Sunday, November 25, 2012

Texas prisons dangeroulsy understaffed

Leaders of Texas' prison employee union say that officials are leaving prisons dangerously understaffed. The union renewed calls for better pay, noting that the holiday season is a particularly dangerous time in Texas prisons, reported the Texas Tribune.

Prison officials agreed that staffing problems exist in particular units, but said that the facilities are secure.

“What has happened over the past several years is the Legislature hasn't kept up with cost of living for correctional officers,” Lance Lowry, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, told the Tribune.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has faced staffing shortages during the last year. In June, the department closed parts of the Connally unit in Kenedy, southeast of San Antonio, and moved the inmates to other facilities, because of a 40-percent vacancy rate. In October, Lowry sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, noting that his organization had found the department is currently short more than 2,700 officers.

According to the Tribune, both union leaders and prison officials agree that the shortage in certain parts of the state is partially due to the growth of the oil and gas industry in South Texas, which has created private sector jobs that compete with prisons for workers. "When they can go out and drive a truck for twice as much as they'd make in the prison,” Lowry said, “it creates a large vacuum.”

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