McConnell 59.89%These units are dangerously understaffed and operating unsustainably on overtime. Another five units were at between 70-80% of full staffing. Overall, last year TDCJ was 22.4% below the number of correctional officers budgeted. But digging a bit deeper into the numbers, TDCJ is having an even harder time retaining COs than in the past. According to the agency's FY 2011 turnover report, obtained by Grits yesterday and posted online here, COIs, or entry level staff, continued to leave the agency at a whopping 59.4% rate, roughly the same as the year before. But separations by COIIs increased last year, to 56.5%, up from 50.6% in 2010. Equally concerning, COIII's are leaving the agency at a higher rate than the previous year: One third (33.8%) left the agency in 2011 compared to 28.1% in 2010.
More experienced COs are also leaving at slightly higher rates. Some 14.7% of COIVs left the agency in 2011 compared to 11.4% in 2010, and 10.2% of COVs left the agency, compared to 8.4% the year before. Overall, a whopping 6,124 COs left TDCJ last year, which after new hires left more than 2,500 slots unfilled.
As a commenter pointed out the other day, there's a limited pool to draw on for these jobs. Folks with significant education or skills can generally find higher paying work. And with one in 25 Texas adults in prison, jail, on probation or parole - and a much larger number having criminal records - many folks for whom TDCJ would seem like a good job from an economic standpoint aren't eligible. Plus, Texas is an urban state and most of the prisons are in rural counties, so there's a location mismatch between jobs and workers.
TDCJ has offered a one-time bonus to recruits willing to work at their most understaffed units, doubling a bonus created in 2008 for the same purpose from $1,500 to $3,000. That should help but it's a short-term fix. As of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for Texas correctional officers stood at $34,880 - not the lowest in the region but probably not competitive enough to attract people from elsewhere. State and local governments collectively employ more than 48,000 people as guards in Texas prisons and jails, according to the BLS, giving Texas the largest number of correctional officers in the nation. One wonders whether the state has maxxed out its labor pool available to do that job in areas where units face chronic understaffing.