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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
March/April 2015
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Legislative update for TDCJ employees from the executive director

By Brad Livingston

 

Budget

The General Appropriations Bill (HB 1 by Otto) was approved by the House of Representatives in early April, and subsequently approved by the Senate just a few weeks later. However, as is always the case, the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill include numerous differences that must be resolved by a conference committee consisting of members from both bodies. Finalizing the state’s budget for the next two fiscal years is one of the most important tasks facing the Legislature during the remainder of the session, and most likely will not be completed until late May.

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

In regards to appropriations to TDCJ, while there are differences between the House and Senate, the two versions of the appropriations bill are similar in many important respects. For example, with one exception involving offender health care, the budgets approved by both the House and Senate maintain our base funding from the previous biennium, meaning the agency's existing operations, programs and functions would remain fully funded.

Both the House and Senate have approved a pay raise for correctional officer positions (correctional officers through wardens, laundry managers and food service managers) and parole officers, although the amount of the pay raise varies between the two bills: 10 percent in the House compared to the Senate's 2.5 percent in FY 2016 with an additional 2.5 percent in FY 2017.

In the House, salary increases for other employees have been discussed in the context of offsetting the increased retirement contributions necessary to ensure the actuarial soundness of the employee pension program. Note that this issue is discussed in more detail later, in the Employee Pensions section of this update.

Both the House and Senate budgets provide funding for repair and rehabilitation of existing facilities, continued deployment of comprehensive video surveillance systems, and replacing vehicles and obsolete computers, as well as expanding various treatment and diversion programs, to include substance abuse treatment, mental health, reentry services and probation funding. While the dollar amounts appropriated for these various activities sometimes differ, both the House and Senate have indicated they are willing to make significant investments in these areas.

Other than differences regarding pay increases, the most significant issue for the conference committee to resolve as it applies to TDCJ is the amount appropriated for offender health care. Both the House and Senate propose additional funding, but vary in the amounts and the specific purposes for which they are appropriated.

Of course, the information currently available is preliminary and subject to change. Final decisions regarding appropriations for fiscal years 2016-17 will be made no earlier than May 2015. We will continue to keep employees informed through the agency’s website and the Connections newsletter.

 

Employee Pensions

Representatives of the Employee Retirement System have told the Legislature that further action is needed to ensure the long-term stability of the employee pension program, and that any delay in addressing this issue makes potential solutions more difficult and costly. Both the House and Senate have appropriated funding to the ERS with the intent of ensuring the long-term fiscal soundness of the state employee retirement program.

Constitutional limitations on the amount the Legislature can contribute to the employee pension program require either additional funding or, alternatively, a reduction in benefits to achieve actuarial soundness. Legislation currently working its way through the legislative process would, in addition to the additional contribution by the state, increase the employee contribution to the retirement funds by 2.5 percent. Absent any other action, passage of this bill would reduce the amount state employees receive in their pay check after deductions are withheld. To prevent this reduction from occurring, an equivalent 2.5 percent pay raise for state employees is being considered.

The 2.5 percent employee retirement contribution and pay raise proposal, in combination with the proposed increase in state contributions, is one option to ensure the long-term fiscal health of the employee retirement system. Other options may be considered during the remainder of the legislative session. We will use the agency website and the Connections newsletter to keep employees informed of any developments impacting their retirement benefits and required contributions.

 

Other Legislation

As always, there are a number bills being considered by legislative committees which could impact state agencies, state employees or the state’s criminal justice policies. Shortly after the legislative session concludes we will prepare a brief summary of other bills enacted by the Legislature and make it available on the agency website.

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National Correctional Officers' Week begins May 3

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will observe National Correctional Officers’ Week from May 3 through 9 by honoring the dedicated men and woman who have chosen a professional career in corrections and who work every day to protect the citizens of Texas, rehabilitate offenders and help crime victims.

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

Since 1984, the first week in May has been set aside to recognize officers for their hard work and commitment to creating a safe and effective corrections environment. As in the past, individual units throughout the state have organized events in honor of their service. For more information about National Correctional Officers' Week activities in your area, contact your regional CID director's office.

Memorial ceremonies will also be held in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Christopher Davis and Eligio Garcia Jr., TDCJ correctional officers who lost their lives in the line of duty on January 14, 2015, will be honored.

The Fallen Officers' Memorial Ceremony in Huntsville will take place on May 8 at the Texas Prison Museum and will begin at 10:30 a.m. in front of the Sesquicentennial Plaza. Coverage will be included in the next issue of the Connections newsletter. This year's keynote speaker will be TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston, and Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Oliver Bell will present the Living Memorial.

Commenting on the significance of this year's ceremony, TDCJ Correctional Institutions Division Director Bill Stephens said, "Obviously, this year's fallen officers' ceremony will have a greater tone of sorrow as we recognize Officer Davis and Officer Garcia, and let us not forget Officer Jason Self who continues to recover from the injuries suffered from this tragic accident. Our TDCJ family suffered a great blow on January 14th. However, our resolve and support for each other have been impressive. In addition, the support from around the nation has been remarkable."

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Cirrito named Internal Audit
Division director

In February, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice appointed Chris Cirrito director of the agency's Internal Audit Division. The IAD performs independent analyses and appraisals of the agency, and makes recommendations concerning the adequacy and effectiveness of the agency's system of internal controls. The IAD director reports to the TBCJ.

Terrell McCombs, TBCJ Vice-Chairman
 
Chris Cirrito
 

Cirrito began his career with TDCJ in 1995 as a correctional officer at the Eastham and Ellis units. While working as a correctional officer he earned a bachelor degree in Criminology and Corrections from Sam Houston State University and in 1998 began working as an auditor for the agency's Internal Audit Division, advancing to the position of audit manager in 2005. In 2012, Cirrito was awarded the Correctional Management Institute of Texas scholarship to attend the SHSU Master of Science in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management Weekend Program. He received his master's degree in 2014.

Cirrito is certified by the Institute of Internal Auditors as a Certified Internal Auditor and a Certified Government Auditing Professional, and by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners as a Certified Fraud Examiner.

Board Chairman Oliver Bell commented on Cirrito's appointment, saying, "Our practice has been to cultivate leaders from within our ranks, as well as seek talented professionals from outside the agency. Chris has knowledge of the agency's operations and a strong work ethic. His professionalism will serve him well in this position."

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Chairman's Fitness Challenge 2015:
second-quarter results

Compete in the Touchdown to World Series challenge

The second quarter of the Touchdown to World Series challenge, which ran from January 19 to March 1, was another great success. Participating employees collectively accumulated more than 18 million points, raising the current fiscal year's point total to more than 37 million.

Congratulations to all our participants! Below are the first, second and third place winners within each division.

  FIRST SECOND THIRD
Division 1:
19 or fewer employees
Board of Criminal Justice and Austin Executive Administration Parole Division Specialized Programs Snyder Institutional Parole Office
Division 2:
20 to 39 employees
Office of the General Counsel

Parole
Region III

CID Support Operations
Division 3:
40 to 99 employees
Health Services Division State Counsel for Offenders Administrative Review and Risk Management Division
Division 4:
100 to 199 employees
Correctional Training Administration - CID Glossbrenner Unit - CID Sayle Unit - CID
Division 5:
200 to 299 employees
Cole State Jail - CID Boyd Unit – CID Facilities Division
Division 6:
300 plus employees
Jester IV Unit – CID Manufacturing and Logistics Division Wallace/Ware units - CID
Division 7: Windham School District (WSD) WSD West Texas Region WSD North Texas Region WSD South Texas Region

 

Gold and Platinum Challenges

During the second quarter, Gold Challenge participants had to earn 1,000 points during each week of the challenge, and Platinum Challenge participants were required to earn at least 2,500 points per week. Participation in the Gold and Platinum challenges continues to grow rapidly and the second quarter has produced 262 successful Gold and 95 successful Platinum challengers. Due to the large increase in staff participation, complete lists of successful Gold and Platinum participants have been posted separately and can be accessed by clicking on the links below.

Gold Challenge participants

Platinum Challenge participants

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Agency News

 

 

 

 

 

star bulletBoard Bulletin

star bulletAgency News

Legislative update for TDCJ employees from the executive director

National Correctional Officers' Week begins May 3

Cirrito named Internal Audit Division director

Chairman's Fitness Challenge 2015: second-quarter results

star bulletPolicies and Benefits

star bulletFeature

star bullet Saluting Employees