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June 4, 2008 (512) 463-0300

TEXAS PRISONS LACK ADEQUATE STAFFING

(AUSTIN) -- Texas prisons are short thousands of prison guards, causing security issues and hurting staff morale, according to testimony offered at a meeting of the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee held on Wednesday. Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingstone testified that his agency has about 3400 vacant staff positions, spread unevenly around various state facilities. TDCJ has hired approximately 500 new staff since late 2007. Livingstone said the agency is using a number of incentives to increase new applications and decrease turnover, including higher salaries for new applicants, bonuses for applicants with bachelor's degrees or who were honorably discharged from the military, and streamlining the advancement process. He added that TDCJ will submit an "ambitious" funding request to the Legislature, including more pay for staff, later this year.

Several current correctional officers offered testimony at Wednesday's hearing, revealing a common theme: prison guards are overworked and underpaid. "I got eleven and a half years in the system. Is it worth continuing? I'm seriously looking at that, because it gets worse everyday, instead of better," said Ray Stewart, a corrections officer based in Beaumont, who nets $1900 a month from his job. He added that critical equipment, such as radios and cameras, are often broken or simply missing from facilities, in some cases for longer than a year.

Houston Senator John Whitmire said staffing issues should be the Legislature's top priority in prison reform. "We have a window of opportunity. The capacity issue seems to be under control, we have a rehabilitation tier that's being implemented," he said. "Now we need to really scrutinize operations."

The Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee is chaired by Rep. Jerry Madden and consists of Senators John Whitmire, Kel Seliger and Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, and Representatives Debbie Riddle and Sylvester Turner.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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