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Texas looking at another CO pay increase to combat turnover

TDCJ reports that the correctional officer turnover rate for the fiscal year 2017 was 28 percent, the highest it has been in recent history


Joseph Brown
The Huntsville Item, Texas

Recruitment and retainment of correctional officers has been a constant battle for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The problems is just as evident in the home county of TDCJ, with six of the seven prisons in Walker County above the state average in vacant correctional officer positions. This coming after a February pay raise for correctional officers with at least 14 months of experience and a $4,000 signing bonus that was introduced in 2014.

As of July 31, the statewide average for filled correctional officer positions was 86.52 percent with the Byrd, Estelle, Goree, Holliday, Huntsville and Wynne units all below that mark.

The Estelle Unit near Riverside has the highest vacancy in the county with 135 of its 702 total positions sitting vacant. The Wynne Unit in Huntsville has 84.5 of its 461 positions unfilled. The Ellis Unit is the lone Walker County unit above the state average with 90.23 percent of correctional officer positions filled.

TDCJ is hoping to combat this with their 2020-21 Legislative Appropriations Request. The $168.1 million request, which will go before the Texas Legislature in January, calls for another pay raise for correctional and parole officers and institutes a career ladder for new recruits.

“Recruitment and retention of Correctional Officers is a high priority,” TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier said. “That is why TDCJ is proposing significant changes in the career ladder of CO’s and pay raises for all levels of the career ladder. Our core focus continues to be the operation of safe and secure correctional facilities and the supervision of released offenders in support of the agency’s primary mission to ensure public safety.”

TDCJ reports that the correctional officer turnover rate for the fiscal year 2017 was 28 percent, the highest it has been in recent history. The turnover rate for first-year recruits during that time was close to 42 percent.

The LAR, if approved, will increase starting salary for a newly hired correctional officer by 12 percent to $36,338, reduces the number of career ladder steps and increases the maximum salary from $43,049 to $47,354. Parole officers would also receive comparable increases, with their starting salary increasing from $39,718 to $43,690 with a maximum salary after 10 years increasing from $44,661 to $49,127. Ranking correctional officers, parole officers, as well as correctional laundry and food service managers would also receive similar salary increases.

Retired senior warden Lonny Johnson said that during his career at TDCJ, correctional officer recruiting and retention was an “ongoing problem” they were constantly working to address.

“It comes and goes, mainly depending on how the economy is doing,” said Johnson, who retired as head of offender transportation in 2013. “When I was at offender transportation, our driver’s had (commercial driver’s licenses) and when the oil industry was booming, they were getting calls for trucking jobs that would double their salaries. It is hard to compete with that.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice operates 104 prisons in Texas and employs over 25,000 correctional officers and ranking officers.

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©2018 The Huntsville Item (Huntsville, Texas)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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