Texas correctional officers guard one of the largest state inmate populations in the country but are plagued by a shortage of people willing to do the job.The article offered up this description of the consequences of understaffing at rural, adult prison units:
It’s a thankless but critical function. The pay is low, the hours are long, the conditions are grueling and the danger is constant.
“If they say that Texas schoolteachers are underpaid, correctional officers don’t stand a chance,” said Keith Price, retired warden of the William P. Clements Unit in Amarillo. “Prisons and prisoners are out of sight and out of mind. Correctional officers get that same kind of treatment.”
The state’s prison system is offering a $3,000 signing bonus for new guards in hopes of filling the latest in a series of shortages. The prisons department this year had 2,800 vacancies in an authorized complement of 25,778 full- and part-time guards.
Those openings are driven by a turnover rate last fiscal year of nearly one in five guards, according to state records. More Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees voluntarily left the agency last year than workers in any other state department, state reports show.
Most guards spend 12-hour shifts in poorly heated or cooled prisons, [retired warden Keith Price] said.Musa accurately speculated that the Texas Legislature is unlikely to offer significant pay hikes to prison guards next year, so as the economy continues to rebound this situation will only worsen. Indeed, given that the Legislature failed to fully fund prison healthcare this biennium, any extra funds will almost certainly go toward that line item before COs see another dime. Even if legislative leadership remains in denial on this question, practical reality has already begun to intervene: The state has already had to mothball beds at the Connally unit, and they're not the only facility that's dangerously short-staffed.
Meanwhile, overtime costs soar. The state paid about $7.5 million for 285,000 overtime hours in fiscal year 2011, records show.
“Staffing plans have been so reduced that there’s just no fat left on the bone,” [AFSCME rep Marty] Turner said. “You have one person doing two people’s jobs.”
Guards might not get vacation, and prisoners might not get their recreational hour, he said.
And guards might not complete or thoroughly search cells as part of routine checks, Turner said.
In the end, the only real solution besides increasing state spending on corrections is to change laws and policies to reduce the number of people incarcerated and close multiple units. We've already reached the point where cuts on paper during budget writing season are almost immediately trumped by the practical need to feed, house, guard, and provide healthcare for prisoners, while education and treatment programming have been slashed to the bone. TDCJ can't possibly cut its budget any further - or even operate under the budget constraints imposed last session - and still house the same number of people in the same number of units it does today.