Shortage of Prison Guards Leads to Concern

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The state's prison units have more than 3,000 unfilled correctional officer jobs, leading one lawmaker to question whether the general public is safe.

Senator John Whitmire, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, says there's a public safety issue with the shortage.

More than 30 percent of correctional officer jobs are unfilled at four prison units in the state: Dalhart, Smith, Coffield and Beto. The Ferguson unit has 28 percent of its correctional officer jobs unstaffed.

The reasons for the shortages cited most frequently by experts are low salaries and the location of prisons in rural areas far from big-city labor pools. Experts say the turnover rate has risen from 20 percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2006.

A Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman said the prisons are secure despite the shortage of officers.

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