Friday, March 11, 2011

Failure rates high on the Texas prison guard career ladder

Wednesday I mentioned that RIFs (reductions in force) among Texas prison guards could probably be accomplished through attrition instead of having to do actual "layoffs." Today let's look a little closer at the turnover rate among Texas correctional officers, as described in a report (not online) I received in an open records request from TDCJ called "FY 2010 Agency Turnover by Title.".

Here are the total number of Correctional Officer "separations" from TDCJ in FY 2010 for all reasons, along with the respective turnover rates for the employee classifications COs I-V that year.  
  • CO I: 478, 59.27%  
  • CO II: 1285, 50.61%  
  • CO III: 2,366, 28.14%  
  • CO IV: 814, 11.38% 
  •  CO V: 781, 8.42% 
At least three notable problems jump out: 

1. TDCJ is having a hard time retaining new hires. Someone hired as a CO I who wants to work their way up the ranks has a 80% chance of washing out before they make it to CO III. (Multiplying success rates for the first two categories, i.e., those who didn't "separate" from the agency, one gets .4073 x .4939 = .2012, or a 20.1% success rate, and conversely 80% failure.) In other words, TDCJ must hire and train five CO Is to end up with one, fully trained, more experienced CO III down the line. The others are going to disappear on you.

2. The agency is hemorrhaging CO IIIs, with 2,366 employees under that classification leaving the agency in FY 2010. Once employees make CO IV, separation rates begin to stabilize as employees presumably decide stick it out for retirement. But that's an 85% washout rate before COs reach that level. The large number of CO III departures is particularly troubling from a management perspective because that's happening after they've been fully trained and completed any probationary period. So replacing them requires not just paying someone else their salary but training, certification, etc., representing a significant drain on the agency.

3. Both the House and Senate filed budgets anticipate cutting front-line guard pay, eliminating the 7% boost given them in the last biennial budget to increase retention rates. Some of that money was spent on front-end subsidies to attract new hires that will now go away. As the economy improves - particularly as oil prices rise - the struggle to attract and retain employees at TDCJ will only worsen.

Jobs are scarce, so people are still applying, but from these numbers the job clearly isn't for everyone. Many are called, I suppose, but few are chosen - or more accurately, few ultimately choose to stick with the profession beyond the short term. Apparently this is a job most applicants don't want to do no matter how badly they need the money!


Anonymous said...

Minimal salary, inadequate preliminary screening, traditional style of supervision. Quality of life is the issue. It's comlpicate, but also very simple.

Anonymous said...

Just curious, but I wonder how many staff leaving TDCJ guard positions are doing so because they graduate from college rather than being dissatisfied? When I worked there a LONG time ago, many of the officers were college students who went on to other careers once they graduated.

James said...

A number of people sign up with TDCJ in order to have a job "now" while they wait for something more lucrative that is in the works. I can't quote an exact amount, but I imagine if TDCJ managed to get a exit survey commissioned that would generate honest answers (i.e., something not run by HR where people just jot down "personal" in order to hurry and leave), they would find that this is one of the reasons they lose entry level COs so fast.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many staff leave because they got caught doing something they shouldn't have been doing (establishing relationships, bringing in contrabend, etc). I have been to the prison and seen a list of CO's names that must "report to HR immediately". They were all dirty and they know not to return because they are caught. But at the same time many of these guards are single moms and when the inmates pay better than TDCJ I guess it is hard to resist the temptation. To someone trying to feed their child the risk may become worth the reward, until they get caught. Either way it is a problem and it is kept quiet pretty well, until an inmate escapes from seg. Then it is a big story for a little while and we forget again. Just like the cell phones.

Anonymous said...

3:20, I certainly hope that it's not a significant percentage of the 5,724 guards who left the CO jobs last year. If so, we have more problems to worry about than budget shortfalls, cell phones and escaping inmates.

William said...

Just hire all the illegal aliens that will do the jobs us americans wont do. besides many of their friends, family, neighbors and fellow gangbangers are in TDCJ anyways, it would be like a family reunion or neighborhood block party.

Anonymous said...


Don't want to give you the bad news but I'd rather have an undocumented immigrant living next door than either a jailer or you for that matter, you. They have a lower crime rate than the general national population and as one state senator from the Carolinas commented, they work. And having jailed a few over the years, I have found them politer than either you or me! :~)

Anonymous said...

I've not personally looked at the stats on why co's voluntarily leave employment with TDCJ. However, TDCJ does provide a course for supervisors during the supervisory in service week called "Keeping The Good Ones". During the course we are told that the main reason cited on exit interviews for co's leaving employment with TDCJ is how they were treated by their supervisors. Most co's leaving felt they were treated badly by their supervisors. Thus, TDCJ made an effort to assist supervisors with their management skills. Has it helped? Perhaps. I don't know for sure.

What I do know is that the correctional staff in TDCJ are some of the lowest paid staff in the nation. Correctional officers have some of the most stressful jobs in the work place. This job is not for everyone. You must be mentally prepared to deal with the worst society has to offer in humans, and physically prepared to respond to any kind of emergency. Your day may be 23hrs and 55 mins of boredom. Then in a flash you are fighting for your life, or the life of someone else. Those last few minutes of your day can be terrifying. This job is not for the weak at heart.

So, I suspect that a lot of folks who hire on really don't know the kind of job they are getting into. And, when they really find out what it entails, they leave. And, rightly so. Those who come to that realization, that this is not the job for them, will be much happier else where.

Would it help to raise the hiring standards? Sure it would. The only problem with that is the applicant pool will dwindle to next to nothing. Why? Because few people are willing to take on this kind of work for the low pay we get. If the standards are raised to attract more competent applicants, the pay and benefits will have to be raised along with it. It's just like any other job in that if you want to attract the brightest and best you must give them some incentive to apply for the job. Without that incentive they will look elsewhere.

I've made a career here with TDCJ. I first hired on at the age of 18 because my girl friends father would not let me marry his daughter without a job. I still laugh when I remember that I had to take him my first pay check, all of 805 dollars, and show it to him. That was over 28yrs ago. We're still married, and I love her more now than the day I road over 300 miles on my motorcycle to show her daddy that check.

I love my job, and this agency. I'd sure like to see our legislature help us rather than hurt us.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

Jim Stott said...

Good post, Marty. I remember it as a great job for the time. That was the early 70's and it was great pay back then with a chance to do a little studying if you could keep one eye on the fence line. For the most part, there was a lot respect among officers and managers, although we did have the occasional egotistical boss. Not sure about the situation now, but it appears the morale is pretty low. I think the Carrasco escape attempt from the Walls in 74 was a point for me. We all kind of came together and felt useful. Although I hope that never happens again, I remember as a CO during the siege, being on the same post at the Walls with a Building Major. For the moment, we shared the same job and had some good conversations. It made me realize this was not a bad career choice. Like you say, it's not a job for the faint of heart.

PAPA said...

There is nothing wrong with paying a person a fair salary that gives them the ability to support their families and have a life. BUT, only those that deserve it. The Professional Correctional Officers that do their job according to the rules, regulations, codes, laws, policies and uphold the standards of the job deserve fair pay. The rest of the scum bags aka guards that harm Inmates, lie, steal, bring in drugs, cell phones, contraban, participate in gang activities, have affairs with Inmates, retaliate, love getting up each morning to beat down an Inmate, need to be sent to prison when caught and made to pay the cost of their damages to the Inmates and prisons sytem...get them off the Taxpayers Payroll. We would not need so many guards if Rissie Owens would release those qualified to be released to Parole. Just because she does not believe in parole does not give her authority to disobey the rules, policies, regulations, laws, codes that have been set by the legislators. Get her out of there would eliminate a lot of the back log...what happened to Senator's Whitmire's blasting Owens for not providing the programs to get the Inmates out of there that are having to be backlogged for no other reason than they have not received the programs that has the forever waiting list attached to them..there has to be some changes made because what is happening is not working. Release the Non Violent Inmates and the Walking Wounded Veterans of the long ago lost DRUG WAR, get them off the Taxpayers Payroll including the administrators that are not doing their jobs. STOP the INSANITY, ENOUGH is ENOUGH, REFORM or OUT THE DOOR, NOT soft on crime, STRONG on Fair justice

Anonymous said...

Papa, I think all of the good employee's of TDCJ would agree with you on your feelings about staff. We don't like having the crooked, sorry employee's working there either. And, when we can gather the evidence necessary to get rid of them, or prosecute them, we do the best we can to do so. I personally hate the reputation that crooked staff give to all the good staff. They are a black eye on our agency, and need to go.

Jim, the times have sure changed since you worked for the agency. The togetherness, respect, and team work that you and I felt when we first started doesn't seem to be there that often now day's. The pay has not kept up with the economy, or inflation. Good leadership is harder and harder to come by now day's. It's still out there. But, even when you have a good leader, their hands get tied by bureaucracy and red tape. So, it's frustrating sometimes for them. But, they do the best they can with what they have.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

Anonymous said...

Don't mistake CO III's for experienced officers. Many new boots are CO III's. If you have 2 years military service or a bachelor's degree, you start off as a CO III. So the high drop off rate of CO I (you only need 3 months to become a CO II - and half of that is preservice training) is going to reflect in the termination rate for CO III also -- when a person first figures out for whatever reason that the job does not work for them. A person is a CO II only from month 3 to month 8. So an 18 year old high school graduate could become a CO III before their 19th birthday (it only takes 9 months). So somebody can still be pretty wet behind the ears and still be a CO III. Just saying.

Besides the failure of recruitment screening, the thing to look at is the disconnect between what new boots get in training and what they do on the job. Some of the 60% leaving before their third month may be failing out of the preservice training, but most of it probably comes from realizing what the job really is versus what the training was. Just saying.

DeathBreath said...

It is quite simple. There is far too much B.S. to endure as a CO. For the most part, the offenders are the least to worry about. You have to watch the sharks on top of the water because they have gutted others to get rank. But, let's keep our head buried in the sand, Austin.

Anonymous said...

DAYTON -- The Dayton Police Department is lowering its testing standards for recruits.

It's a move required by the U.S. Department of Justice after it says not enough African-Americans passed the exam.

The D.O.J. approved new scoring policy only requires potential police officers to get a 58% and a 63%. That's the equivalent of an ‘F’ and a ‘D’.

The D.O.J. has forced other police departments across the country to lower testing standards, citing once again that not enough black candidates were passing.

The Dayton Firefighter recruit exam is coming up this summer. The chief said it’s likely the passing score for that test will be lowered as well.

Friday, March 11 2011, 12:17 AM EST

Hook Em Horns said...

Perhaps we could do a real exit interview by stopping into a McDonalds or Burger King and interviewing ex-CO's. Oh, wait a minute, that's the hiring pool. My bad!

Anonymous said...

The guards I work with put up with huge amouns of hassle, from both fellow CO's and offenders. It is not a job I would want, especially when you can now go to work in the Oil Fields for a lot more money, As a member of the medical staff I would not want the job, the inmates have more rights than the officers, and they all know it. A lot of Officer time is spent workiing
on grievances from the offenders, just paperwork defending yourself for menial things.
I know that there are justifiable problems in security,
but I also know a lot of really dedicated officers who
get little credit for the job they do on behalf of all of
us, both inside and outside the system.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:54, excellent comment, thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Its not likely that the departure rates will improve. The simple truth is that most prisons across America hold the same challenges that Texas holds. The job sucks: low pay (loss of benefits) violent and dangerous work environment, coupled with the reality that no one gives a crap about prisons, excluding the friends and family of offenders or the employees themselves. Society puts little to no value in the incarcerated, likewise, its not willing or receptive to paying higher salaries or increasing the standards for staff to work at such places.

Johnny Exchange said...

I'm in the same camp of people who believe that the CO job is near the top of 'burn-out jobs'. In general, their 'customer' is the offender, someone who loathes their very existence. At the same time, if they do something to offend their customer, they have to answer to the law and the media. It is also a violent atmosphere, one that induces a high amount of stress and one that can be routine, boring and uneventful the majority of the time. Everything they say and do at work is on video and whatever they say or do can and will be used against them. The media and public is quick to judge them and the offenders are writing private letters and notes to their superiors on a regular basis complaining of treatment. Add all this into an atmosphere of heavy drinking while not working and you have just a few of the reasons for high turnover.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you're describing TYC.

Anonymous said...

Many of them leave because if they try to do their job, they're branded as mean and disciplined or they have ranking officers who are too lazy to do paperwork and tell them to forget it when they try to act on inmate violations. Also, TDC lies about being fully staffed. Maybe on paper but there's an almost 50% call in rate at some units at all times. Management tolerates chronic absenteeism that often leaves one female officer overseeing from over 100 to as many as 300 inmates. Many of those who do come to work make friends with inmates and other COs can't count on their coworkers to have their backs so they do nothing for their own preservation. Some TDC units are powder kegs ready to blow but you won't see Huntsville addressing this very dangerous situation. If they cut staffing anymore than it already is, you just as well hand the inmates the keys because it's too dangerous now. It will be impossible then.

Anonymous said...

Texas should have new hires start in the jail first before they spend money on sending new hires to the academy 1 week of agency training, 2 weeks of on the job training with a senior officer and then they are on their own until scheduled to go to the academy,put in atleast a year. This gives them an opportunity to see if this profession is for them and it also detects the ducks : CO'S who are easily persuaded into bringing contraband in or being to inmate friendly that you can't perform you're duties, under the guidelines of your institution.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion you only get promoted if your friend with a supervisor.It dont matter what your status was before that.

Anonymous said...

Senetor Whitmire should put DNA testing requirements and up the amount of random drug testing.And just for safe measure have a copy all drug test documents sent to someome that makes sure every unit is doing the proper amount of drug tests. And makes sure that ALL employees are subject to drug testing not just cos.

Anonymous said...

It's incredible to me to see how this incredibly huge problem is evaluated with oversimplification and opinion. The public has no idea whats holding this prison system of ours together. Have you ever heard of the little dutch boy ? Well the damn is about to break. I've been running shifts for over 20 years and have never seen it so bad. We are just barely getting it done because I rarely have an adequate number of officers to meet minimum staffing for normal operations. Two thirds of these people don't care or their on the convicts side and the are working against us . Therefore I have a core of race horses that I'm running into the ground to get it done but their getting tired and so am I. Operating on a shoe string in this dangerous environment is a recipe for disaster. All this talk about perks, dirty bosses, budgets and any other crap you want to speculate on will not change the fact that the agency needs help. People don't realize that these prisons can blow apart. If you've been their ou know what I'm talking about. No you won't here this from those that push the company line, a lot of the powers that be have their blinders on. My wife and I have just about done our time along with alot of other seasoned staff members who came in when we did and we will be gone, but, I shutter to think of the future generations who are going to try to keep this thing together. Who are they going to get to run it? They'll try the national guard but they don't know convicts, but maybe they can find some monkeys who can do the job. I know that this little rant doesn't mean a thing and you probably think I'm full of it but I do hope that people will look at this thing realistically because it's no joke.

Anonymous said...

I spent 2 years in TDCJ. I worked in Amarillo. I am not a disgruntled CO with a bad attitude. That is not the source of what I am saying here. You want to know why TDC can't keep people? It's the other guards! There was a saying when I worked at TDCJ. "Your worst enemy is wearing the same uniform you are". I saw guards trying to hurt each other any chance they got and in any way possible. Some appeared to be suffering from extreme psych' disorders. I seen guards on several occasions have conversations with people that weren't really there. What I discovered was frightening. Probably more than 70% had went from one job after another after another before landing at TDC. I remember after the academy I had just finished my first day of OJT at the prison. I went over to a buddy's house that had worked there. He asked me what I thought of my first day on the job. I looked at him and said, "Those people out there want to hurt each other!". He just looked at me and smiled. Other than physical violence your biggest threat was not the inmates but the other guards. The rumor mill was the most malicious I have ever seen. And it didn't end there. The best job assignments only went to a few and retaliation from upper management so to speak resulted in a person being stuck in the worst jobs day after day after day. This resulted in extreme burnout. Above it was mentioned getting a promotion and if you weren't kissing some serious ass you didn't have a chance. Most Co's I worked with never even wasted their time with those promotion boards as they knew they didn't have a prayer. Needless to say the nepotism was horrendous and it did a lot to hurt morale. Some guards there were so awful to work with I actually witnessed people feign sickness when they realized they were going to be assigned to work with them for the night. Supervisors were also terrific. I remember when we were so short handed that we went MONTHS without ever getting so much as a 15 minute break for the entire 8 hours we worked. Which violates about every labor/OSHA law on the books. We went months without ever being allowed to eat. While this was happening we had 4 and 5 supervisors hiding out somewhere within the prison for most of the night.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where they would go but I never saw them. Not once did they ever come to relieve any of us if even long enough to allow us to run down to the coke machine. I watched guards sit around and just talk about each other like f_/cking DOGS. Day after day after day. Ironically, the horror stories were so prevalent in Amarillo that I can't even begin to count the no# of times I was told by people that there was no way they would go to work out there due to what they had heard about the employees and the sh!t they did to each other. I mean, I watched guards literally lie in wait in an attempt to get each other fired! I had been there about a year when I witnessed something that just left me speechless. I saw SEVEN guards actually get together after work for the sole purpose of drafting a letter. This letter was to be sent to a CO's spouse. Actually. 2 co's. This group of seven thought that perhaps these 2 were having an affair. (I am not talking co - inmate here...this was 2 co's) So they got together after work and drafted a letter and sent it to each of the 2 spouses informing them that they "thought" they might be having an affair behind their back. I would have never believed it if they hadn't openly admitted to what they had all got together and done. In my 2 years there I watched guards threaten each other's lives. Confrontations in the parking lot after work. Male and female guards literally stalk each other on their off time. I never had problems with TDCJ while there. I was never a disciplinary case. When I resigned it was in good standing with the state. I never got into it with the other guards. I did this by laying low and keeping my head down and staying the hell away from almost everyone I worked with. So again, that is not the reason I write these things. (as some will probably accuse me of) After 2 years I just couldn't take it any more. Someone above mentioned better screening for employees. I had always stated that every guard should be subjected to a psychiatric evaluation and terminated on the spot if it was decided that they were looney tunes. I don't think there would be anyone left.