Prison Officials Seeking Ways to Recruit and Retain Guards

Prison Officials Seeking Ways to Recruit and Retain Guards

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Overcrowding, violence, inhumane treatment, along with inadequate mental and physical healthcare are just a few of the problems facing the American prison system.

Correctional officer corruption and poor work conditions have prompted the Texas Department of Justice to institute an incentive to recruit correctional officers. This campaign was initiated because of a dire shortage of individuals who are motivated to work inside the prison system as inmate babysitters.

The corrupt atmosphere combined with deplorable working conditions with little pay is causing the job of a correctional officer to be an undesirable job in the state of Texas. Surviving inside prison walls as a professional is causing correctional officers to compromise their integrity and join the corrupt system.  During a CO training session held in Beeville, Texas, students are warned about the risk of becoming resigned to dishonesty. However, what these rookie recruits do not realize is that statistics prove they will not hang around the prison system long enough to be tainted.

CO turnover has been rapidly increasing since 2006, not only because of the adverse working conditions inside the prison but employment in the Texas oil fields is more attractive.  Employing and retaining prison personnel has become a major challenge in South Texas.

South Texas has created a unique strategy that is enticing correctional employees to stay around. The facility is offering on-site low-cost housing to the tune of only $25 per month for correctional employees. The Department of Criminal Justice is following suit at other units in elite oil field areas where prison staff would normally not be able to afford the cost of living.

The reasoning behind developing employee initiatives for recruitment is to decrease violent episodes between inmates. Research conducted inside Southern Texas prisons indicates that as staff turnover increased, so did violent incidents.

Unfortunately, state officials are unable to compete with energy company wages, but Texas lawmakers were able to approve a whopping 5 percent pay raise for correctional officers, which doesn’t make much of a difference in pay, but the housing perks are expected to make up for low salaries. But, money is not the main concern for prison officials —- poor working conditions, such as long hours, working in 100-degree-plus weather with no air conditioning, and staff shortages that lead to unsafe conditions rate higher on the grievance scale.   

For anyone interested in a job as a correctional officer in Texas, there is a demand. As of 2013, there were 3,304 correctional officer openings among its 109 facilities. Staff shortages have resulted in about 1,400 prison cell openings.

Some Texas correctional facilities are resorting to pull-up sites equipped with electrical boxes for recreational vehicles right on the unit property.  For a mere $25 a month, four officers can bunk up in what is called “bachelor officer quarters” on the prison campus. Surprisingly, this dorm-style amenity has a long waiting list. The cheap housing is luring out-of-town workers, which helps the staff shortage. Officials have amped up their recruiting campaign by pulling in military veterans, former department employees, and individuals from communities where significant layoffs have occurred. New officers are being enticed with $4,000 bonuses for enduring the job for one year. 

Even with all of these incentives and bonuses, a correctional officer working under stressful conditions can only expect a yearly income of $39,000. Entry level starts at $29,220. This pay is very measly compared to a truck driver hauling water to the disposal wells used in the fracking process making $78,000 per year, according to the Bee County Chamber of Commerce.

Are all of these lures and incentives worth working in an inhumane environment for mediocre pay? The union has joined inmates’ rights advocates in a lawsuit against the Louisiana prison system that argues that low staff ratio to the inmate population and the lack of air conditioning in 100-degree-plus temperatures amount to cruel and unusual punishment. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is following suit.

While increased pay, affordable housing, and improved working conditions can help resolve the correctional staff shortage, the Texas Justice Department is aware of the long-term solution —- significantly reducing the prison population, which in 2013 reached nearly 150,400.