In addition to pay hikes, "The agency is also asking for an additional $17.5 million to build dorm-style staff housing for correctional officers at the seven short-staffed prisons. That project is on a 'wish list' of items prison officials would like to have, if the Legislature has extra money to spend — which appears unlikely," Ward reported, adding that:
As part of its budget request, the prison system included more than $1 billion in funding for prisoner health care — an amount that will probably be too small.Prison guards probably deserve more pay, but even if it happens it won't make the positions competitive with the oil field jobs presently drawing away rural workers. Ward wrote that "Prison guards in Texas are paid between $27,000 and $37,000. Guards are leaving for oil field jobs that pay $70,000 to $80,000," so a small raise in any event won't make the positions competitive.
On the "wish list" is a request for another $141 million, which officials said health care providers believe "is critical to maintain operations and ensure effective overall quality care within the system."
More concerning than that cognitive dissonance, just like last session, TDCJ officials are falsely framing the debate. While they're hyper-focused, as always, on maxxing out funds for the prison system, the agency doesn't appear to be asking (judging from this report; we'll know more next week when they publish the LAR) for increased funds for probation and parole, evincing priorities that IMO set the agency up to fail. The more rational solution to the understaffing dilemma at rural units would be to divert low-level drug and property offenders from prison through community supervision (since supervision on probation costs a fraction of incarcerating the same offender) so the state can close more prison units.
The problem here is that prison officials a) see themselves as prison operators instead of seeking to maximize public safety at sustainable costs, and b) aren't willing to speak truth to power. If just seven units are suffering grave understaffing, are raises really justified at all those where turnover isn't a problem? The smarter approach would be to shift money to strengthen probation and change sentencing policies to allow the agency to close understaffed units and/or its most expensive ones. That would not only reduce staffing pressures (with such high turnover rates, few actual layoffs would be necessary), but also lower medical costs from serving fewer prisoners. Instead, TDCJ officials are asking the Lege for a major budget bump, even though nobody thinks doing so would make prison guard pay competitive with the oil field jobs drawing away workers.
Unfortunately, the agency itself will likely never suggest the sorts of policy changes needed to actually moderate TDCJ's budget. They're counting on the historic alliance of Big Government Conservatives and Liberals to reflexively throw more money at prisons, as the Lege has done since the Ann Richards era. IMO, agency leaders don't really care about community supervision and even less about reducing burdens on taxpayers: Their personal identities are as prison managers and if history (and this report) are any guide, they'll seemingly always seek to fund brick and mortar prisons over probation and parole, regardless of the budget or public safety implications. If legislators want a smaller, rational, God forbid, conservative prison budget, they cannot look to TDCJ for suggestions on how to accomplish it.