Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Cutting "perks" won't achieve budget reductions required at TDCJ

Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman has a story on the practical application of a theme that state Rep. Jerry Madden has been promoting - "cutting perks not people" at TDCJ - that, despite my great respect for the Corrections Committee Chairman, to me seems like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Reports Ward:
In recent days, the prison employee perks have been targeted by legislative leaders, who say that, with the state facing the largest revenue shortfall in more than two decades, costly employee entitlements need to go.

"We should be cutting perks, not people," said state Rep. Jerry Madden , R-Richardson, who heads the House Corrections Committee. "Before one state employee is laid off, we need to look at cutting a lot of these perks — including the housing."

Other legislative leaders and correctional officers union officials agree.

"When they're asking correctional officers to take a pay cut, and cutting programs and other areas, it's time for the upper management to give it up," Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional employees union, said of the subsidized housing.

Eliminating employee housing entirely would save the prison system only a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars agency leaders need to cut. But such perks may be increasingly hard to defend as proposed budget cuts throughout state government lead to layoffs of tens of thousands of public school teachers and possibly the closing of nursing homes across the state.
If this is merely symbolism, so be it. There will be a lot of symbolic cuts in the budget this year and if employee housing is one of them, it will be regrettable, if far from tragic. But nobody should be fooled for a moment that fiddling around with such small amounts is really tantamount to budget cutting at TDCJ on remotely the scale that's been requested of them. Both the draft House budget and the Governor recommended cutting $786.4 million from TDCJ's requested biennial budget; in the Senate, they recommended slashing $583.6 million. To cut that much, the Legislature must begin to believe impossible things.

Especially after the 2003 round of budget scrubbing, there just aren't enough "perks" left at TDCJ to get anywhere near the amounts required. To get into the mid-to-high nine figures in biennial cuts at TDCJ requires closing more prisons and eliminating staff. The longer the Legislature pretends otherwise, the less likely they are to come up with a viable solution and the more likely they are, by default, to acquiesce in TDCJ's wrong-headed cuts focused on treatment, diversion and community supervision.


Anonymous said...

SB 883, allowing offenders to receive day-for-day credit for time they served while abiding by all the rules and conditions of their parole, would save more money than any other single proposal. It is a simple solution and a no-brainer, so long as legislators (and their aides who advise them) are aware of (1) the current law, and (2) what the amendment would do (versus what it will not do). Texans are paying to supervise offenders, oftentimes for a decade or more longer than the actual sentences that were given them by the courts. Each year, we incur upon our future generation the cost of approximately 21,000+ years of supervision that no judge, jury, or prosecutor ever ordered or agreed to. Texas is the only state in the nation that has such a policy, which dates back to 1959 in the 56th Legislative Session.

Enough is enough already!!!!

Anonymous said...

Btw..., Texas correctional officers have complained about being the lowest-paid in the nation. While I have personally testified in support of a bill in 2001 that authorized a pay raise (that bill was approved, and their pay has increased a few times since then), hidden in the argument is the fact that many are staying in state facilities paying only $50-100 a month, electricity and water paid, etc... That's like making an extra $1000+ a month!!!

Let them fend for themselves and quit living like they are on welfare, with the taxpayers paying all their bills. Or, at least raise their rents.

Don said...

Good thought, Michael. Why shouldn't people get credit for the time they served on parole? Instead, they revoke parole and start back at square one!
Scott: Maybe I'm missing something, but as much as I'd like to see TDCJ close some of their own prisons, seems they should cut all the private contractos loose, first. True?

Don said...

Instead, people like my rep. Charles Perry wants to increase privatization. Make sense? (I mean if you don't count the lobbying dollars the private guys contribute?)

sunray's wench said...

Michael ~ did you know that TDCJ staff get their laundry done as well as part of their pay?

Apparently the housing charges are already going up.

I think it is the only way that Texas has been able to keep TDCJ officers' pay so low. Take away the perks like subsidised housing, and TDCJ may actually have to pay out more in wages in the long-run.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did know they are permitted laundry services, even for their personal clothing. They also get meals for free. Not that I am a hater or anything, but in tough times we have to make tough decisions. Working for a living and having to pay all the bills like everyone else instills in people a work ethic that, unfortunately, many TDCJ officers don't have. Many have been just plain spoiled with perks and absolute, unchecked authority for years. They are the ones who conspire with violent gang leaders to bring in dope, tobacco, and cell phones, funding the criminal underworld that exists within the prison system.

Disclaimer: There are many good CO's working for TDCJ who would not even think about doing these sort of things, who exhibit integrity in their daily jobs/lives, and who do not deserve to be judged by the misdeeds of some of their colleagues.

Anonymous said...

I think readers are failing to realize that there is a VERY few employees that are in state housing. Additionally, the housing is beneficial to the state and unit because management staff is readily availiable in case of an emergency.

In regards to meals, staff is required to be served exactly the same thing the inmates are eating. If you have ever eaten prison food it is not very ediable and not something I would drive to get. Also, if you don't feed the staff you have to allow them to bring a lunch. That is another form or way to bring in contraband as described by poster Michael.

In regards to Laundry; Yes it benefits staff but it also trains inmates on pressing and working in a commercial type laundry. I know for a fact many releasee's have been able to acquire a job upon release in a free world laundry due to their experience in that unique skill regardless of their felony history.

TDCJ officers in Texas are some of the lowest paid correctional staff in the USA. Go ahead and take what you consider to be a perk, let the economy rebound and the State will find it very difficult to hire Officers.

The Fat in TDCJ is in Directors and assistant Directors with appropriate support staff. IMO Many of the directors responsibilities could be placed elsewhere and save the taxpayers without any negative outcomes to society or the Agency.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with what anomynous 06:10 has said. I've been with the TDCJ since 1982. When I started there were 27 units as I recal. There was housing available for lieutenants and above, the dog sergeants, and a bachelors officers quarters for single officers. These were all located close to the unit so there was staff nearby as support in the event of an escape or major emergency. The majority of the officers lived away from the unit. Also, most of the support staff lived away from the unit. So, in actuality there were few employee's living in state housing.
That was with only 27 facility's.

Now that the TDCJ has expanded considerably, to 117 units that I last counted, the percentage of employee's in state housing is even lower. All of the new units do not provide any state housing except for perhaps the senior wardens. That's only one employee per unit. So, there are very FEW employee's in state housing, when compared to the total number of employee's.

Keep in mind that the availability of housing for lieutenants and other higher rank was thought of as an incentive to go up for rank. It was part of the compensation package. Now that most of that is all gone, there is very little incentive to go up for rank. The difference in pay between the ranks is negligible until you get above captain. In fact, it's hardly worth the trouble, and it's the reason few competent employee's are willing to go higher than a sergeant. It's getting harder and harder for wardens to find enough good applicants to chose from for their rank.

And, I'd like to say there are very FEW correctional employee's who are crooked. If you consider what one crooked employee can do on a unit it becomes clear how dangerous they are. Thankfully, we have very few crooked employee's. There are many of us who work hard to catch them, and get rid of them. We can't stand them, or the reputation they tend to give all of us.

Now I'd like to talk about TDCJ food. Years ago when I started the food was pretty durn good. I especially loved fried chicken Friday's at Ramsey 1. The food was fairly good on most day's. Now, you'd be lucky to find something resembling fried chicken, likely more chicken ala king. The food quality has gone down hill over the years. And, there are very few employee's who eat it. I have been so used to eating it over the years that I admit I'll have a meal every now and then when I go to a unit. But, I'm the exception. Most employee's leave the food alone. So, I doubt there would be much savings there.

This idea that state employee's are getting fat and living large off of the tax payers is just false. In my case, I own a modest home, an older truck, and a minivan to haul my family around. My wife works at a modest job for a school district. We are making it because we know how to manage our money. But, we certainly aren't living high off the hog.

I'm getting close to retirement. Now a lot of folks believe if you have a state government retirement it's worth millions. I'm here to tell you it's not. I've been paying into my retirement account since I started with TDCJ at the ripe old age of 18. I've worked with convicts most of my adult life either as a correctional officer, gang sergeant, shift sergeant, or regional supervisor. Quite frankly I've earned my retirement. So, it just pains me to see folks talk about the good people who work for TDCJ like they are the criminals. We are not. Far from it.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley
Region 3 SPPC

sunray's wench said...

Marty, I don't think anyone feels that TDCJ officers are getting fat off the perks. It's simply a matter of economy, and to some extent a matter of practising what is preached.

The majority of officers I've spoken to over the years in TDCJ are conservative in their thinking. They don't approve of a welfare state and don't like paying taxes. So why then should these same people expect to be fed and housed and have their laundry done for free?

There are enough inmates in TDCJ for them to be able to learn laundry skills without touching the officers' clothing. When I go to work, if I eat in our company refectory, I have to pay for the food.

Like I said, if the perks are taken away, then TDCJ may well have to pay their officers more in the long run.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Okay, 6:10 and Marty win on substance, but sunray's wench gets extra style points for use of the British term "refectory," which but for its context would surely send most American readers scrambling to their dictionaries. (We are indeed two people separated by a common language.) Well done. I declare a draw. ;)

Anonymous said...

I know we are at a draw but, just curious. Sunray's wench how are they going to get pressing/dry cleaning expierience if they are not touching the officers clothing?

sunray's wench said...

8.41 ~ how about this for a novel concept: have the inmates do the work for those in the free-world willing to pay the going rate for it. Enter the free-market economy and see how it works.

Anonymous said...

Sunray's wench sounds like a good proposal to me, but that is not legal. You can not use inmate labor to compete with businesses in the free-world. Wish it was and I could think of a million ways to put them to work and produce income for the state. If it was possible you would be replacing citizens jobs that have not broken the law and trying to make a living for their families.

Anonymous said...

Sunray, something else to keep in mind is that the offender clothing is not typically starched and pressed. If it is, then they are trafficking and trading to get it done. So, the offenders won't get all the experience and training of a real laundry, and all of the equipment involved unless they did do employee clothes. Also, employee's do not get this service for free. Those who avail themselves of the service pay 6 dollars a month. And, if you want haircuts or shoe shines you pay an additional dollar. The money we pay for these services pays for all the supplies necessary. It costs the tax payers nothing.

So, as much as some of you may believe we have all these free perks that cost the tax payers a bunch of money, you are very wrong. And, your perceptions of our way of life, and compensation is also wrong. Over the years I've had discussions like this with many folks who were just not aware of what my job entailed, or how I as a state employee was compensated. There are a lot of misconceptions out there.

I've also found there are misconceptions about our health insurance package. When I first started we had a choice from several different health insurance packages. I had Cigna health insurance. My doctor visit co pay was 5 dollars. It payed 100 percent of EVERYTHING. It was great insurance, and a great benefit. Well, over the years our health insurance options and benefits have dwindled considerably. Now, I have no choice. I must have Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Select of Texas. My regular doctor co pay for a pcp visit is 25 dollars. For a specialist its 40 dollars. Urgent care, 50 dollars. Emergency room is 150 dollars. And, the insurance has a deductible of 2500 dollars, which they are talking about raising. Plus, it only pays 80 percent and I pay 20 percent of all costs.

A couple years ago my wife had a hysterectomy. We had some very large bills after the surgery, which I was just recently able to finally pay off. So, our health insurance benefits are not as good as some folks think either.

And, the sad part for those of us that have dedicated our lives to our careers, is that the legislature is thinking of even taking more of our health insurance benefits from us. Folks you can't squeeze blood from a turnip. And, this turnip is pretty shriveled already.

Thanks for listening again,

Marty Ley

Anonymous said...

Marty, I like you. I hear you. It sucks being under-appreciated for a job that is needed for public safety for the sake of the Texas citizenry including all the lawmakers who are making "tough decisions" in "tough times". I disagree with the State's decisions to dwindle State employee's insurance. Thank you for your service to the State of Texas. We are all safer because of it.

Anonymous said...

I know the topic is "perks". However, the comments tended to discuss the dedicated CO's and above that work for TDCJ. Upfront I will tell you that I am a visitor to prison. I'm not an employee, I'm not a prisoner and I'm not an "observer". So although I have encountered COs in the past 7 years that I agree are dedicated and deserving of decent pay and yes, perks, I cannot sing the praises of very many. I only see the "gray" employees when I visit and have had to many times warn them that as long as I am not breaking any rules, I will be treated with courtesy and respect. Too many times CO's treat visitors as if we are IN prison which leads me to wonder how they react to their charges in white.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 5.10 ~ but the Legislature has the power to change all of those things if it chooses. I am absolutely not suggesting that TDCJ should be undercutting external businesses, because that wouldn't be right at all. But to operate in a free market would open up not just work training for the inmates, but could also make TDCJ money in the long run. It also wouldn't be slave labour if the inmates were paid a few cents per hour too - again, nothing like an external company would have to pay its staff, but something that could then be held by TDCJ to first cover any court costs or child maintenance payments that the inmate owed.

Do I still sound like a socialist?

Marty - I know we've had this kind of conversation before, and I know you speak with knowledge as well as from the heart.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of working with Marty and other fine staff during the mid-90's at Galveston & Texas City. I do not know how the State is able to retain the good employees. The employee "perks" are no longer available to the rank and file (compared to 25-30 years ago).

I would hope that the lawmakers would supplement the employees' pay when they "take away the perks"; but history doesn't support my "hope".

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

I just want to say thank you to everyone who has commented on this thread. I appreciate all of the comments, even those who have disagreed with me. It's this kind of discussion in an open forum, with open minded people, that makes our republic so great.

I would like all of you to know that no matter what decisions the legislature makes this session there are those dedicated state employees who will continue to do the best job they can to serve the citizens of this great State. I'm proud to count myself as one.

Thank you again for your patience, and understanding,

Marty Ley