Sunday, August 26, 2012

TDCJ ignores Governor's budget cut request, asks for $300 million appropriations bump

Though Grits argued earlier this week that pay hikes for Texas prison guards are extremely unlikely in the 83rd legislative session next year, despite chronic understaffing, apparently hope springs eternal among the lock-em-up crowd. Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman reported on Friday that, despite agencies being asked to submit a legislative appropriations request (LAR) 10% lower than their current budget, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is asking for $300 million more than its current budget, mostly for increased pay for front-line prison staff, particularly COs. More than 10% of prison guard slots are presently unfilled, Ward noted, with the problem particularly critical at seven rural units where turnover is astronomical.

In addition to pay hikes, "The agency is also asking for an additional $17.5 million to build dorm-style staff housing for correctional officers at the seven short-staffed prisons. That project is on a 'wish list' of items prison officials would like to have, if the Legislature has extra money to spend — which appears unlikely," Ward reported, adding that:
As part of its budget request, the prison system included more than $1 billion in funding for prisoner health care — an amount that will probably be too small.

On the "wish list" is a request for another $141 million, which officials said health care providers believe "is critical to maintain operations and ensure effective overall quality care within the system."
Prison guards probably deserve more pay, but even if it happens it won't make the positions competitive with the oil field jobs presently drawing away rural workers. Ward wrote that "Prison guards in Texas are paid between $27,000 and $37,000. Guards are leaving for oil field jobs that pay $70,000 to $80,000," so a small raise in any event won't make the positions competitive.

More concerning than that cognitive dissonance, just like last session, TDCJ officials are falsely framing the debate. While they're hyper-focused, as always, on maxxing out funds for the prison system, the agency doesn't appear to be asking (judging from this report; we'll know more next week when they publish the LAR) for increased funds for probation and parole, evincing priorities that IMO set the agency up to fail. The more rational solution to the understaffing dilemma at rural units would be to divert low-level drug and property offenders from prison through community supervision (since supervision on probation costs a fraction of incarcerating the same offender) so the state can close more prison units.

The problem here is that prison officials a) see themselves as prison operators instead of seeking to maximize public safety at sustainable costs, and b) aren't willing to speak truth to power. If just seven units are suffering grave understaffing, are raises really justified at all those where turnover isn't a problem? The smarter approach would be to shift money to strengthen probation and change sentencing policies to allow the agency to close understaffed units and/or its most expensive ones. That would not only reduce staffing pressures (with such high turnover rates, few actual layoffs would be necessary), but also lower medical costs from serving fewer prisoners. Instead, TDCJ officials are asking the Lege for a major budget bump, even though nobody thinks doing so would make prison guard pay competitive with the oil field jobs drawing away workers.

Unfortunately, the agency itself will likely never suggest the sorts of policy changes needed to actually moderate TDCJ's budget. They're counting on the historic alliance of Big Government Conservatives and Liberals to reflexively throw more money at prisons, as the Lege has done since the Ann Richards era. IMO, agency leaders don't really care about community supervision and even less about reducing burdens on taxpayers: Their personal identities are as prison managers and if history (and this report) are any guide, they'll seemingly always seek to fund brick and mortar prisons over probation and parole, regardless of the budget or public safety implications. If legislators want a smaller, rational, God forbid, conservative prison budget, they cannot look to TDCJ for suggestions on how to accomplish it.


Anonymous said...

I sure wish you'd show us which counties AREN'T utilizing community supervision for "low level drug and property crime offenders!" We hear this same tired urban myth every legislative session as if it's the "end all, be all" of how to save money in corrections. As a matter of fact, would you please learn that under the Code of Criminal Procedure, most first time State Jail drug offenders are entitled to MANDATORY probation and that's been the law for at least 6 years now. In my experience, the only "low level" drug and property offenders who are being incarcerated upon conviction now are either repeat offenders or offenders who refuse to accept a probation offer and just want to "do their time." And believe you me, with the Obama economy, there are a significant number of offenders who would rather just do their time rather than incur the expense of probation. The rest of the offenders who are doing time for these low level offenses are going there after they've been given a bite at probation and have demonstrated over and over that they can't or won't comply with the terms of probation.

Anonymous said...

DPS sees similar vacancies rates and routinely has 15 to 20 percent of its trooper positions vacant.

Anonymous said...

DPS sees similar vacancies rates and routinely has 15 to 20 percent of its trooper positions vacant.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 12.07 ~ Obama has been president for less than 4 years, yest this situation has been going on for at least the past 10 years. Are you sure there is no one else you can find to blame?

Perhaps if TDCJ stopped naming prisons after retired wardens, it would be less attractive to keep them going - the wardens would have to find some other way to create a lasting legacy.

I wonder where TDCJ thinks this $300 million is stashed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So, 12:07, you're calling for a tax increase to pay for locking more people up, right? Why not just get to the point and say so? And sign your name to it, while you're at it.

Anonymous said...

No, Grits, no one said anything about a tax increase. The prison population is what it is. I just think you liberals enjoy perpetuating this myth that counties are not effectively using probation and are indiscriminately sending all of the non-violent first time drug and theft offenders straight to prison. That, to use a technical term of art, is bullshit! I suspect that if you drill down into the data, you'll find the overwhelming majority of those incarcerated are either sex offenders, violent offenders, or offenders who either can't or won't do probation.

Surely U Jest said...

12:07 said
In my experience, the only "low level" drug and property offenders who are being incarcerated upon conviction now are either repeat offenders or offenders who refuse to accept a probation offer and just want to "do their time."

What crock of shit! How many times "in your experience" can you recall prosecutors taking the lazy way out by sending someone up on a "class b" violation of probation instead of proving up new alleged charges?
It is the standard rather than the exception. On top of abusing power prosecutors are constantly looking for the lazy way out... which by the way lends to corruption.

Anonymous said...

@surely u jest....So that probation thing didn't work out so well for ya, huh?

Anonymous said...

12:07 is correct in adult and juvenile corrections - if a county can keep an individual in the community rather than commit them to the state, the county will do that. Hell, counties now have a financial incentive to keep youths out of the state system and (following the money) it stands to reason that counties will do just that. I only have anectdotal evidence, but I have not yet seen low level drug or property offender sent to Huntsville.

I think the only way to decrease the population of prisons significantly is 1) legalize all drugs, 2) instead of incarcerating illegals, send 'em back to Mexico, and 3) halve the time for all sentences.

I think 12:07 asked an excellent question - if it is true that low level drug offenders and property offenders are being sent to prison indiscriminately, show us the evidence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:33, the recurring line in your comment is "I think," but you don't think very hard, very deeply, or very clearly. You suggested three ways to reduce prison populations: "1) legalize all drugs, 2) instead of incarcerating illegals, send 'em back to Mexico, and 3) halve the time for all sentences."

Why not simply reduce drug sentences one notch instead of "legalize" everything, which at this point is little more than a hippie fantasy?

How about indexing property crime levels to inflation instead of merely cutting sentences in half? (With such broad sentence ranges in TX, that's not a real suggestion, anyway.) And as for sending "illegals" back to Mexico, a) some have committed serious crimes and don't deserve release but more importantly b) illegal immigrants commit crimes at FAR lower rates than citizens and make up a minuscule proportion of the prison population compared to their proportion of the population at large.

As for "proof" that low-level offenders go to prison, let's just take less than a gram drug crimes as an example. 12:07 mentioned a bill that mandated probation for less than a gram cases on the first offense (HB 2668 which passed in 2003). The original filed bill would have reduced less than a gram crimes to a straight up Class A misdemeanor before it was amended in the Lege process to just mandate probation. (Incidentally, it was not filed by a "liberal" but a conservative Republican, Ray Allen, then chair of the House Corrections Committee.) Check the fiscal notes (see here). The original filed version would have reduced state jail entries by an estimated 9,130 per year. The amended version affected an estimated 2,043 per year. The difference is still there to be had if the state just reduced less than a gram cases to a Class A misdemeanor. IMO the other categories should be notched down, too.

It's not about liberal or conservative, it's about math. You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts, particularly when you don't sign your name to your missives

Anonymous said...

"Why not simply reduce drug sentences one notch instead of "legalize" everything, which at this point is little more than a hippie fantasy?"

Because it's pretty clear that if there was a war on drugs, drugs won.

All the evidence suggests that criminalizing drugs don't reduce drug use and just cost taxpayer money in prisons, funding rogue agencies, and others in the criminal justice system. Additionally, we've set up secondary sources of power in countries such as Mexico, causing bloodshed.

So if we're going to speak practically, there is no good reason to continue to criminalize drug use and that, by itself, would do more to empty out prisons than anything else.

Is legalization going to happen? Probably not, if only because it would make too much sense.

And you still haven't answered 12:07's questions - what counties are sending these low level drug offenders to the state? A good social scientist backs up his theories/claims with data.

Anonymous said...

TxDPS administrators are rattling their sabers in preparation for the big raises they plan to receive in the next budget. Why can't TDCJ jump on that bandwagon?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:25, legalization is fine to talk about but it won't happen in 2013.

As for 12:07's question, I gave statewide figures which is what matters vis a vis the state budget, but I haven't researched it county by county. Sorry, I don't take research assignments from anonymous non-employers.

Unknown said...

Let’s face it, at this point it has become painfully obvious to anyone who is interested and has paid attention that the prison system is failing. The funding for security and medical care is way short of what is necessary. This has long been detailed by Grits and the many people who have contributed all the well informed comments that have reinforced his position. We all know what the problem is and we are also aware that in this up coming legislative session nothing meaningful will be done to address this crisis. The only hope that seems to be left of even beginning to get a handle on this problem is to devise a plan for reducing the prison population and rethinking the long unnecessary sentences being given and reducing them. The reduction of the prison population could take place in a time span that would have some effect in the short term. However, addressing the sentencing laws, if it were actually done, would be so time consuming it would be of no short term use for this acute problem.

To make matters worse there are law suits in the wings that may well result in a Federal Judge mandating that A/C be installed in the State’s prisons. Also, it does not seem to be to widely known or talked about that Texas Legislators have on their “To Do List”, the restructuring of the TRS and ERS retirement systems. It is felt that public money should not be used to fund pensions for teachers and other state workers. The TRS system is the retirement system used by UTMB employees and the ERS system is used by TDCJ employees. At a time when both UTMB and TDCJ are experiencing great difficulty hiring and retaining personnel the legislature will be considering reducing the retirement benefits for those employees. One of the major reasons employees in both systems take and keep these under paid jobs is because of the retirement benefits.

What can be done about this? Short of a second coming, I hold out no hope of a workable solution in the short term. Putting money in the prison system is not popular with the public. That is the biggest reason the Legislature is so inert. Voting to fund the prison system is not a career builder if you what to stay in Texas politics. So yeah, they will focus on education and Medicaid and when the session goes in the history books virtually nothing will be done about the under funding of the prison system. What’s ironic is that in the end the funding will be available when the Federal Judges mandate the state to correct the problems.

Anonymous said...

TDCJ was asked to make another 10% reduction and they responded with a demand for another $300 mil. If you are a UTMB-CMC employee you should be paying attention. Remember two things. One, there is still not a signed contract for UTMB to provide medical services after the end of this month, (just an agreement until June of next year), and two; TDCJ holds the purse strings now. UTMB is not a separate negotiator any longer; they're just another part of the TDCJ budget. Even if TDCJ got their $300 mil it would still be up to them to increase the funding given to UTMB-CMC. Owen and Callander can present to the Lege all they want but really they are once removed from the feeding line. UTMB not only has to pitch the Lege, they also have to negotiate with TDCJ for the increase in funds from their budget. In this political climate with additional funding to the prison system a long shot all UTMB-CMC employees need to stay current with what is happening. This means checking up on any official line being put out and taking care of your own best interests.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice that in the town hall meeting of the 16th of August that Callander did not include UTMB-CMC on his agenda of topics to address at the meeting? The only reason the contractual agreement between UTMB-CMC and TDCJ was mentioned at all was because he had to respond to a question from a UTMB-CMC employee about the chances of salary increases. This betrays the long history of the campus attitude toward UTMB-CMC. It is obvious that Callander does not wish to continue the UTMB relationship with prison health care. It's only good business. Medical care at the unit level is not profitable. Don't count on him to be particularly aggressive representing the interests of UTMB-CMC employees.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 12:49.

As a UTMB-CMC employee, I do not trust TDCJ or UTMB-CMC. I seriously question their judgment and compassion in regard to employee interests. Add to that the chances of the prison system obtaining the funding required to properly provide care and I think it is just about time to turn mother’s picture to the wall and get out. Going for retirement is no longer a reason to stay with UTMB. I don’t feel they can be trusted to do the right thing by their employees with or without a contract. If you are a nurse and decide to stay you should invoke “Safe Harbor”.

Lance said...

Scott you missed the point completely... TDCJ staffing levels are imploding statewide. Last session the state cut 1,500 correctional positions from the staffing plan!!!!! None of these positions were filled, but needed to be filled for public safety reasons, employee safety, and for inmate safety too. Now TDCJ is 2,700 officers short, plus the 1,500 the legislature cut, plus over a thousand officers on leave without pay, FMLA leave, and extended military leave.

The prisons are becoming more dangerous... Scott you need to look at how many inmates have been murdered just this year alone... In 2009 TDCJ had zero homicides... This year TDCJ has over 12 homicides and over 20 suicides... Low staffing levels play into this as I have proven many years ago with my testimony and study submitted to the Texas Legislature 4 years ago. Scott I agree TDCJ can shut down units, but they need to cut their private contracts first. Mineral Wells and Dawson State jail would be a great place to start.

Cheap corrections is how we got to this problem in the first place. By paying officers less, this will only increase violence in TDCJ. Rehabilitation can not occur when inmates are in fear for their lives and having to join gangs in TDCJ. By having gangs run the prison system, TDCJ will have to built more units for sure. The largest prison expansion occurred after the violence in the prisons in the 80's. Staffing levels and pay are critical to successful rehabitition. If we want to run a cheap prison system, maybe we should model ourselves after Mexico.

Unknown said...

to Vincent who stated: " What’s ironic is that in the end the funding will be available when the Federal Judges mandate the state to correct the problems."
I agree with you and you have a good level headed perspective. The only problem is the Feds wont (and have said so to the original writ writers of Ruiz v. Estelle) come in until someone files a lawsuit against TDCJ again. The last time the Feds came in is when they started getting money for programs and education as well as mental health treatment. The last lawsuit was handwritten, by the inmates who suffered the lacks. Then the Feds came in and it all changed and I was there from 85-90 and experienced the growing pains of the Ruiz stipulations at the impressionable age of 18.

Yes pay was less back then but it was the benefits which drew me to the job. TDCJ will never have enough employees because they don't know how to treat them! There is a saying that your employees are your best asset, TDCJ does not treat their employees with that mindset. The prison is the "family owned company" business of Huntsville and a lot of other towns and to treat the employees with bare pay and benefits not to speak of the cliches and the harassment. They treat them like convicts oops sorry "offenders". I cant believe some of the stories I have heard from the officers, that they go through on some units just to come to work!

UTMB contract was fairly new when I worked there the first time and it was a lot more than the inmates get now. I have family which is now incarcerated and the way they have flipped a lot of costs on to the inmate which in turn affects the families of inmates (because they are the majority who pay for the commissary fund). These families are taxpayers too.

If all the families of the inmates incarcerated could become a unified voice to the media as well as the lege and then learn to testify of their own stories before these committees. The good ol boy system might just get destroyed but I am an optimist so I can always hope, real reform will come to TDCJ and the criminal justice system in my lifetime.

All I can end with is I do know how to advocate in front of the lege and this session I have my alerts set up from so I can stay informed. We all need to become as informed and active as possible this coming legislative session and election. We as a generation have been talkers and not walkers, it is time to get involved in your area!

Anonymous said...

IF- -tdcj would just ONCE care about their officers- -the ones doing all the work, then maybe, just maybe the turnover woudln't be so darn high- -but most higher rank could give a flip less- -and they SHOW it!