Assaults on prison guards and staffers have doubled in the last five years, according to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News. And turnover at the second-largest prison system in the country is at a record level with one in four employees leaving the department last year. The TDCJ workforce was down 3,935 employees at the end of August.
Corrections department officials and prison experts blame the increase on everything from widespread staff shortages and low pay to a new breed of tougher criminals and prison overcrowding. There is one corrections officer for every 6.8 prisoners at TDJC facilities, where the inmate population is roughly 152,000, spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.
The News' analysis of assaults at Texas prisons found inmate-on-guard attacks have gone up considerably in the last few years. More than three dozen staff assaults with weapons have been reported so far this year, up from just 18 in all of 2003.
And those don't include the higher number of offender-on-offender assaults that guards have to break up and police. More than 900 cases of inmates attacking inmates have also been reported this year, up more than 30 percent from 2002. ...
Full-time salaries for Texas prison guards start at $23,040 a year and max out at $33,948 – near the bottom of the scale nationally, prison guard unions and industry experts say. That drives away employees – and drives up stress and overtime, they say.
"These staff shortages, and the pay, they're part of a larger problem," said Brian Olsen, deputy director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 4,000 workers. "This is a dangerous environment and, if you don't have the right resources, it creates obvious, possibly fatal, problems."
Maj. Troy Selman, who oversees the agency's training center near Huntsville, said budget cuts and exhausted applicant pools play a big part in the prison system's staff shortage.
"You have a high national rate of unemployment and, just like any other business, our applicant pool is small," Maj. Selman said.
In the 1980s, for example, the correctional officer ranks were filled with former oilfield workers, Maj. Selman said. Now, you're more likely to see baby-faced teenagers looking for a first job or mid-career hires filing in for prison guard training.
I've been harping on this theme for quite a while, now, particularly with voters poised to decide next week whether to approve new debt to build three new prisons. Somebody please explain: How does that make sense when Texas can't staff the prisons we have?