Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Can Texas staff new prisons?

As the Texas Legislature comes down to the wire still waiting to determine whether the state will build new prisons, media around the state finally are paying more attention to the fact that Texas can't find enough guards to staff the prisons we've got now. According to AP ("Texas short on guards as lawmakers mull new prisons," May 23),
staffing even the current prisons is difficult.

The 1,300-inmate unit in Dalhart, among those constructed during a billion-dollar prison expansion in the 1990s, is operating with about two-thirds of its allocated staff.

Dalhart offered the department 1,500 acres of land as a lure to put the prison there. But now the pool of potential prison guards from the area's 7,000 residents has been exhausted.

"This is what our challenge is," Carol Johnston, the department's human resources director, said. "We have some units we could staff all day long. But talking those people into relocating 400 miles is not something most individuals have an interest in."

Meanwhile, the Stiles Unit in Beaumont is making extra recruitment efforts, according to the Beaumont Journal, which offered this glowing description of a TDCJ guard's job:
It's probably safe to say that everyone likes the idea of a career with great benefits, good pay, a secure future, and long weekends. Recruiters from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) believe they have just that kind of package and would like to tell you about it
Sounds pretty good, huh? Maybe a little too good. In Wichita Falls the Allred unit is looking for guards willing to work four 12 hour shifts in a row with three days a week off (those must be the "long weekends" they're talking about in Beaumont). But it isn't just state prisons - local jails can't find enough guards, either.

What's more, TDCJ basically has all the same problems as does the Texas Youth Commission, in this writer's opinion, except it hasn't suffered the same explosion of bad publicity ... yet. But it will only take a few more incidents like the woman recently found dead in her cell with her hands bound in the Hobby unit in Marlin to change that pretty quickly. Understaffing contributes directly to such safety problems.

There's no way to know yet whether Texas will build new prisons or not, but a recent actuarial analysis predicted they won't be necessary if legislative budget conferees fully funds a proposed treatment and prison diversion package. We'll find out sometime between now and Monday which route the Lege will take, but if they can't staff the current prisons, or keep them safe, it makes little sense to me to build new ones.


Anonymous said...

Lets see here, when you have Instructors like the A$$holes at Tennessee Colony, no wonders you can't hire COs. I went throught the academy in 99 and it was a breeze. The Instructors were firm, but weren't jerks. I left a short time later to be a cop in the "free world", and attempted to return in 2006. I left 2 days later. I refuse to be yelled at, cursed, and told how sorry of a scumbag I am. I left and won't ever consider going back, at least until the attitudes change. Sure, a little firmness is fine, eating the parking lot pavement and being yelled at and treated like an inmate is not my cup of tea, and that is how they do things in Tennessee Colony.

Anonymous said...

I have read that the average IQ of TDCJ inmates is 85. I wonder what the average IQ of an TDCJ and/or TYC employee is.

My expectation is that being a prison guard i s a job with truly horrible working conditions.

I really hope the Texas lawmakers will spend hard earned tax dollars on treatment rather than incarceration.

Anonymous said...

The DrugWar is responsible for the majority of arrests and incarcerations in this country, yet it has always been a rich man's hobby, something that can only be afforded after the the groceries, rent, utilities and insurance have been paid. It requires an enormous amount of a nation's 'expendable income'...which arguably this country doesn't have anymore.

Arresting people for what amounts to 'quality of life' issues (such as drug possession and use) and using the prisons to incarcerate those who commit such offenses has been a gross waste of the taxpayer's money. So now the financial chickens are coming home to roost after the 20+ year binge spending on the DrugWar has petered out. Most of the prisons that were constructed these past 20-some years were built out of the (obviously false) assumption that the DrugWar would somehow pay for itself courtesy of civil forfeiture. That hasn't happened; communities must still budget for construction and staffing of prisons.

The taxpayer is still the ultimate source of that funding, and things are getting tight for said taxpayers. We can no longer afford all the prisons that were built with the expectation of being able to pay for both filling and staffing them forever. The party's over, and the mess left behind is an expensive one.

Anonymous said...

The more I hear from people in the business of corrections the more convinced I become there are no easy answers. TYC/TDCJ needs massive changes without doubt. After working at TYC as a YAS, Chaplain, and Case Worker III I have some knowledge of the intake process because I worked at the Marlin unit for 11 years. Before coming to TYC I was Deputy Director of J.A.I.L. Ministry Inc. which served the Bell County Jail. At the time I worked in Bell County the jail was a 750 inmate facility.

As I said there are no easy answers in management of corrections. Juvenile corrections have an extra set of built in problems. The factor that I see causing the failure of proper management in Texas Corrections is many involved operate on emotions vs. sound correctional practices. How many get tough on crimes bills were in the current legislative session? Harsh penalties have never cured any problems; in fact they have in some cases contributed to more violent crime.

Try running a commercial business on emotions and see how long it takes to go bankrupt. Grandstanding for votes is not an answer to good management. There is a problem and it needs to be fixed. An emotional assault by the legislature every two years is not the answer. Until the public demands a rational approach to the problem and reject the emotional vote getting and grandstanding from politicians there will be little true progress.

In the current Texas political environment I don’t see much hope for meaningful change in TYC/TDCJ. Some good legislation has been passed regarding TYC but I am still waiting to see how much funding it gets.

One area where Texas might move to help reentry into society by offenders is the creation of a Certification of Rehabilitation which would restore civil rights after five years of no criminal conviction after completion of their sentence. After ten years off paper an automatic expungement of the record is done. A performance based method of clearing your record would be much fairer to offenders. I would suggest it be an automatic system so offenders with limited education or resources would not be left out. There are states that currently have Certification of Rehabilitation in place. Politics are taken completely out of the equation under automatic Certification of Rehabilitation. Unfortunately I could see Hell freezing over before something like Certification of Rehabilitation becoming law in Texas.

What can I say; we live in Texas. It is the meanest, toughest state in the USA. We have a reputation to live up to regardless how much it costs the Texas Tax Payers!

Anthony Mikulastik

Anonymous said...

Not only do we have staffing shortage that poses life endangering situations for the presently employed staff and prisoners, we have seriously deteriorating older units in dire need of repair and supposedly no money for that and no money to air condition them either . Prisoners with chronic and mental illnesses suffer and die in 100+ degree cells without ventilation . TX CURE is scrambling to donate fans to indigent prisoners to keep them alive ( 6000 so far since 2002). It is the State's responsibility to keep them in humane surroundings . There is a law in Texas that it is a felony to keep your pets in the kind of conditions we keep our prisoners in ,but no law against inhumane treatment of humans . Never say America does not torture its prisoners ,it starts in Texas.
If there is money to build new prisons , why not fix the old ones and raise the wages for the guards ? Oh and give the guards some A/C too , they suffer from the heat and can't perform their duties efficiently . Excessive heat causes tempers to rise ,not a good thing in a prison setting, no matter how you look at it .

Helga Dill, Chair ,TX CURE

Don said...

to anonymous anthony
Right On. You hit the nail on the head about the political grandstanding every two years to fix at the problems. That's basically what we are in the middle of today. Giving money to TDCJ to run rehab programs is like giving it to your 18 year old crack addicted step-daughter. I am so tired of these politicians patting themselves on the back for some half-assed phony attempt to fix the problems they caused in the first place.

Anonymous said...

don, you have some good points. A few years ago the legislature patted themselves on the back after "fixing" Child Protective Services by pouring millions of money into the agency and also planning to privatize part of it. Now things are even worse than before but you don't hear the legislature saying "Oops, maybe we screwed up."

Just wait, two years from now they will meet again and see that TDCJ and TYC are messed up worse than they were before and they still can't get qualified staff to want to work there.

Anonymous said...

I posted a blog to this 5/25/07, why is it not on here?

Anonymous said...

The State of Texas is not willing to make the pay of correctional officers in the national average range, therefore they are losig a LOT of experience and gaining High School graduates, which they go there to recruit, to watch over hardened criminals. A RECEIPE FOR DISASTER, AND DANGER!! Texas correctional officers pay is in the lower 40's out of 50 states, I wonder why they can't staff their prisons???????

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@12:08 - I don't know, I didn't delete anything. Are you sure it was in this post?

Anonymous said...

Ok WEll,
Whats Wrong with Tdcj.
Ru Ready, You Give Benifits you don't have the staff for us to use you dont intend for use to use then you get mad when we call in sick under your plan you need to not only be staffed but over staffed in order to give people time off according to the packacge you offer you tell us we cant have breaks every job in the world is allocated breaks were treated like Offenders now you are treating us like that even more comming in to work ok searching us is one thing but telling us we now have to come into work early to be searched without compensation to be searched thats just ridiculus. alot of people will quit the the politicians will continue to scratch thier heads geezs you just dont get it do you I thought texans Were smater than this.
This system has been qouted as being run by a bunch of bumbling idiots several years ago. at first I was offended but Now I see it its No wonder we have the High rates of return offenders when we have such courruption running the system and I dont mean The Officers Oh And heres a Hint When you Start Treating your Correctional Staff Like Officers and Calling Them So ... Instad OF guards it might MAke a Diffrence.