Although the Department of Criminal Justice will be seeking additional appropriations for such important items as contraband detection screening and video surveillance technology, enhanced reentry services for releasing offenders and the renovation and repair of existing facilities, salary increases for TDCJ staff remain the agency’s highest legislative priority for new funding, according to Executive Director Brad Livingston.
The Department is seeking an average pay increase of approximately twenty percent for security staff and parole officers and supports an across-the-board pay raise for all other agency employees. The agency is also seeking funding to provide retention bonuses to correctional officers currently employed at or willing to transfer to designated understaffed units, and seeking a change in state law which will make all hazardous duty personnel eligible for the higher rate of hazardous duty pay authorized during the last legislative session. Additionally, the agency is seeking funding to construct three (3) 80-bed officer dormitories, which could be constructed adjacent to three (3) of our most understaffed units.
According to Executive Director Livingston, a recent decline in correctional officer vacancies demonstrates how effective increased compensation can be in addressing staffing shortfalls.
“We have seen substantial progress in reducing CO vacancies during the last year, progress that was made well before the recent downturn in the economy, which I attribute largely to enhancements to the career ladder,” Livingston said. “But we won’t maintain those gains unless compensation for veteran correctional officers is increased.”
Livingston also noted that recent events like Hurricane Ike and enhanced contraband detection procedures have only added to the demands on existing staff.
“It’s a good thing we have made progress, but we can’t become complacent,” Livingston said. “Due to recent events, we now have correctional officers conducting more pat searches and correctional officers deployed in free world hospitals supervising offenders displaced from Hospital Galveston, that has to be taken into account.”
Livingston added that funding for contraband detection equipment such as metal detectors and parcel screening devices as well as funding for comprehensive video surveillance systems at all TDCJ facilities is another high legislative priority, one that would benefit all staff working on correctional facilities by providing a safer working environment. While the agency recently requested approximately $66 million in the current fiscal year for these capital items, Livingston emphasized that his testimony before the Legislature will emphatically state that increased employee compensation remains TDCJ’s highest priority.
He also said the Department and the Office of Inspector General will once again seek statutory authority for OIG to utilize technology designed to detect cell phones, and will join with many other state correctional systems in advocating changes in federal law which permit cell phone jamming in correctional institutions.
Livingston also added that upon the conclusion of the legislative session, the Department will prepare a summary of legislative actions impacting TDCJ employees and the agency as a whole. That summary will be made available to all staff via the TDCJ website.
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To further combat the smuggling of contraband to offenders, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in October introduced stringent security procedures that affect everyone, including employees, entering a correctional facility.
Correctional Institutions Division Director Nathaniel Quarterman said that the new search and contraband procedures include authorized vehicle inspections and pat down searches of everyone entering a unit based upon the reasonable suspicion that contraband has previously been introduced into units. Also, everyone entering a unit is now searched by way of metal detection devices and pat searches conducted by an officer of the same gender.
Implementation of the new procedures followed the discovery of a cell phone being used by offenders on death row and the suspicion that the phone may have been smuggled in by a person in exchange for money. A subsequent systemwide shakedown led to the confiscation of cell phones on 22 facilities. A total of 132 cell phones, as well as various other types of contraband, was found during the systemwide lockdown.
“In any profession there will always be some individuals who fail to adhere to the high standards set by the overwhelming majority of their co-workers,” TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston said in a message to employees. “The misguided few who violate agency policy and state law by bringing contraband into our correctional institutions will be removed from our ranks. But please know that these few in no way diminish the hard work, dedication, public service, integrity and sacrifice of the men and women who serve the citizens of this state by working honorably for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”
TDCJ and contract employees working outside a unit’s perimeter are subject to random searches for contraband, according to the new procedures. Authorized government-issued cell phones can be carried into a unit but must by logged in and out. Parole commissioners and law enforcement officers are allowed to carry a professional briefcase inside a unit where it is to be searched thoroughly. Attorneys and designated representatives are prohibited from bringing in portable telephones, wireless communication devices and other electronic equipment not noted in unit rules and regulations. They may bring briefcases, attaché cases, computer laptops and personal digital devices to an offender visit provided they are not used to communicate with a third party.
Other measures ban canned drinks from being brought into a unit. Snacks and food items are allowed but must be placed in clear plastic bags that can be easily inspected. A sandwich, for example, must be able to be inspected by having employees display its content layers. Procedures also limit the amount of money that employees may bring into a unit to $20 in most cases. Wallets are allowed if they can be searched and scanned.
“Some of the new procedures may be further refined based on our experience with implementation,” Executive Director Livingston said. “However, I want to assure you that all of these measures are intended to provide a safer and more secure environment for the men and women who work in our institutions as well as the incarcerated population. These measures will also enhance public safety by removing contraband such as cell phones through which offenders avoid the restrictions and safeguards associated with offender access to agency-provided telephones.”
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