The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the largest state government employer, lost more than 2,000 state-paid full-time positions. Agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said the job losses were “absolutely because of the budget cuts.” The agency attributes the loss of 1,000 positions directly to lost funding. The agency also chose not to fill many vacant positions, Lyons said, and eliminated programs, transferring the services offered by those programs to other departments. “Everyone was trying to be pro-active in identifying areas where we could save money in these economic times,” she said.So Texas cut 2,000 prison jobs but failed to enact legislation that will significantly reduce the prison population. As Grits suggested earlier this year, most of those cuts came through attrition, which is possible because of the extraordinarily high turnover rate among Texas prison guards. Not only does high turnover among "new boots" contribute to understaffing at prisons, it also partially explains the high volume of contraband flowing into Texas prisons despite so-called "zero tolerance" policies which have been in place for several years. Less experienced staff with fewer institutional ties are more prone to corruption.
Will such large force reductions harm safety for prison staff and inmates or limit the number of beds the state can operate? Already we've seen reports of increased mandatory overtime to make up for fewer boots on the ground. It wasn't that long ago that TDCJ faced staffing shortages so severe that administrators had to shut down whole prison wings because of too few guards to oversee them. One wouldn't be surprised to see the same situation recur in the near future. With accompanying cuts to health insurance and retirement benefits for prison staff, even in the current recession, it's not likely to get any easier for TDCJ to recruit and/or retain staff in the short to medium term.