Units located in places like Karnes County where fracking has boosted jobs in the oil and gas industry face a particular problem, competing for the same workers in a small pool and offering sub-standard wages. If you were going to take a job working in the Texas heat with no AC, most rational people would choose the job that a) paid a lot more and b) didn't involve constantly dealing with criminals. That dynamic isn't going away for the next several years.
Regular readers know this is not a new problem. The annual turnover rate for corrections officers (COs) at TDCJ topped 22% as of December 2011, with some rural units like Connally facing even more serious shortages. About 80% of new recruits drop out, so TDCJ must hire and train five newbies to end up with one, fully trained, more experienced CO down the line.
In the near term, TDCJ plans to institute recruiting bonuses to hire more staff, though heaven knows where the money will come from given the agency's already overstrapped budget:
to ease the chronic staffing shortages at Connally and six other state prisons, Brad Livingston, the prison system's executive director, announced a one-time recruitment pay bonus will be doubled — from $1,500 to $3,000 — for guards who agree to work at the understaffed lockups.That may boost short-term hiring, but with four out of five new recruits washing out, it's still not a long-term solution. TDCJ employs the most people of any state agency and Texas prison staff are among the lowest paid in the nation. Boosting pay by some significant amount or creating more financial incentives for retention could help solve or at least mitigate the problem but the state's budgetary crisis likely makes that a non-starter.
"We are also redoubling our recruitment efforts and have recently launched a newspaper and radio recruitment campaign for correctional officers," he said.
Texas can't afford to incarcerate all the prisoners it currently houses. Prison healthcare was underfunded by more than $100 million this biennium and the agency can't find enough guards willing to work at existing wages to staff rural units. Though at this point Grits sounds like a broken record, the only practical way to reduce those costs is to change the laws to reduce the inmate population and close more prisons, starting with rural units that struggle to maintain adequate staffing.
RELATED: See a letter to TDCJ from the Texas Civil Rights Project regarding the water shortage situation at the Connally unit.