TDCJ Admits Statewide Correctional Officer Shortage

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The Texas Department of Criminal Justice admits there's a statewide shortage of correctional officers. That fact is causing some local correctional officers to fear for their lives.

To the public eye, the last time you see a convicted felon is usually in court.
But after the sentencing, the eyes in charge of monitoring the criminals in prison are becoming tainted with fear.

"You don't know if you are going to come out in one piece or the same way you went in everyday when that door closes,” said a Huntsville prison corrections officer who didn't want to be identified in fear of retaliation.

Every day he is exposed to what he calls a different 'world.'

"You have to deal with 186 offenders in a cell block…There's only one of you, and maybe one watching if you are lucky,” said the officer.

In his 10 years of being a correctional officer, he says the shortage has reached a peak.

According to the latest records from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, just the 13 prisons in the Huntsville area are more than 700 correctional officers short.

"You definitely worry when you enter that gate, if you are going to leave the gate in the same condition you came in,” said Lance Lowry, a correctional officer and president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

He says the shortage is attributed to the correctional officer salary.

"We have not kept up with the cost of living in these prison systems,” said Lowry.

In fact, according to a study done by the union, Texas is one of the lowest 3 states in the nation when it comes to pay for correctional officers. The highest that correctional officers can make is $37,000 and starting salary is just $27,000.

"We need to take a public safety first approach and get the pay scale more competitive with the free market,” said Lowry.

Lowry sent a letter to the governor asking the state for an emergency cost of living adjustment.

The TDCJ sent us a statement saying, "When necessary, the agency is utilizing overtime to ensure that critical areas of the prison are adequately staffed."

"When the state says all critical positions are being staffed, they are not,” said Lowry.

The TDCJ says they will urge the state lawmakers to consider a pay raise for correctional officers in the next legislative session.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says it hopes to hear from the governor once the legislative session starts in January.