Thursday, November 22, 2012

AFSCME union: Governor's office ignoring concerns about lack of prison staffing and related safety issues.

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

The Backgate received a copy of a letter forwarded to the Governor's office last month that detailed issues arising from the lack of adequate staffing inside of Texas Prisons. Below you can view the original letter that the AFSCME, the TDCJ employees union, sent Governor Perry back in October. The facts are frightening and are issues we have also reported on over the past year here at the Backgate. To date, still no answer from the Governors office.

Here is the original letter;

Letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry

October 1, 2012
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Dear Governor Rick Perry,
            As the President of the largest correctional employee's local in Texas, I am asking for your assistance in stopping the next wave of increased violence in your Texas prisons, as well as the spillover violence that will hit our public streets. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has experienced a new wave of violence, with 2012 now becoming TDCJ's deadliest year in the last 20 years, with over 12 homicides and a substantial largest increase in assaults and gang activity. 

In 2009, I delivered a study to your office, as well as the Texas Legislature, forewarning you and other elected leaders of impending violence in our prisons as a result of declining to hire professional qualified staff. In 2009, the Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Brad Livingston, asked for a 20 percent raise, also foreseeing this pending disaster. In 2009, the number of homicides in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was zero, but the prison system had the emergence of newer more violent gangs, as well as an increase in special needs offenders (i.e. Elderly Offenders / Psychiatric Offenders). With the emergence of more special need offenders, more staffing is required to care for this needy population with increased medical transports to public hospitals and assisting this segment in daily care.
The Department of Criminal Justice currently is over 2,700 officers short, not including the 530 correctional officer positions that were eliminated by your budget cuts this last session. The prisons further have over 500 new recruits in training every month, in addition to over 1,000 employees on Family Medical Leave Status, Military Leave, extended sick leave, and leave without pay. This leaves Texas prisons with a shortage of over 4,730 officers not present at TDCJ prison facilities.
Texas Correctional Employees would like to thank our state leadership for an improved Texas economy; unfortunately this has left our prisons dangerously understaffed as a large number of our employees have left for higher paying jobs in Texas' expanding energy sector. I would like to propose a fair pay increase to help better retain a more professional, experienced officer and wage a war on the violent gangs in our Texas prison system. TDCJ employees have failed to receive any cost of living adjustment for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years. At this time I am asking for an emergency cost of living adjustment of 3.5 percent be retroactively implemented for the 2012 fiscal year. In addition I am asking for you to support a cost of living raise in the same increment for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 fiscal year for a total of 14 percent over a 4-year period.
Thank you for our strong Texas economy, let’s keep Texans safe, and continue to grow this Texas economy by keeping us stable.
Lance L Lowry
President AFSCME Local 3807 

Below is the press release issued today to the Backgate from Lance Lowery, AFSCME President,  relating to this story;

"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice continues to remain dangerously understaffed, despite the agency offering a $3,000 bonus for newly hired officers willing to work at some of the most short-staffed prisons in the state, officials with the  American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Correctional Employees Council 7 said on Wednesday. 

Lance Lowry, President of AFSCME Local 3807, the union which represents Texas prison employees, recently sent a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, asking that he address the dangerous understaffing existing at many TDCJ units throughout the state. 

In the letter, Lowry calls for TDCJ employees to receive an emergency ‘cost of living’ pay increase of 3.5 percent. He cited the fact that the understaffing in Texas prisons has contributed to a substantial wave of prison violence this year. This year, there have been 12 inmate-on-inmate homicides in Texas prisons, making 2012 the deadliest in more than 20 years. 

TDCJ prisons continue to operate with a shortage of approximately 4,730 officers, which includes cuts to staffing made by Governor Perry during the last Legislative session. Although TDCJ is the largest penal system in the nation, it ranks 47th in the nation in terms of correctional officer pay.
“Texas’ economy continues to grow and TDCJ is failing to compete against private sector employers in terms of employee salaries and benefits,” Lowry said. “The low pay and dangerous working conditions are only driving many prison employees away. If we want to address the officer shortage, we must be competitive in the salaries we offer to our correctional officers.” 

Lowry explained that TDCJ, desperate to hire new correctional officers, is offering hiring bonuses, recruiting students who are just out of high school and employing foreign citizens who are working under visas which are only valid for a limited period of time. The result is an ever-growing turnover rate that fails to address the root of the problem. 

Unfortunately, TDCJ’s staffing shortage is at its height as we enter the holiday season. The holidays generally are regarded as a dangerous time in Texas prisons. The risk of escapes, suicides and other acts of violence is exacerbated during the holidays, when inmates may feel more isolated and miss their families and freedom more. 

“During the holidays, TDCJ employees aren’t the only ones wishing they were at home,” Lowry said. “Correctional officers have to be on high alert during the holidays because there is a greater risk of suicides and escapes throughout Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.”
Lowry noted that one of the most infamous prison escapes occurred on Thanksgiving night in 1998 when death row inmate Martin Gurule escaped from Texas death row at the Ellis Unit near Huntsville.
To date, Perry has not responded to AFSCME’s letter or acknowledged the dangerous conditions currently existing in TDCJ units throughout Texas: this important public safety issue continues to go unaddressed."

See the Texas Tribune story just published on staffing today by clicking HERE !

 More to come.....


  1. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten

    How could anyone trust a man (Perry) who while running for the Republican nomination made so many curious and bizare comments? He later admitted that he was sleep deprived, had been drinking and had been taking medication for pain. I wonder if he notified his HR representative like other state employees are required to do? Maybe he should be pee tested?

  2. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten

    Don't forget - Sue Ellen Ewing (the wife of the deceased J.R. Ewing) is running for governor of the Great State of Texas. Be sure to get out and vote for her.

  3. Perry will "play" concerned when he gets the next series of cell phone calls from some offender

  4. Somehow, I don't think Mr. Lowry is the person who needs to push the officers' agenda. He doesn't appear to be very articulate. While he's certainly entitled to his own opinion, he's not entitled to his own facts.

  5. AnonymousNovember 27, 2012 4:47 PM

    You are correct, Mr Lowry shouldn't be the one, the agency directors should have been the ones putting those facts out a long time ago. Texas Tribune quoted John Hurt, the new PIO, stating "Wardens have no security concerns and no staffing policies are being violated." Staffing policies are being violated all over the state and I hope to God the wardens have "SECURITY CONCERNS." The agency can't continue telling that lie. To attack the credibility of the statements by the union is ignorant. TDCJ lies, lies, and lies more. Livingston and Collier should be begging Uncle Perry for money, instead of trying to shoot down a press release by the union.

    1. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten

      When something bad does happen and it will, Collier will say either that he wasn't told or that he was told, but the person who told him should have been more aggressive and told him more often.