Friday, February 27, 2009

Will stimulus money let Texas boost prison guard pay?

I've been wondering what the recent injection of federal stimulus money into Texas' state budget might mean for the Department of Criminal Justice's plan to boost prison guard pay by 20%?

The agency is facing a big-picture staffing crisis that seemed insurmountable before the infusion of federal funds. Now, with the federal pork flowing so freely, in theory, at least, the state has enough money to increase guard pay enough to staff up its far-flung system of 112 units,

Governor Perry and some state budget writers have been adamant that stimulus money should not be used for expenses that obligate the state to ongoing, future costs. In that light, raising guard pay by 20% would directly violate that pledge.

But the state could use stimulus money to pay for other expenses and use the difference to offset increased guard pay without technically spending the surplus money, though the net effect would be essentially the same.

According to TDCJ's in-house Connections magazine, boosting guard pay is still the agency's top legislative priority:
Although the Department of Criminal Justice will be seeking additional appropriations for such important items as contraband detection screening and video surveillance technology, enhanced reentry services for releasing offenders and the renovation and repair of existing facilities, salary increases for TDCJ staff remain the agency’s highest legislative priority for new funding, according to Executive Director Brad Livingston.

The Department is seeking an average pay increase of approximately twenty percent for security staff and parole officers and supports an across-the-board pay raise for all other agency employees. The agency is also seeking funding to provide retention bonuses to correctional officers currently employed at or willing to transfer to designated understaffed units, and seeking a change in state law which will make all hazardous duty personnel eligible for the higher rate of hazardous duty pay authorized during the last legislative session. Additionally, the agency is seeking funding to construct three (3) 80-bed officer dormitories, which could be constructed adjacent to three (3) of our most understaffed units.
Meanwhile, TDCJ says the understaffing problem would be even worse without bonuses paid to new hires wiling to work in understaffed units:
Through October 2008, 1,322 recruitment bonus checks had been mailed to new or returning correctional officers who had taken the incentive TDCJ is offering as a way to boost staffing levels at 16 designated facilities. After taxes, the officers generally net between $1,050 and $1,100 each.
New recruits were also given more pay in their initial months through an emergency authorization last year. Those interim measures manged to stave off a full-blown crisis, for now, but did not nearly eliminate the agency's staffing shortage.

TDCJ has estimated it needs nearly $1 billion more per biennium just to safely staff the prisons it operates now, assuming Texas doesn't build any new ones. That wouldn't be a one-time expenditure but something the Lege would be committing taxpayers to pay for ad infinitum.

I have no way to predict the outcome, but it seems to me that's at least an outline of the terms of debate over what happens with guard pay this session.


Anonymous said...

Granted these employees are underpaid, but how do you my friend use this money to give someone a pay raise who has a job when in theory the money is supposed to be used to create jobs?

How do you justify giving money to one group of criminal justice employees when there are others who are just as deserving make less than TDCJ guards, like county jailers?

What you propose amounts to supplanting, which according to the guidelines, is not allowed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"how do you my friend use this money to give someone a pay raise who has a job when in theory the money is supposed to be used to create jobs?"

I'm not "proposing" anything, just raising the question.

But in response to your point about job creation, I suppose the argument would be 1) the main purpose of the raises is to fill more than 2,000 empty guard slots, and 2) just like with food stamps, increasing pay for low-wage workers actually has a relatively stimulative effect because they're likely to spend the money, not save it.

As to "supplanting," these raises were proposed by the state before the stimulus was announced, so they could argue they were going to find a way to do it anyway (whether true or not).

I'm not saying that's what should happen. But if guard pay hikes are going to happen, my point is that this is the only way it can happen.

As Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said, all money is "fungible."

Anonymous said...

"That wouldn't be a one-time expenditure but something the Lege would be committing taxpayers to pay for ad infinitum."

If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep’s gonna be your downfall.

TX Jake

Anonymous said...

Release all of the nonviolent offenders, leave only those who are violent. If this were to happen we probably would not need as many guards.

Anonymous said...

Correctional Officers pay is 47th out of the 50 states! Being the second largest prison system in the country this is absurd. CO's deserve the raise plus some!

Anonymous said...

What I canNOT understand- -last pay raise, the vetreans got NOTHING- -only officers that had been there a year(or two) less got a raise- -any vetreans got NOTHING- -now they (tdc) is not sure they can give the vetrens a raise AGAIN?
Excuse me, the vetreans should be the ones that DO get the raise- -we have stayed through all this, train the "new boots" actually "run" the units- -and tdc is basically saying "screw you if you stay"- -what's wrong with this picture?
Anyone over a CO3 should get the biggest raise, we didn't get one before, it was given to the ones a CO3 and UNDER!
Seems TDC just wants INexperience officers so they do not have to pay retirement and what all.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Interesting ... looking at the Byrne grant requirements in the solicitation to states, I found a federal definition of "supplanting," at least for Byrne funds: "Federal funds must be used to supplement existing funds for program activities and cannot replace, or supplant, nonfederal funds that have been appropriated for the same purpose."

By that definition, is it "supplanting" to increase pay for guards ABOVE levels "that have been appropriated" in the past?

Anonymous said...

It is supplanting because the Legislature has budgeted and created the positions and a pay scale has been established for these positions.

The legislature has money to fund the positions at the established rates of pay or they would have not budgeted them.

What the state does not have is or says it does not have is money for guard pay raises.

The federal monies can only be used to create new positions and pay for these positions, not to give pay raises for positions that already exist.

In addition, state and local governments are required to submit a plan as to how newly created positions will be retained.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

See Dewhurst: "All money is fungible."

If the feds pay for health or school costs that free up money in the budget for guard pay, it's all the same.

They can get around the legalities, IMO. The question is whether the Lege should raise pay. Bottom line: If they want to make it happen, the stimulus money makes it possible whereas it wasn't just a few weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

Why not let all those who have been paroled go home? That would lessen the load and then those who are elgible for parole, also get their hearings and stop the BPP from making rules up as they go.If a person is paroled, release them ASAP and stop playing stupid games. Forget the FI rules, they make no sense.

That is one department that needs to be re-done or eliminated. Some of those on boards have not experience and lets not even get started regarding Shandra Perkins!

If the Senate approves her, everyone should run everyone who votes for her out of Texas right behind the Gov.

Anonymous said...

PRIA Act violations and prison safety issues are enough reasons to justify increases in officer pay. A few years ago Federal oversight cost Texas tax payers BILLIONS. $456 million is a small price to pay to address prison safety issues before the Feds do.

Federal PRIA oversight will cost Texans billions. The Feds don't care how bad your states economy is right now, just look at California with Federal inmate health care oversight. California is 8 billion dollars more in the hole and is being forced to release thousands of inmate.

Anonymous said...

When Texas jails are full of first non-violent offenders that are serving more than the minimum sentence for their crimes, it is no wonder there is a financial problem. If those inmates were all turned loose after serving the minimum time for their crimes you would not have guard or housing issues.