being a dangerous occupation, but it's really not,” he said.
The Sheriff has to downplay the dangers, I'm sure, to justify the low pay he's offering. But shortchanging money for jail staff and training is a penny wise, pound foolish decision that brings with it many obvious downsides.

And anyway, don't you want actual adults working in the jail, somebody with a few more years under their belt? Hiring 18 year olds who've not received state-required certification might be a short-term crisis-management solution, but it seems like an ill-fated plan for staffing an entire new jail facility!

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

The more bad behavior that a society criminalizes, the more it will need prisons. The more prisons it needs the more guards they will need for the prisons.

Texas has found the logical conclusion of this ridiculous behavior. So much bad behavior has been criminalized (as well as mental illness) so that now we cannot afford to continue.

We have reached the end of the line and pols will keep being "tuff on crime" until the people of this state realize that urinating on the roadside is now a sex crime.

davidt500

Anonymous said...

For the record, urinating on the roadside is bad behavior that can be very necessary in some of Texas's more remote places, which are without state provided facilities.

Anonymous said...

If some of you did not get to listen to the Senate/House Hearing on Criminal Justice yesterday June 5, 2008, Brad Livingston, Executive Director of TDCJ stated the hiring policies for TDCJ guard positions as thus: "have a high school diploma, or a GED, be 18 years old!!!" Now how many 18 year olds do any of you know who are capable of making an quick adult decision? Some adults cannot even make an adult decision much less an 18 year old.

Our prison situation is way beyond critical and those who have been paroled need to be released ASAP. With a wing of Fort Stockton closing due to staff shortages, those Inmates will have to be moved to other units, where are they going to put them and moving them out of State is totally unacceptable.

TDCJ and the BPP need to get moving and stop giving set offs and yes they do work together and are not indididual entities; get those out who they have paroled and stop making them stay longer. There are many who have homes to go to, families to go home to, jobs and church families eagerly awaiting their home coming.

TDCJ get on the job and get something done right for a change.

Release those who have been paroled from the unit they are in. All that is involved is paper work and don't give me that story TDCJ wants to be sure the right person is being discharged! Who would know them better than the personal working a the Units who have seen the persons to be released than those who work with them?

Think about the families, some are elederly and the price of fuel and the drive are both hard on them. Some have to come so far they have to leave the day before, rent a motelroom and after they pick up their loved one, drive the same distance back home. How unfair is this??

Next, DAs stop prosecuting every thing that crosses your desk and the Judges need to stop the plea deals, not everyone needs to go to prison, some are just crying out for help. Get off your throne and realize you are running someone's live plus the lives of those who love them.

Don't get me started on the state of our mental health situation, that is another column that would take hours to write, it is in a sad state of affairs.

W. W Woodward said...

The Fort Bend County Herald’s story says Fort Bend County plans to use uncertified jailers and goes on to say Sheriff Milton Wright said not all jailers need to be state certified, and he said the prospect of being a civilian jailer could have allure for young individuals in the community.

Sheriff Wright needs to become more familiar with rules of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) and The Texas Occupations Code Title 10. Chapter 17.01 as well as the rules of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS).

A person may be hired and put to work under a temporary county jailer’s license issued by TCLEOSE after all background checks, physical and mental examinations, and etc.. are performed and all paperwork is forwarded to TCLEOSE before he attends and passes the County Correctional officer basic training course and earns his permanent county jailer’s license. However, the temporary license may not be reissued and expires 12 months from the original date of appointment as a jailer, on completion of training and passing of the jailer state licensing examination, or on the date the holder fails the jailer licensing examination for the third time. (see TCLEOSE rule 217.1)

The Texas Occupations Code Section 1701.301 states, (except under specific circumstances) “a person may not appoint a person to serve as an officer, county jailer, or public security officer unless the person appointed holds an appropriate license issued by the commission.” The Occupations Code goes on to say in Section 1701.406, “Not later than the first anniversary of the date the commission establishes standards for county jail personnel, a county may not employ or use jail personnel who are not certified by the commission.” [“the commission” meaning - TCLEOSE]

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards – Rule 275.2 requires, “Personnel employed or appointed as jailers or guards of county jails shall be licensed as per the requirements of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education under the provisions of the Texas Administrative Code, Title 37. Personnel employed or appointed as jailers or guards at facilities operated under vendor contract with a county or city shall be subject to the same qualifications, training, and testing procedures as county jailers.”

If Sheriff Wright actually possesses a working familiarity with these statutes he may just be playing with words. A county jailer receives his basic certification after a year’s employment as a licensed jailer if certain paperwork acknowledging training dealing with employee rights as far as labor laws and etc.. is submitted by the employing agency. If the paperwork is not submitted and the jailer never receives a basic certification, the jailer is still a licensed jailer and may continue to work even though any required or voluntarily continuing education will not be credited toward advanced certifications.

As it turns out, there is really no such animal as a "civilian county jailer" unless the good sheriff intends to hire unlicensed jailers without the knowledge of TCLEOSE and TCJS.

Interesting enough, the hiring requirements for county jailers in the state of Texas are more stringent than for guards employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and we still find a rotten apple in the county barrels upon occasion.

Anonymous said...

This brings us back to my initial comment -- Stop criminalizing bad behavior. Bad behavior is not an issue for Law Enforcement.

davidt500

Jami said...

I guess my own blog is going to have to start having more accounts of what it's actually like to work with and around unqualified individuals who are hired as TDCJ guards. Might shed some personalized light on the circus and stupidity of it all.

I wrote two posts this week of things that occurred. And they are relatively minor. I'm afraid to tell the "real" stories.

Anonymous said...

The CO shortage and accompanying safety issues are a huge problem. At a unit in Reg 3, the staff is comprised of mostly Nigerian Nationals and high school grads. Between the language, skill and maturity issues, a simple head count can take three hours, this happens daily... If these simple situations are not manageable, imagine a real crisis.

lowery.shirley said...

It would be wonderful if we could stop criminalizing bad behavior but people have gone way overboard on this punishment thing. Every law that is passed puts us more under government control. I don't know how we start taking some of it back. It will not happen with the current lynch mob mentality and that isn't likely to change. Vengeance laws are passed that have nothing to do with justice.

lawschoolinmate said...

I can't believe they're willing to sacrifice certification and standards for staffing. While I understand the need for staff, going after 18 year olds seems obviously fraught with danger. When people are afraid, they tend to resort to more forceful measures and to be far more trigger-happy. I'm seeing much more excessive force in the future...

Anonymous said...

To take back all of the criminalized bad behavior begins with the election of local officials, County Officials and state officials who are as sick of the lynch mob attitude that Rupert Murdoch and other media monguls sellto us every day. We have to stop believing all of the phonied up sensationalism that newspapers publish.

Most of all we have to repeal the law that if you haven't heard a rumor by noon you have to start one.

davidt500

Anonymous said...

I was 18 when started in TDC I'm 42 know and I see your concerns,with the proper training it can happen.It also has to do with up bringing.right is right and wrong is wrong.

W. W Woodward said...

18 year old kids tend to believe all,or most of, the war stories they hear from the older officers.

They haven't developed the necessary maturity needed to deal with stressful situations. For the most part, the most stressful incident a recent high school graduate has experienced is getting dumped by his girlfriend.

The youngsters tend to take inmate comments and actions personally and don't realize that for the most part the inmate isn't upset with the officer as much as with the circumstances.

The younger, inexperienced officers have problems with being unable to "consider the source" and let inmates' actions and comments roll off their backs.

Being a jailer/guard is a people profession. The younger officers haven't yet experienced meeting and dealing with various types of people, they haven't lived long enough to understand that not all people think the same, share the same mores, react the same to stress, possess the same values, believe in the same ethical standards, and share the same upbringing as the officer

Having said all that, I'm sure that some 18 year old will take me to task for my comments. After all, I too was smarter 47 years ago when I was 18 than I am today.

Anonymous said...

Not all 18 year olds have there head in the sand.Like the other poster said your parents have alot to do with it.

Stephen said...

I had no idea that the guards make less than $23,000.00 a year.

Even with record unemployment, I can see why they are having staffing problems.

lowery.shirley said...

To the low pay you can add a starched uniform, sweltering heat and no air conditioning. On top of their shift so much overtime is being forced on them that it is unsafe.
My cousin retired as a Captain and she was financially secure. The rewards must come further down the road.

Anonymous said...

The starting pay for California CDC prison guards is $78,000.
You get what you pay for!

Anonymous said...

To 10:00 PM -

Yes, for $78,000 you also get labor unions and featherbedding.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Just for the record, the average mean wage for prison guards in California is about $61,000, according to the most recent data I've seen. Of course, the cost of living is a lot higher there, but mostly that difference is due to a strong union.

Also, no featherbeds! CA's prisons are so overcrowded they've got 'em sleeping on the floor and are having to use early release to meet court ordered staffing standards.

Anonymous said...

Featherbedding refers to the nepotistic practices currently in widespread use at most State agencies in Texas. The comment refers to the fact that unions apparently do it better

lindad said...

Texas is finally reaching the tipping point. We cannot continue to imprison everyone forever. The citizens of Texas need to stop rewarding the 'tuff on crime' two year election cycle which will affect us all long after the politicians are gone.

Ted Clayton said...

18 year old guards?

The military commonly takes people at or before 18, and routinely places them in (many different) situations that range from demanding to profoundly demanding, within months.

The keys to success are, of course, selection & training. Not every teenager is up to it, and good training makes all the difference.

Some teens are very adult, at very young ages (well under 18, even) ... and often enough they both know who they are, and are readily spotted.

... Not that I have an issue with the premises of this post - that locking too many people up is dumb, and that guard duty at low pay is a recipe for trouble - but I think the range of capability of people under 20 is larger than often thought, and that plenty of 'ordinary kids' can be brought up to impressive performance-levels, quickly.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why people think that making hiring standards stricter is going to help to hire more and better guards. What the hell kind of thinking is this. Go ahead make the standards harder, you will be in worse shape than your in now. I live in Dallas County where the Sheriff is on a monthly basis hiring over 200 detention officers, and the jail in letting inmates out on a daily basis due to guard shortage but yet the sheriff says she will not lower standards to allow more people to qualify. I mean are you people serious. I personally do not believe the standards have anything to do with the shortage, Its the low pay combined with the crappy job. I actually considered going to work for the TDCJ but when I realized the pay was $2118.00 gross a month and that I would have to move to BF Egypt to work I quickly reconsidered I mean I could not even make my $540 a month truck payment on that salary. I am currently a heavy equipment operator for a construction company in Dallas and I make $18.67 an hour and I have only been there for 2 years. So my advice is raise the dam pay idiots!!

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Anonymous said...

Excuse me,for those who believe that 18 year olds are not capable of making adult decisions.That is not accurate,I suppose it depends on the individual.I began working for tdcj when i was 18 at a maximum security unit....logics and common sense is what is required.The ones of you who do not agree have probaly never worked in a jail/prison and the only time you been to one is to visit an inmate.I am in no way saying that there is not corruption within the agency,has anyone had a job and not had one thing go wrong...my point exactly.The fact remains that the correctional officer does not sentence inmates the judges do...so why are corrections officer being under paid.Think about this....the guy next door raped 6 children.You have small children, but tdcj was forced into early release because of lack of staff....how would you feel? What you all should be concerned with is the number of murders and sex offenders that live next door to you.The prison doesnt reintergrate an offender,it simple contains alot of choas..You can look into recidivisim and get your answers.
Do your research....