“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.