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Board approves salary adjustments and recruitment bonus for correctional officers

illustration of a check In support of TDCJ’s ongoing efforts to reduce the number of correctional officer vacancies, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice in March voted to raise the starting pay for newly hired officers by 10 percent on May 1 and to offer a $1,500 recruitment bonus for those who will begin work on designated understaffed facilities. Board members also joined TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston in pledging to seek pay raises for all officers during next year’s legislative session.

“These adjustments are crucial for us to make progress in addressing our substantial number of correctional officer vacancies prior to the summer months when staffing levels have traditionally diminished,” Livingston told the board during its regular meeting in Austin. “However, more comprehensive salary adjustments will be a key component in our 2010-2011 Legislative Appropriations Request.”

The starting salary for a Correctional Officer I will be increased by approximately 10% to $2,118 monthly. After the first two months of employment, the correctional officer will advance to $2,245 monthly. After six months as a Correctional Officer II, the correctional officer will advance to $2,378.83 as a Correctional Officer III. Other correctional officers may be positively impacted by the acceleration of the correctional career ladder from 96 months to 90 months. Laundry and food service managers who are on a similar career ladder will also be accelerated.

“Our primary focus in increasing the salary in the first few career ladder steps is to impact both the recruitment and retention during those critical early months of employment,” said Livingston, who noted that the turnover rate for correctional officers in their first year was approximately 43 percent in Fiscal Year 2007 compared to the overall correctional officer turnover rate of 24 percent. “Clearly, I think it’s fair to say turnover always will be higher in the first year than it will be in the entire group. Our goal here is to close that gap.”

At the end of February, TDCJ employed nearly 23,000 correctional officers while another 3,594 positions were vacant. To the extent that the recent board action improves correctional officer staffing levels, the board-approved recruitment package will help all correctional employees by providing a safer and more secure working environment.

The proposal to offer the recruitment bonus as of April 1 targets 16 designated prison units, Livingston said.

“By offering this bonus, coupled with the salary increase proposal, we would anticipate that the number of new recruits would increase staffing levels on these targeted units,” said Livingston, adding that the units would be periodically re-evaluated to determine their bonus eligibility.

The executive director also outlined initiatives introduced in recent years that focus on recruiting and retaining correctional officers in a highly competitive job market. The agency has purchased radio advertising in geographic areas with the greatest staffing needs, modified pre-service training academy schedules to decrease the time between completing the application process and the effective hire date, and implemented new employee training programs focused on employee retention. In addition, changes to the correctional officer career ladder effective November 2007 provided an accelerated career path for former correctional staff as well as a higher starting salary for correctional applicants with active military service or a bachelor’s degree.

According to Livingston, the cost of the salary adjustment and recruitment bonus plan exceeds TDCJ’s available funding and, therefore, could not have been enacted without the approval of the Governor and legislative leadership. Livingston also said the agency will work with the Governor and Legislature to build on this interim measure by seeking a broader correctional officer pay package during the next legislative session.

Grant-funded initiative preps state jail offenders for return to society

Marina Mackey standing in front of classroom with offenders sitting at tables.
Case manager Marina Mackey discusses anger management issues with offenders enrolled in the Prison Reentry Initiative program at the Lychner State Jail near Houston.

Photo by David Nunnelee

A grant-funded reentry initiative that partners TDCJ with three community-based organizations is helping state jail offenders find meaningful employment following their release.

The Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI), which is also known as “Get Reentry Ready,” was launched in March 2007 with a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The 90-day in-house portion of the program is now operating at five TDCJ state jail facilities near Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Upon release, participating offenders must complete a second reentry phase at one of three community-based organizations. Representatives from the three organizations -- Goodwill Industries of San Antonio, Moving Forward of Houston, and the Urban League of Dallas -- meet with offenders while they are still incarcerated to assess their job skills and other needs.

Only non-violent offenders, 18 years of age or older, can take part in the program.

“We’re looking for individuals who are motivated to change,” said Madeline Ortiz, director of TDCJ’s Rehabilitation and Reentry Division.

In addition to the pre-release interaction between the offenders and representatives of the community-based organizations, the program also invites family members to the state jail facility to meet with their loved ones and assist them in their transition to the community.

“One thing that’s unique about this program is that we have what we call the family component, where we get the family actively involved,” Carey said. “That is so important to their transition.”

By November 2007, 106 offenders had completed both portions of the program. Of those, 39 were working in the fields of truck driving, computer installation, carpet installation and retailing. Another joined the U.S. Air Force while about 40 others were working with the community-based organizations to find employment.

Carey said the goal of the program is to reduce recidivism by helping state jail offenders make a successful reentry into society.

“If one person doesn’t come back, to me, that’s a success,” Carey said. “But I would like to see a decline in the recidivism numbers. That would be wonderful. But it’s still the individual’s choice. All you can do is put the resources out there and hope that they take advantage of what you’re offering.”

In addition to the Prisoner Reentry Initiative, state jail offenders also have access to Project RIO (Reintegration of Offenders), which is offered by the Windham School District. Project RIO participants receive counseling regarding educational, vocational, and work opportunities while incarcerated, along with guidance in planning for a successful occupational reintegration into the community. Through the end of February 2008, the Project RIO program offender enrollment had reached 3,320 at 13 state jail facilities across Texas.

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