AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is still operating at “critical staffing levels” due to ongoing hiring and retention issues, according to TDCJ’s September self-evaluation report submitted to the Sunset Advisory Commission in preparation for next year’s review cycle during the 89th Legislative Session.
TDCJ told KXAN progress has been made in recent months, but staffing continues to be one of its top priorities.
“Continued low staffing levels present greater security risks for those working within the facilities and, in turn, for the public,” the report states.
As TDCJ works towards addressing its consistent staffing shortages and high turnover rate, the self-evaluation report projects Texas’ inmate population will continue increasing during the next several years.
According to the report, TDCJ’s inmate population had grown to 125,000 in December 2022, an increase of around 7,000 from earlier the same year. Currently, TDCJ inmate data shows that number has grown to nearly 130,000.
Investigations within TDCJ
With agency-wide staffing shortages and a growing inmate population, KXAN looked at Office of Inspector General reports from 2020 through 2022 to see how the number of investigations and crimes within TDCJ compare year-over-year.
In FY22, the criminal investigations division of OIG worked nearly 2,400 cases related to crimes against persons, deadly weapons and deaths in custody.
The OIG reports show calls for service, criminal investigations and contraband offenses all significantly increased from 2020 to 2022.
“The introduction of contraband is an obstacle to the successful confinement of inmates. There has been a 60% increase in the number of cell phones found over the past two years and a 120% increase in contraband in the past five years,” the report states.
The OIG report states it has identified several complex criminal enterprises responsible for the growing contraband cases.
Drone drops, mail, and employee or visitor smuggling are among the various means the items are being introduced, according to the OIG report.
State and legislative assistance
The self-evaluation report submitted to the Sunset Advisory Commission comes after multiple efforts from state policymakers and the Texas Legislature within the last two years aimed at addressing the ongoing staffing shortfalls.
“A critical challenge for TDCJ has been securing and retaining qualified employees and correctional staff to meet the agency’s mission,” the report states.
In April 2022, state leaders approved a 15% salary increase for correctional officers, followed by approval from the 88th Texas Legislature for salaries and budget increases agency-wide.
Although staffing and retention issues continue to be TDCJ’s main concern, the agency told KXAN that it is seeing improvements thanks to the efforts from state policymakers and approved legislation during the 88th session.
“These efforts have been effective. We have surpassed last year’s hiring numbers and are seeing fewer staff leave the agency,” according to a TDCJ spokesperson.
Additionally, TDCJ told KXAN it has established several programs to increase recruitment and retention across the state including:
- Warden Direct Hire Program
- Mobile Correctional Officer Taskforce
- Retention Specialists
- Team of Talent Acquisition Advisors and Uniformed Recruiters
- Marketing Exposure – social media, billboards, commercials, newspapers, hiring events
- New Career Center
- Employee Surveys
- Career Plans and Career Path Counseling
- Flexible Work Environments
- Employee Housing Options
- Employee Wellness Programming: https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/peak/index.html
- Other benefits: Benefits at a Glance (texas.gov)
Despite the recent legislative efforts and new programs implemented by TDCJ, hiring and turnover continue to be a “major issue,” according to the report.
The turnover rate across TDCJ statewide has increased from 24.8% to 32.5% from 2018 to 2022, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
2022 saw a slight decrease in turnover compared to 2021 (32.8%), according to TWC.
Among all state agencies in Texas during FY22, TDCJ had the second highest turnover rate behind its criminal justice counterpart, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
TDCJ currently has nearly 300 open positions posted on its website. TDCJ told KXAN the number of open positions has decreased over the last few months.
In an effort to address the ongoing staffing shortages, the report states TDCJ is working on reorganizations to further increase salaries for critical positions by deleting positions that can’t be filled, and is asking for continued support from the Texas Legislature.