Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Lack of South Texas prison staffing continues to pose safety concerns for community and staff.
The Backgate has done several recent stories regarding staffing at South Texas prisons over the past few months. The Connally and McConnell units are still top the most severely understaffed even today. We recently spoke with 15 TDCJ employees, both employed at that unit, and some from other units providing support at McConnell. What they had to say was frightening at best. All of those we spoke to claimed that the unit is still dramatically understaffed, even though dozens of Correctional Officers are trucked in from around the state to supply much needed daily support. Dangerous short cuts are placing staff in harms way on a daily basis claimed many. When we asked what those short cuts were, 9 out of 15 stated that mandatory inmate cell searches for weapons and other contraband are not being conducted, single instead of double escorts of dangerous inmates are being conducted, and that normal operational procedures continue on even though TDCJ required staffing levels are not being met for those specified activities. They all claim to have witnessed this personally at least once. That in civilian terms means that the foxes have taken control of the hen house.
Inmates assigned there are clearly taking advantage of a bad situation say those we spoke to. Many of those Officers working the voluntary overtime there have since stopped returning to McConnell. Many claim that the money is simply not worth the trouble and added danger in dealing with the close custody (max security) and other problematic inmates assigned there. The staff that are mandated to to show up for overtime from all over the state are not so lucky. Their failure to show up means certain disciplinary action. Maybe it's time for a different approach to the staffing issues in that part of the state. Either pay staff more money per hour to work those facilities, or close them down and move those inmates. It should not take staff members being assaulted, killed or taken hostage to change things. The general public should also be afraid of the consequences of diminished staffing and the possibility that those conditions could encourage escapes.
The McConnell unit still hovers around 65-70 % staffing levels, and that does not account for Officers on extended leave, sick time, or any other type of leave. Booming industry and oilfield related jobs in that region are blamed for employee loss. But many who have left state employment said it wasn't the lure of more money, it was the working conditions, the overtime, and worsening inmate behavior brought on by the lack of staffing and replacement staff not familiar with the unit and it's inmates. Only time will tell how the staffing issues in South Texas will play out. Hopefully they don't end in the national news spotlight.
See an article by The Texas Tribune on staffing that includes the Backgate perspective HERE !
If you have insight on this issue, a comment, or suggestion, we would love to hear it. Post your comments below. Keep it clean and professional please.