Wrote Foxhall, "Reasons abound for why the job as a correctional officer is a tough one: Pay is low, most prisons are not fully air-conditioned and inmates are not always happy to be taking orders." My question: Who thinks any of that will change any time soon? Prison guard pay was bumped up slightly two sessions ago to help with recruitment, and recently recruiting bonuses for the most understaffed units were increased from $1,500 to $3,000. But that's not enough to draw people to work at units out in BFE. State Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire has basically said more prisons would be air conditioned over his dead body. And inmates will never be "happy to be taking orders." (In truth, few people are.)
Foxhall further cited "a survey by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, in partnership with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees," which said the employee grievace process is ineffective. "About three-fourths of those surveyed said they did not find the process to be 'fair and effective'," and Duane Stuart of The Backgate website told her "that staff are hesitant to report any corruption or wrongdoing to TDCJ." (Through Grits' own various back channels and informants, I hear the same thing all the time.) Many of the new security measures aimed at reducing the flow of contraband have fallen most heavily on TDCJ employees, contributing to poor morale, and those aren't going away.
The only lawmaker quoted in the story was Sen. Whitmire, who "agreed that many prisons were built in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons." But his suggested solution doesn't inspire confidence. "Now, he said, legislators need to focus on getting Texans to pay for improvement of conditions for the workers."
However, the 2013 session almost assuredly won't result in higher pay for correctional officers (COs) because of the budget crunch, and in fact Grits expects some lawmakers to seek to cut their benefits and/or further reduce their number. There are more COs at TDCJ than any other category of state employee and even a small pay hike would have big budget implications. And unless they're ordered to provide air conditioning by the federal courts, that problem isn't going away, either.
For a variety of reasons - mostly related to failures of budgetary leadership by the last legislature - the 83rd Texas legislative session's budget debates will be dominated by how to pay for education and healthcare, with the prison and probation systems scrapping for crumbs. With all due respect to Sen. Whitmire, anybody who claims the Legislature will "pay for improvement of conditions" for prison workers is blowing smoke. One might as well suggest the problem will be resolved through prayer for divine intervention, the way Gov. Perry two years ago called for Texans to pray for rain instead of championing a viable water plan.
Grits was quoted at the end of Foxhall's article making essentially those points, and calling for seizing the opportunity to reduce the size of the prison system:
Scott Henson, a former reporter who writes the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, said increased spending on prisons is unlikely.See prior, related Grits posts:
“We’re at the complete end of that cycle that was begun 22 years ago. No one wants to foot the bill for how expensive it is,” Henson said.
Most agree that the temporary closures in Kenedy due to staffing shortages are not something to be celebrated, but Henson said that the state should continue efforts to reduce the prison population and close prisons in an intentional manner.
Even after the state closed its first prison last year, Henson said, Texas is operating more prisons than it should be.
- Prison staff shortages and budget reality
- TDCJ can't keep rural units adequately staffed
- Staffing shortages force closure of TDCJ Connally unit wing
- Adult, juvie corrections took 39% of state employee reductions last year
- Juvie, adult prison guards atop list of high turnover state jobs
- 2,000 jobs cut at TDCJ
- 'As TDCJ recruiting slows, overtime usage increases'