Friday, June 22, 2012

Staffing shortages force closure of TDCJ Connally unit wing

Prisoners from four dorms at the the 2,800 bed Connally unit in south Texas were were transferred to other units after chronic water shortages, but ironically the immediate reason for the move wasn't water: They just can't keep the unit staffed. TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark told Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman ("Portion of South Texas prison closed because of water, staffing shortage," June 22), "As of May 31, there were 527 authorized correctional officer positions at Connally," he said. There are currently 309 correctional officers on duty and 218 vacancies." That's a 41% vacancy rate among Connally unit staff, which puts massive pressure on remaining workers, who must fill in the gaps with overtime.

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.

"We are also redoubling our recruitment efforts and have recently launched a newspaper and radio recruitment campaign for correctional officers," he said.
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.

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.

11 comments:

Prison Doc said...

Money may help but I don't know where it will come from; the oil patch pays a lot better, and who wants to be a guard? Nurse outfits and police outfits still sell well at Christmas, but what kid ever asks for a prison guard outfit?

I overheard a comment the other day that what this world needs is a big electromagnetic pulse to wipe out everything and make us all start over.

I'm not sure that a similar game-changer isn't going to happen in corrections.

Anonymous said...

The 309 on duty officers is very, very, misleading. If there are 218 vacancies there are 309 positions that are filled. Of these 309 positions filled how many are available for duty?

Officers that are out on Medical leave, workman's comp, sick leave,Annual training, military leave, etc., etc., etc., are NOT "ON DUTY"! When you subtract the employees pending termination and those that quit coming to work the availability is further decreased.

The reality of available officers on a day to day basis is probably less than 50%; per the unit staffing plan.

Mike Ward should ask Jason to provide a break down of all the assigned officers that are really available to work a shift.

If a legislator really wanted a true picture of unit staffing he should show up at a unit and count how many officers are working on the unit. Compare the staffing plan and the shift turn-out roster with the positions physically manned. He may be shocked by the results. Then again he may not want to know because he couldn't deny ignorance on the subject matter.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

The pool for potential employers is not all the big to begin with. This is Texas where 1 in 22 people are IN jail, prison or under court supervision - translated - they are probably felons. Another 70,000 are on the sex offender registry.

Anonymous said...

Time for the Governor and the state ledgislature to wake up and smell the coffee. If Texas wants to lock all these people up it will have to be paid for. Every time the ledgislature meets we all hear a lanudry list of laws that will now require prison time or laws that have been toughened up to require longer sentences. Then we don't pay the bill.

It wasn't to long ago that TDCJ was swimimg in applications for officers secondary to the economy. There were for the first time, probably ever, more applicants than jobs. TDCJ tuffened their requirements for getting in and the requirements for the yearly training for officers. What's happening with the increased turn over rate now is not because of the oil feilds. The jobs in the oil feilds are just speeding it along. The salaries of state employees is a matter of public record. Go on line and look them up you will find that a director of nursing for UTMB at a unit like Connally makes $20,000 to $25,000 more than the warden. Just how long does anybody think that Texas can go on housing a hugh prison population and not have to pay for the security and medical care that is needed, and keep in mind the offenders right to medical care is federally mandated. Can you spell Ruiz?

jeraous said...

Thanks for keeping us updated on events concerning TDCJ. I have 2 sons incarcerated in TDCJ Prisons.

Anonymous said...

The medical might be federally mandated, but it is still very poor. They give a person seziure meds that make the worse they fall over and knock out a front tooth and are told it can't be fixed because they don't do cosmetic dentistry. Security loses their glasses and then they will not replace them. Everybody alive has broken a law some get caught some don't and the ones that do get locked away for 20 years treated like an animal and no one knows why they end up back in prison.

Anonymous said...

Till u pay a a decent salary , TDCJ will continue to have this revolving door effect. Make it were one wants to keep there job and come to work. And dont ever talk about a CO's job until u beat the pavement for 12 hours, I welcome any texas politician to try it. A most under appreciatated career field.

Anonymous said...

The other problem is the people they hire don't really do there job. And if you'r a married man you have to move far away from you'r family. And most of the co there sleep around with other co instead of doing there job.. it like a one big sex club over there.and the pay is a joke..

Anonymous said...

Let's get real people wake up. TDCJ is looking at this situation at the Connally unit with blinders on. You have very few good officers there and that won't be for long the amount of bad bosses run that unit. Who wants to work with corrupt bosses? Good bosses are forced to make a choice between morals or earn a living. So some stay and endure another work week filled with jerk Bosses in 11bldg, 7bldg, and 8bldg who for their own shits and giggles assult, severly beat, and threaten offenders. Where else can a good boss be repremanded for not warning the other officers before turning on the video camera as he caught several officers including some ranking officers beating an offender black and blue. Nothing was done to those officers but Connally sure covered that up. It never even left the unit. Where is the justice in that for the good officer who was just doing his job?

Anonymous said...

I was at connally and they were short on guards all the time..

Anonymous said...

I worked for TDCJ on 3 units, including Connally. It's was the most dangerous and most rewarding work while working for TDCJ. I left to work in federal law enforcement. Now, I couldn't afford to be a warden. The pay cut would be murder. Risking your life everyday for $33k is not worth it. When you can double or even triple your pay in other law enforcement jobs, why work there?

Good luck to everyone who must still work there.