Friday, March 14, 2008

Does rise in TDCJ discipline for absences and poor job performance stem from chronic understaffing?

Research about disciplinary actions against Texas correctional officers, generated by The Back Gate, a prison guards' blog, made its way into the Huntsville Item recently. TBG republished the piece, and since they have no permalinks on their otherwise excellent site, I'll just reproduce it here:
Statistics from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported nearly 8,000 disciplinary actions against employees of the system over a 12-month period, mostly for failing to perform their duties and unexcused absences.

Of the 7,786 recorded disciplinary actions taken by the agency, at least 1,574 of those were for substandard performance. The agency also reprimanded 1,719 employees for unexcused absence of an hour or more.

Michelle Lyons, a spokesperson for TDCJ, said the most common infractions included "unexcused absenteeism, substandard duty performance and failure to obey a proper order from an authority."

The statistics, obtained by The Back Gate, a TDCJ watchdog group, claims the numbers are on the rise.

"The fact is this, for this fiscal year within TDCJ, there was a sharp increase in these types of numbers," said Marcus Williams, a writer for the group. "Whatever the reason, it's alarming."

Lyons confirmed the numbers as accurate.

Of the infractions recorded against staff, 729 were dismissed and 221 infractations were overturned or modified.

But 538 staff members were fired over their disciplinary actions, while 51 were demoted, 7 received a reduction in pay and 911 were suspended for an indefinite amount of time without pay.

Most employees who were disciplined — 4,902 of them — were placed on probation.

As part of the dismissal process, employees are allowed to participate in their dismissal through a mediation process, according to Williams.

Of the 368 mediation sessions, 103 resigned during the process.

Another 221 of those were overturned or modified and two resigned before their official dismissal. Just over 200 were approved for dismissal and fired.

Other cited infractions included 780 violations of statutory authority, 494 for failure to obey a proper order from authority, 249 for tardiness, 240 for leaving their post, 228 for sleeping on duty, 227 for conviction of misdemeanor charges, 205 for falsification of state documents, and 181 for having verbal/physical confrontations with other staff members.
TDCJ employs a lot of folks, so these data represent a small percentage of total employees. But I take the fact that most infractions were for failure to perform duties and unexcused absences as evidence that TDCJ's chronic prison guard shortage has begun to more seriously effect on the job performance. It was already affecting employee safety. The number of assaults on guards and staff has doubled in the last five years, even though total prison populations have leveled off.

These data, incidentally, are for actual disciplinary actions by the agency, not the total number of complaints investigated which would have been much higher. TDCJ's institutional division, the part of the agency which runs Texas' prisons, has somewhere in the ballpark of 30,000 employees - more by a longshot than any other state agency.


Anonymous said...

a few years ago my brother passed out in 110 degree heat while doing field work and the deputy warden had guards throw water on him so he could regain consciousness. He was sent back into the fields where he again lost consciousness. Two more times this happened. He suffered a stroke and was sent to a hospital prison to recover. This was witnessed by a prisoner who is now out. Whenever I vacation overseas I ask my expatriate friends not to share any voluntary information with Texas law enforcement that might be of interest to the state--no matter the nature of the would be tip. Here's thinking of you Texas--yee hah. There is more than one way to get justice.

Anonymous said...

No question the co situation is at a crisis level. That translates into an offender crisis. The top is responsible for poor conditions, poor pay, poor training, poor moral and poor hiring standards. EVERYONE needs to speak up, staff and inmates alike. The only effective change will happen if the whole system is changed. Change must happen at the top of the chain. Texas, wake up and smell the rot.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, 8,000 diciplinary actions among 30,000 employees - that's over 20%. The staffing shortage is about 15% as best as I can recall. I agree that full staffing would help a lot.

What wasn't mentioned is: The state is in full and complete control of 155,000 lives. Without competent guards, they will fail to comply with their legal responsibility to provide for the safety of inmates. That amounts to premeditated assault and the State should be taken to court to force them to either protect prisioners or release them.

What are the statistics for asaults on inmates from staff and other inmates? What are the statistics for prisioner injuries?

The State of Texas needs to do some serious soul searching regarding the welfare of the incarcerated!

Anonymous said...

To 12:10:00..."EVERYONE needs to speak up, staff and inmates alike." What world are you living in? Inmates are not taken seriously by anyone in TDCJ. If they are given a false case the only thing HV looks at is procedure...forget evidence. If they quote directives in the Step 1 and 2 Grievance they are ignored. If they are found guilty of an offense and lose their good time which often puts their parole off another year, they are told they are guilty by "a perponderance of evidence." Please don't think for one minute that anyone listens to the inmates.
The only time an inmate gets to speak without fear of retaliation is when they get out. Then they only need to worry what the parole department might do to them.
Fellow Texans, we have serious trouble in our justice system, but we have horrific problems in our prison system. The old school CO's will not continue to work with the sub-standard people that are being hired. If they try to complain or get someone to listen, they are either demoted or made to work with someone incapable of watching their back.
I am in a prison unit almost every weekend, several as a matter of fact. I see the good officers and the bad. I see those who have worked too many overtime hours and those who don't work at all. I've seen bent over old men put to work in a high security unit and I could probably take them, forget the hardened criminal.
Our inmates are in danger by the mere fact they are in prison but they are in worse danger when there is not enough staff, or enough trained staff to protect them and/or each other. We have a crisis that is going to take money to fix. If we were to pay a decent wage for officers we could hire a caliber of officer that we all should want in our prisons rather than settle for someone from the local welfare rolls. You get what you pay for.
If Texas wishes to continue the practice of warehousing humanity, it is time for them to pay the cost to do it correctly. Otherwise we need to let the non-violent offenders go home so we can lower the prison population. Of course, that is another problem...our illustrious parole board but I'll save that for another day.

Anonymous said...

I am overworked ,underpaid and I live one day at a time. I never have enough money for my families needs and I have a college education,have been working for TDCJ for over 15 years. I enjoy this type of work just not the conditions I work in. I am scheduled for 12 hour shifts 4 days at a time,I work 16 to 18 hour shifts and some extra days not scheduled at the Majors request for no extra pay because I am a LT. and the state says the federal government says I do not qualify for it as I am a supervisor of supervisors. Not the way I read that government document. Why do I stay? I need the retirement and I am qualified to be of the ranks up to Asst. Warden, however I do not know the right people and am never promoted for Capt. or Major.I go to boards all over the state and am willing to move my family. I have been told it is because "my" Major tells the other units I will not bend the rules and want to do everything by policy. Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to promote. Do you and the public see why there is a problem at TDCJ ??? I do they do not want people who will do the job the correct way, because then their way will be shown to be wrong. However I have faith that the public will back the Officers who are crying out for change and get the top rot removed and the system reconfigured to what it needs to be to complete its mission statement "the safe confinement of offenders,protection and safety of the staff and public"

Anonymous said...

@Anon 4.27 ~ PLEASE dont give up. Whatever people may say, offenders and thier families DO value Officers who are NOT willing to bend the rules. You guys are the ones we want to keep as COs because we all know where we stand with you. COs who ARE willing to bend the rules are a danger to themselves and everyone else.

The BackGate web site is trying to keep TDCJ in the minds of the Legislators, and inmates families are trying to help you guys too because many of us understand that we all have to work together to improve things for everyone.

Anonymous said...

grits: these comments should be posted on your site as a HEADLINE. Each and every one of these posts has something very valuble to share with your entire readership, not just those of us who go deeper than the headline.

Anonymous said...

I just looked at the Backgate Webpage and observed the list of known candidates for Region III Director.

"Slim Pickins", in my opinion.

TDCJ continues to promote/appoint marginal employees to key leadership positions without regard for the qualifications required.

One of the "qualified" applicants is Ms. Pope, the former TYC ED. The majority of those on the list have issues known by the present administration which should disqualify them from being in their present positions. Of course that will not be a factor in their selection process. Ms. Pope will be the next Region III Director; if she is as "connected" as the contributors of this blog indicate.

John Whitmire will just tell the bean counter to select her and Brad will comply.

BTW 3/14/2008 12:10:00 PM: The crisi level you mentioned was there when I retired in 2004 and has increased the lasr four years. I really do not know how ther good employees are holding it together.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Retired 2004, I agree with you. If Pope is truly an applicant for Region III director, how can Livingston not hire her? A substantial pay cut if she gets it but it puts her closer to Houston, Whitmire's hometown.


Anonymous said...

I worked for TDCJ for 6 years, not as a guard. The problems as I saw them are (1) one is only required to have a GED to work as a guard; (2)the pay is not great, but is sufficient if one is willing to live within one's means; (3) the guards are taught to hate and fear inmates while at their basic training; (4) if a guard is disciplined, fired, or walked off, they only have to pay $50 and go to mediation to get their job, benefits, and retirement back; they just can't work at the same unit where they got into trouble; (5) wardens, many of whom are stupid and malicious, encourage maltreatment of inmates. At the unit where I worked, which is a psychiatric unit (as in people who drink blood, kill children, eat babies, etc.) the new warden decreed that the inmates didn't need to be escorted anywhere - they could just walk on their own. How safe is that? Also, the same warden was told of two cellmates who were fighting. He ordered them back into the cell together without their other two cellmates, and one of them killed the other. I don't think anything was done because all the guards (who are unqualified to do anything else) were afraid to tell the truth.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Until the wardens and assistant wardens and majors are made to follow the rules, there is no hope for TDCJ. It's a good-old-boy club run by bottom-feeders, and the safety and security of the inmates be damned.

Anonymous said...


The question is the violation actual or is this the method in which the current administration uses to curb spending. Supervisors have advised that is the method taught and instructed as a tool for the administration to reduce cost. I am certainly not taking up for everyone but displine should not be linked to cost in any way.

Take drugs and the cover ups out with with change starting at the top, then positive change will be seen.

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