The agency is facing a big-picture staffing crisis that seemed insurmountable before the infusion of federal funds. Now, with the federal pork flowing so freely, in theory, at least, the state has enough money to increase guard pay enough to staff up its far-flung system of 112 units,
Governor Perry and some state budget writers have been adamant that stimulus money should not be used for expenses that obligate the state to ongoing, future costs. In that light, raising guard pay by 20% would directly violate that pledge.
But the state could use stimulus money to pay for other expenses and use the difference to offset increased guard pay without technically spending the surplus money, though the net effect would be essentially the same.
According to TDCJ's in-house Connections magazine, boosting guard pay is still the agency's top legislative priority:
Although the Department of Criminal Justice will be seeking additional appropriations for such important items as contraband detection screening and video surveillance technology, enhanced reentry services for releasing offenders and the renovation and repair of existing facilities, salary increases for TDCJ staff remain the agency’s highest legislative priority for new funding, according to Executive Director Brad Livingston.Meanwhile, TDCJ says the understaffing problem would be even worse without bonuses paid to new hires wiling to work in understaffed units:
The Department is seeking an average pay increase of approximately twenty percent for security staff and parole officers and supports an across-the-board pay raise for all other agency employees. The agency is also seeking funding to provide retention bonuses to correctional officers currently employed at or willing to transfer to designated understaffed units, and seeking a change in state law which will make all hazardous duty personnel eligible for the higher rate of hazardous duty pay authorized during the last legislative session. Additionally, the agency is seeking funding to construct three (3) 80-bed officer dormitories, which could be constructed adjacent to three (3) of our most understaffed units.
Through October 2008, 1,322 recruitment bonus checks had been mailed to new or returning correctional officers who had taken the incentive TDCJ is offering as a way to boost staffing levels at 16 designated facilities. After taxes, the officers generally net between $1,050 and $1,100 each.New recruits were also given more pay in their initial months through an emergency authorization last year. Those interim measures manged to stave off a full-blown crisis, for now, but did not nearly eliminate the agency's staffing shortage.
TDCJ has estimated it needs nearly $1 billion more per biennium just to safely staff the prisons it operates now, assuming Texas doesn't build any new ones. That wouldn't be a one-time expenditure but something the Lege would be committing taxpayers to pay for ad infinitum.
I have no way to predict the outcome, but it seems to me that's at least an outline of the terms of debate over what happens with guard pay this session.