Monday, April 12, 2010

Labor force changing in front-line criminal justice fields

Here are a pair of headlines that to me seem at least partly related:
Texas Department of Criminal Justice guard Robert Goodley was not a new recruit, but he was participating in a trial-run of a fitness test that new TDCJ recruits must already undergo and all COs will soon have to complete. (My condolences to his family and friends on their loss.) Reported the Houston Chronicle:

[TDCJ spokesman Jason] Clark said the testing, mandatory since March 1, requires would-be employees to perform push-ups, sit-ups, deep squats, a quarter-mile walk or run and other exercises before being admitted to the TDCJ academy.

Current employees won't be required to pass the test until next year, but Goodley and others were being “familiarized” with the test as part of in-service training.

Goodley's death comes at a time when police and prisons are recruiting older, often less physically fit recruits who are in much different stages in life compared with the young men in their late teens or '20s who historically filled entry-level slots.

Looking at the overall labor market, in some ways an evolving workforce was inevitable for police, prisons and jails. Departments hiring for those slots are partially victims of the vicissitudes of history. In the late '70s, Texas and the rest of the United States embarked on a massive expansion of prisoners that far outstripped population growth. So the demand for police, prison guards, probation officers, etc. grew significantly and governments at all levels increased security spending by orders of magnitude.

We are now at the end of the third decade of an unprecedented incarceration bubble. For nearly the last third of that period the nation has been at war, with the military soaking up huge numbers of would-be law enforcement personnel and a massively expanded border patrol also competing for recruits. Regardless, the economics of incarceration and overcriminalization still required hiring more police and prison/jail guards than at any time in history. In Texas today, according to the Pew Center on the States, 16.9% of all state employees work for the prison system, the highest proportion in the nation.

When the government launches multiple wars, expands prison systems and radically grows local police forces, it's inevitable that not every agency will get the highest quality security workers. Many in the latest generation who might otherwise have entered law enforcement instead have spent the last several years rotating in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and not all of those will be willing or fit to serve as police or prison guards when they return. (A post at's 13th Floor blog awhile back framed the issue simply: "More Troops = Fewer Cops") Add to that a recession that's driving workers in mid-career from other fields to apply for entry level police and corrections slots, and it seems like we're witnessing a substantial, perhaps historic makeover regarding the type of people who get hired in criminal justice fields.


BportTXAG said...
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BportTXAG said...

If the government continues to expand the role of the national guard and the reserves in foreign conflicts it may lessen the blow of these current developments.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

There are actually a lot of cops in the reserves and Guard - that's been part of the source of the shortage.