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By Brad Livingston, Executive Director
Pursuant to the request of the governor and Legislative Budget Board earlier this year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice submitted options for interim budget reductions totaling 5 percent in the current 2010-11 biennial budget. At the same time, TDCJ requested an exemption from those spending cuts that would have negatively impacted public safety and required eliminating positions and reducing funding for treatment and diversion programs. That request was largely granted, as budget reductions totaling $55 million in the current biennium were approved, roughly the same amount of savings TDCJ proposed to achieve through utilizing unexpended balances from various sources, a hiring freeze (excluding correctional and parole staff) and the deferral of many capital expenditures.
Having settled on the amount of funding reductions during the current budget cycle, the budgetary focus of the agency and the Legislature now turns to preparing for the legislative session in 2011. Agency preparations begin with the receipt of instructions in May telling all state agencies how to structure their Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Those instructions require all agencies to submit options for achieving an additional 10 percent budget reduction; consequently the agency will submit an LAR containing spending reductions that would have a severe impact on agency operations.
When the LAR is submitted, agency employees should remember it is merely the beginning of a lengthy appropriation process. As demonstrated by the interim budget reduction process, the governor and Legislature will not simply adopt these measures without careful consideration of the consequences. However, given the states fiscal situation, state legislators will have to make some difficult decisions when balancing the budget. Our elected officials and the agency have a responsibility to be wise financial stewards during these challenging economic times, therefore budget reductions that can be made without compromising public safety will continue to be considered.
It is inevitable that during the coming months rumors may circulate about how the budget process will impact agency employees, to include possible reductions in force or similar measures. No one knows how the final budget decisions will impact TDCJ, so I urge you to ignore idle speculation. What I can assure you is that the primary mission of TDCJ to protect public safety will remain the primary focus of our continuing dialogue regarding budget matters. The Legislature, governor's office and agency management will demand it. I can also assure you that all involved in these discussions deeply respect the public service provided by TDCJs dedicated workforce.
Once the agencys LAR is finalized in August 2010, it will be placed on the agency website. The first version of the Legislatures General Appropriations bill probably wont be available until early 2011, and even that will be a preliminary measure subject to much revision. Legislative decisions regarding the budget for the next two years wont be finalized until May 2011 at the earliest.
During the coming months we will keep you advised of significant milestones in the budget process like the submission of our LAR and the introduction of the appropriations bill. Of course any information provided between now and May is tentative and therefore may not accurately reflect the final decisions of the Legislature.
TDCJ correctional officer, laundry and food service applicants must now prove their physical fitness for duty.
As part of enhanced hiring standards that took effect March 1, all applicants for uniformed security positions must pass a physical agility test (PAT) before entering one of the agencys six regional training academies. Once accepted, cadets must pass the multi-task test a second time during their 5 ½ weeks of training in order to graduate.
Jason Heaton, director of the Correctional Institutions Divisions Correctional Training and Staff Development Department, says, All the PAT is designed to do is to establish that a person is physically able to do the job. And it gives us a standard that we can set.
To pass the test, which is given the day prior to the start of each academy class, applicants must accumulate 75 points by performing six different physical tasks. Points are awarded based on a set standard; one point is earned, for example, for each push-up, sit-up or deep squat an applicant can perform in one minute. A maximum of 20 points is awarded to those who can climb up and down a ladder five times without stopping, and 10 points are earned by recruits able to pick up and carry a 45-pound weight a total of 30 yards within a minute. Points awarded for completion of a quarter-mile walk or run range from five to 25, depending on when the applicant finishes within the 5 ½ minutes allowed.
Heaton said the test is similar to one the agency briefly introduced more than five years ago. With staffing levels now significantly better than in recent years and approaching 100 percent statewide, he said the time is right for enhancing standards.
Heaton also said he doubts the PAT requirement will have a detrimental effect on recruiting in the future.
Im not concerned because of the way the test is structured, he said. We didnt design it to fail anybody who is physically able to do the job. So as long as they are physically able, they shouldnt fail.
Heaton said the PAT was also integrated into the in-service curriculum in March so current officers could be introduced to its requirements. While all uniformed security staff employed by the agency will eventually be required to pass the physical agility test during annual pre-service training, at this time they are taking the test only for the purpose of becoming familiar with future requirements.
I think that once this takes hold, that the staff will appreciate what its all about, Heaton said. Its a very positive thing for our staff and I think its going to give them a sense of pride and confidence.