Sunday, December 26, 2010

Flat-out Irresponsible: TDCJ says it's still not considering prison closures

According to the Huntsville Item, TDCJ still isn't contemplating possible prison closures in the face of a gaping budget shortfall, insisting it can lay off thousands of employees but keep all 112 of its facilities open: "At this point, TDCJ is not looking at closing prisons, Oliver Bell, chairman of the state prison board, said when the Texas Board of Criminal Justice met Dec. 9."

That's the most irresponsible thing I've ever heard. In other words, rather than close units, the agency will just leave them unguarded. The suggestion that TDCJ would fire a significant number of line staff and keep the same number of units open is fundamentally unsafe and unsound. I consider this a typical bureaucratic budget ploy, refusing to suggest realistic cuts and instead offering up only unrealistic approaches to shaving the budget that would obviously harm public safety.

What needs to be happening right now - and if the agency won't do it, the task will fall to legislative staff or the public interest lobby - is to develop unit-by-unit profiles just like was done at TYC to tell legislators exactly what each unit is costing, the pros and cons of keeping it open, and how much could be saved if it were closed. Check out the spreadsheet (xls) with that data for TYC facilities, rating facilities by staff turnover, difficulty of recruiting, cost per day, the condition of the physical plant, and a variety of other factors. Further, somebody - and it clearly won't be TDCJ - needs to be developing policy recommendations to reduce inmate numbers, just like the state did with juvenile prisons. The Texas Public Policy Foundation would be a good place for legislators to turn on that score.

I can't believe at this late date TDCJ anticipates cutting its budget by as much as is required through staff cuts alone without closing a single unit: It's just not realistic and smacks of bureaucratic gamesmanship. TDCJ has already been asked to cut $75 million, and is $61 million short on healthcare costs for a total of $136 million in red ink before the serious budget cutting even starts. I don't believe they can cut even that deeply without closing multiple units. If and when cuts go any deeper, the agency will pay a heavy price for their complete lack of leadership and planning on this topic, as decisions they refuse to contemplate get made by others in ways they won't always anticipate, much less agree with.

This malingering by agency administrators and head-in-the-sand comments from TDCJ's board chair remind me of my 4-year old granddaughter, who likes to play with her food and utensils instead of eating at the dinner table. When we take her fork from her and put food in her mouth directly, with threats of a time-out for non-compliance, she plaintively asks why we don't let her feed herself "like a big girl." We answer that if she would eat on her own, we wouldn't have to do it for her. I guaran-damn-tee a moment will come during the 82nd Texas Legislature when legislators (or their staff) will tell TDCJ chief Brad Livingston exactly that: If you'd do it yourself, we wouldn't have to do it for you. Somebody has to make the tough choices; agency staff can put off eating their vegetables, for now, but next spring legislative budget writers cannot.


Anonymous said...

I consider this a typical bureaucratic budget ploy, refusing to suggest realistic cuts and instead offering up only unrealistic approaches to shaving the budget that would obviously harm public safety.

Closing units and retaining personnel will not save nearly as much money as cutting personnel will. Like most governmental budgets, 75% or more of their budget is personnel expense related.

How would public safety be harmed?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

How would public safety be harmed by leaving prisons unguarded? Hmmmm ... they already can't keep cell phones out of TDCJ ... reduce staffing further would just be a free for all. You could imprison gang members, cartel types, etc., and they'd just run their operations from the inside. Security measures require staffing. Cameras must be monitored, metal detectors must be staffed, cells must be searched, etc. ... human beings must physically perform these tasks.

Also, I'm not suggesting closing units and retaining personnel. You're right they have to do staff cuts. But there are minimum staffing requirements to guard 155K prisoners 24-7. To reduce staffing safely, ultimately they must close units and reduce the number of prisoners, just like many other states are doing.

Anonymous said...

Its not TDCJ taxpayer, WAKE-UP! Mr. Bell is playing his best hand. When will Texans make their minds ups! The castrating desire of most of the states voting population supports the philosophy of lock-em up and throw away the key. Texas has the second largest prison system in the free-world. Having prisons, having the second largest prison system in America cost money. Either pay for it or kill it. Salaries of the employees represent the country's 48th lowest. Because salaries are so low and the environment is so dangerous staff come and go like the wind. Most of the employees are unskilled and lack a higher education. Bottom-line, you get what you pay what do you want!

Anonymous said...

Texas could save tons of money if only they took a close look at the in-prison treatment for those who are required to register as "sex offenders". A great majority of those guys pose no threat to anyone. Currently, after being granted parole, the offender must wait anywhere from 3 months to over 1 year just to be place into an 18 month treatment class. Over two extra years of incarceration, sometimes closer to three years because of a waiting list for these classes. The system is backlogged. Cut the 18 month program to 9 months and BAM! Parole out the guy who made a mistake and had sex with his teen girlfriend. Oh, wait a minute, drug addicts, theifs, and murderers can just walk right at after a parole approval. Somethings wrong here.....

sunray's wench said...

Perhaps we should ask Mr Livingston why they are so keen to reduce staff levels just 12-18 months after TDCJ was 3000 officers short of minimum staffing targets?

Anonymous said...

Well just goes back to the old can have all the college degrees in the world....but if you have no common sense, you are still dumb as a stump! Thats what TDCJ gets for hiring the chief bean counter as their leader..god knows it worked out real well. And as for having all the glory of being a West Point graduate for the TBCJ Chairman...kinda like hiring a 22 year old OCS Army Candiate to lead a platoon to war...hasnt worked out real well either.

Hook Em Horns said...

Grits, you know I love ya but what is it going to take for you to understand the depth of "crap" that passes for government in Texas? I laughed out loud (at Starbucks nonetheless) when I read your headline for this post.

TEXAS GOVERNMENT IS IRRESPONSIBLE. PERIOD. Expecting miracles from TDCJ is akin to winning millions in the lottery. Actually, your lottery chances are probably better.

I do not look at these issues from the halls of the capital in Austin, I look at them from a distance because, quite honestly, the smell is overwhelming most of the time.

Forgive my sarcasm and bad attitude when it comes to Texas government and TDCJ but if Texas state government is bush league, AND IT IS, well, you can imagine how I see TDCJ.

You frequently here about Washington making decisions "inside the belt-way," I would suggest that most of the decisions in Austin are made from inside the toilet. Sorry but this is playing out exactly how I thought it would.

I hate painting with broad strokes but these people just don't get it and it doesn't look like they will be getting it anytime soon.

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...
Well just goes back to the old can have all the college degrees in the world....but if you have no common sense, you are still dumb as a stump!

Texas Maverick said...

The reduction impact is felt across the board - lockdowns, lack of exercise, canceling volunteer programs, longer waiting to visit, because there isn't enough staff. This is already happening. Waiting to visit because only one staff person to oversee the full room doesn't allow the opening of the outdoor area; Lockdown in bunks because of staff shortage; church services and AA canceled because not enough staff; delays in program transfers because of staff shortages. Much is said about low wages, but in the rural areas where the units are located, the alternate is McDonald and Jack in the Box so wages are comparable but you have health ins and retirement so I don't think this is an argument. I've seen the same staff for the past 2 1/2 yrs at one unit, just less of them since the cutback in hours this past year. Yesterday one person in visitation room when there would be 2 sometimes 3 in the past allowing full utilization of the room, the overflow area and the outdoors, weather permitting. Makes it harder on the family who must wait after long drives to see loved ones. Of course the family doesn't count, it's the inmate's fault not the system. Scott, you'll have company this year at Austin so take heart.

Anonymous said...

If TDCJ had it's way, they'd be building more prisons. Isn't the issue all about more money to grow the prison agency? Filling the beds -- and creating more -- brings in the biggest bucks. So minimum number of lower cost COs supervising the greatest number of inmates supports expanding departments which means more administrative jobs for friends and family members, and greater salaries for advancing administrators.

PizzaGirl said...

One of my family members works for TDCJ. They have a hiring freeze at the moment for most jobs but had to hire extras, even with that freeze, to keep up with the sex offender registry! (also guards of course, and those are people who are desperate just to get a job, I know of not one person who likes being a guard for TDCJ). So, get rid of the sex offender registry or at least stop imprisoning guys who did nothing but a consensual chat, consensual sex..NON violent crimes that we did as teens! Those should not be charged with a felony (it ruins their lives for one mistake) and then we'll have more time and less staff needed. But OH WAIT, it's the Sex Offender TREATMENT providers who are making the big bucks, OH WAIT, it's also the parole officers who get to drive around all day finding 'routes' for the "former offender" to drive around because the SEX offender cannot drive just anywhere like a drug dealer or murderer can. We're wasting money left and right. I used to work for TDCJ and I could only stand the red-tape for about 8 months and I was outta there. It sucked, it was a power trip for the "high ups" and "slave labor" for those like me who answered phones and such even if I had way more training than them. I knew some who knew nothing about computers get jobs that involved computers, that happens still to this day!

TDCJ is broken from the top down. My family member works hard every day, all day long. Others sit and trim their nails, read the paper, etc. so there are surely some they can get rid of..but the sex offender "junk" has got to go.

(and no, I'm not a sex offender, but I've seen the damage it does to TEXAS families, including children)

Anonymous said...

Having just retired from TDCJ, I feel I can offer some ideas. I worked at Allred for 13 yrs 3 months. In that time I saw alot of people come and go. One of the problems with the staffing issue, is the quality of new hires, the selection of rank, and the inanee and asine rules added by the warden. As for trimming the TDCJ budget, I feel that the agency is top heavy ie duplication in many areas. The agency needs to realizse that it is 2011 almost not 30 yrs ago!!!!

Anonymous said...

Folks everyone is missing the real problem. Its not TDCJ, its not Mr. Livingston fault or even Mr. Bell's fault. Its the fault of congressional leaders who have created so much red tape and restrictions on how government entities purchase goods and services. I challenge each of you to do your own research. Just find out how much governments spend on the cost of a toilet seat that you and I can buy at Wally World for $29.99. Its pure waste of the tax payers money. There needs to be drastic changes in laws regarding money expenditures and the ability for a tech to go by a part at the most reasonable rate instead of paying the increased government cost. If government spending means were changed and a level of accountability was created to include incarceration of violators, tax payers money would be spend much more wisely I think and not put folks out of work or endanger the safety of others. Just my opinion......

Anonymous said...

TDCJ is a train wreck. Our "Tough on Crime" policy has brought Texas to a place very similar to California. Here's a letter to the CA governor( in part) that reflects California's prison crisis.
Dear Governor Schwarzenegger and members of the Legislature:
California’s prisons are out of space and running out of time. The State already has ceded control to the federal courts for prison mental health, juvenile justice and the prison health system. In December, a federal judge ordered the State to fix the overcrowding problem within six months, or face the prospect of a prison population cap. The State is past the point for assigning blame. The urgency of the crisis demands we look now to those who can produce a solution. That responsibility lies with the Governor and the Legislature. You have the authority and, as California’s leaders, must share the duty of fixing
California’s failed corrections system...The problem does not need further study. The State knows what the answers are, thanks to nearly two decades of work by such groups as the Blue Ribbon Commission on Population Management, the Corrections Independent Review Panel and a series of reports by this Commission. Despite ample evidence and recommendations, policy-makers have been unwilling to take on the problem in a purposeful, constructive way.
The consequences of failing to act aggressively now leave the State open to losing control of the
State correctional system and with it, control of the state budget. The debacle developed over decades. Solutions, likewise, will be years in the making. But making a start now is essential. The bare facts have earned California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation an ignoble distinction for systemic failure. Inmates have swelled prisons far past capacity. With cells already full, new inmates camp out in hallways, gyms and classrooms. The goals of punishment and confinement have left little room, or budget, for rehabilitation. The bulk of the State’s prisoners are not succeeding once released. California’s recidivism rate, at 70 percent, is near the highest in the nation. The ranks of correctional officers have not kept pace with the rising prison population. The department has thousands of openings, resulting in huge overtime bills and mounting stress for correctional officers.
These are some of the problems you must solve.
During the past five years, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation budget has surged 52 percent. California taxpayers legitimately can ask what return they are getting in increased public

safety and question the trade-offs the State implicitly makes in spending an increasing portion of its general fund dollars on corrections.
The status quo is not acceptable. But even federal court intervention, a special legislative
session and a Governor’s emergency proclamation have yet to generate a level of alarm that
reflects the size of the crisis.
The choices are stark. The price of failure is unimaginable. It is not too late to act.
Michael E. Alpert
The Commission approved this report with a vote of 7-1. A dissenting opinion accompanies the

Anonymous said...

They say crime does not pay. Trust me, crime pays well, and so does corrections.

The Prison system is BIG Money for Texas. Nearly 18% of Texans work for Corrections. Texas spends more money on corrections than any other state, more than many entire countries! That is why your elected lawmakers continue to pass more new laws to get more Texans locked up. 1 in 100 Americans are in the system but the stats for Texas is much worse. Read the Pew Report.

Most of the lawmakers are unaware of laws they create. Many do not read the bills but pass anything that will help them appear tough on crime. It is political suicide for them to introduce legislation that could help solve these problems. You need to write to your State and local Senators and Representatives and demand fiscal responsibility. Look at the waste of your tax dollars described in these posts regarding the Sex Offender registry. Thousands of Texans lives ruined AND the registry makes your children LESS safe.