Saturday, June 16, 2007

More Veto Analysis: What Does Governor Perry Have Against Prison Guards?

Three of Governor Perry's announced vetoes basically make Texas prison guard's jobs less safe and deny these low-waged workers access to educational benfefits that could help them improve their lot.

Denying Tools to Improve Prisoner Conduct
Governor Perry's announced reason for vetoing HB 44 by Hodge honestly stunned me: "Providing an additional discretionary opportunity [for the prison system to reinstate good time] does nothing to protect public safety." Whaaaaat?! Hodge's bill would empower TDCJ to reinstate good time taken away for in-prison demerits, which gives prisoners direct, tangible incentives for improved behavior.

Texas correctional officers, this is the Governor Perry's message to you in his veto explanation: When he says "public safety," he does not mean YOUR safety. Most TDCJ employees recognize, as former general counsel Carl Reynolds wrote recently, that good time and other back-end discretionary tools improve inmate behavior in prison and give incentives to constructively prepare for post-prison life. For the Governor, though, guards' safety and prisoners' in-the-box behavior isn't part of "public safety." by this logic. You guys are disposable.

Lack of programs makes Ad-Seg more dangerous
An equally ineffable veto was another bill by Rep. Terri Hodge providing in-cell educational programming to prisoners in administrative segregation, which is basically solitary confinement where inmates are kept in a cell by themselves 23 hours per day. Some are there because they're dangerous and some for their own protection. Imagine how crazy you would be if you had to spend days, weeks, months in solitary with absolutely nothing to do. Some inmates come out more dangerous than when they went in, so increasing positive human contact and intellectual diversion through educational programming, in this writer's opinion, would constitute important first steps toward lessening the chance ad-seg inmates would be a danger to guards, other inmates or themselves, particularly when they're released back into the general population. Talk about penny wise and pound foolish!

Perry to TDCJ COs: No education for you!
Another inexplicable veto was HB 2103, which would have provided for tuition payment assistance for correctional officers at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Said Perry:

Although correctional officers are needed across the state, this bill would limit them to attending only one specified university to achieve the intended benefit. Furthermore, the state currently funds 19 financial aid programs; five of these are major financial aid programs and the other 14 target small groups of students. If the legislature funds the five major programs adequately, as I set forth in my 2008-2009 budget proposal, then we should not need other programs.
So someone tell me this: How would the bill "limit" COs opportunities when what it really does is provide a NEW opportunity that didn't exist before? That's Orwellian speak. It's Perry who's limiting COs options. Prison guards are paid poorly compared to law enforcement officers and enjoy few perks, which contributes to nearly a 25% annual turnover rate. Now Gov. Perry tells them if they want to return to school--right there in Huntsville, the state's center for prison administration--and improve their lot, Texas won't help them. This centrist, bipartisan proposal to help retain valued employees, when the prison system has an employment crisis, should have been a bill Perry signed and then ran on in the next election. I can't imagine what he was thinking.


Anonymous said...

The Board of Criminal Justice, some years back, did away with reinstating lost good time. This made wardens angry because it took away a very valuable management tool. The responsibility lies with them. Thay can change it any time they wish.

As far as education goes, a CO can do like millions of other people do if they want to go to school, get a tudent loan. Besides, it's not the money issue for CO's, it's the ability to get a decent work schedule that would allow them to go to school. At present, it's just not doable. Taxpayers don't need to be footing the bill for any state employee to go to school. If they're doing it now, they need to stop.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually the statute disalllows TDCJ from restoring good time, see the text of the bill they were changing. The board cannot do it on their own.

As for the education, I see it as a perk for getting people to commit to one of state government's highest turnover jobs (~25% annual turnover, 48% for JCOs at TYC). If you're not going to give competitive pay, you need to do something to attract people. If not perks like this or higher pay, then I don't know what.

Anonymous said...

Why worry about prisons, period? That's our short-sighted guv. Why reduce turnover for COs or make it a better job, period? It might increase the safety of offenders! Oh, no!

tttt said...

Well, I'm here to tell you that when the legislature took away our discretion from restoring good conduct time, they pulled the rug out from under my feet. As a former warden I used this management tool exclusively for inmates who had learned their lesson. The restoration of lost good time was not used indiscriminately. Inmates got back their lost good time because their behavior changed enough to warrant it. There were rules to be followed and a classification system that had checks and balances to ensure that those deserving of a restoration of their lost good time were considered. To this day, there is not one study that would show that restoring lost good time created a public safety issue. Furthermore, I challege any social scientist or politician to produce such a study. It's hogwash and an insult to those who know prison management and the convict subculture. Governor Zoolander, if you can do better, put on a uniform.

Anonymous said...

Right on TJDO! The Board made the change without any "Grandfathering"; or input from Wardens. Scott, the Board made the decision then had it codified during the next legeslative session. I think the change in good time restoration was the biggist mistake (and there were many) I had to live with during my years as a Warden for TDC/TDCJ.
Retired 2004.

tttt said...

I think HB 2103 needs a drastic rewite. Let's not call it a pilot program in the first place and no expiration date. Frankly, this bill would have just benefitted Kolkhorst's district and to me, that's unfair. I don't care what log rolling went on to have this bill passed in both chambers, there are thousands of deserving correctional officers around the state who deserve a break, just not those in the Huntsville area. Besides, the majority of correctional officers don't live nor work in the Huntsville area.

Good idea, very bad planning. I seldom agree with Perry, but he's right on this account.