Of the 111 state prisons in Texas, 10 are facing staffing shortages with two of those shortages in this area.
Both the John B. Connally Unit in Karnes County and the William G. McConnell Unit in Bee County are experiencing a shortage of staff.
“We have seen an uptick in hiring from the oil and gas industry, particularly in South and West Texas,” said Jason Clark, public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “This has presented some challenges in hiring and retaining correctional officers at a handful of units.”
One of those units that has suffered the most from the surplus of new jobs in the area is the Connally Unit.
The unit currently houses 2,129 inmates, according to Clark, but has room for 2,905.
The TDCJ has had to take some drastic measures this year due to the shortages.
“This year, the agency took offline eight dorms (696 beds) at the Connally Unit to help deal with staff challenges,” Clark said. “The offenders were transferred to other facilities across the state.”
Clark added that the number of correctional officers has stayed the same across with state, with the exception being at the Connally Unit. When an officer leaves, there is no longer a large applicant pool from which to fill that vacant position; hence the closing of dorms and the transferring of offenders to the prisons that are not suffering from a severe guard shortage.
TDCJ employs 23,307 officers across its 111 units and, while some units across the state have the desire to hire extra people, not all are in the desperate need that the units in South and West Texas are facing.
“As of Oct. 31, 2012, there were 2,808 correctional officer vacancies system-wide,” Clark said.
TDCJ is making great strides to try and fill vacant positions.
“The agency has doubled its recruitment efforts, not only in South Texas but throughout the state,” Clark said. “TDCJ has recruiters who attend job fairs, work with the military, Texas Workforce Commission and local workforce boards to recruit correctional officers. We also conduct screenings in communities throughout the state.
“The agency is also providing unit based academies for newly hired correctional officers who live in remote areas. In June, Executive Director Brad Livingston doubled the recruitment bonus from $1,500 to $3,000 for newly hired correctional officers who agree to work for one year at one of 10 understaffed correctional facilities.”
Two of those 10 understaffed facilities are McConnell and Connally.
Clark stressed that, while these 10 units are in more desperate need of personnel than other units, TDCJ is still recruiting statewide.
Until staffing numbers improve, the eight dorms that were closed earlier this year at Connally will not come back online, and TDCJ will do what it must to ensure that it is operating within limits but without overcrowding.