Texas inmates' families 'not accepting' of prison staffing turnover, shortage in wake of escape

Nick Natario Image
Wednesday, December 20, 2023
Convicted sex offender escaped prison that was 84% staffed, data shows
A Texas inmate's family thinks there's more to TDCJ's short-staffing reasoning for why their loved one isn't being guarded safely.

BRAZORIA COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The jobs may not be easy, but they play a critical role in keeping communities safe, and despite a bump in pay, a quarter of them remain vacant.

A recent report shows there are more people behind prison bars, but there are fewer people wanting to watch them. It's a situation that may not just have an impact outside the prison walls, but inside where loved ones say it's taking a toll.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a recent report that finding people to work in its prisons is the most pressing matter. A woman, who doesn't want to be identified, said staffing shortages are something her loved one knows too well.

"There's nobody in the halls or on the floors from what I'm understanding," she explained. "They have, like, one guard, maybe two guards, walking around the different types of units."

This week, the Clemens Unit, which is 84% staffed in Brazoria County, had an inmate serving a life sentence walk out the door. He was caught the next day.

TDCJ said staffing issues aren't why he escaped. They blame the inmate's mom, a former correctional officer, who understood how things worked and exploited a weakness.

As the agency investigates the escape further, new numbers show how many people are leaving state prison jobs. State auditor data shows that the turnover rate for state employees in all agencies was 23% in 2022, up 4% from 2018.

Within TDCJ, the turnover rate climbed by 8% over the same time and is 10% higher than all state jobs.

"I'm not accepting that answer," the woman who has a loved one behind bars said. "I don't like that answer that there's not enough staff, so you can't properly take care of your loved one. If you knew there wasn't enough staff, then you should shut down and decrease TDCJ units."

TDCJ insists it's working to change this. One way is with more pay.

By the end of next year, salaries will have climbed by 25% over the past three years.

The increase may be working. Nearly 75% of all jobs are filled, which is about 8% higher than last year.

The agency wants to do more by eliminating open positions and using the extra cash to give to workers. Also, there's a new career center, more hiring events, and increased marketing.

"These are still human beings," the woman explained. "They still deserve to be treated fairly. They still deserve beds. They still deserve meals. They still deserve to take hot showers."

Some say they hope those efforts attract more staff to keep the community safe and the lives of their loved ones behind bars.

SEE PREVIOUS STORY: Brazoria inmate's mom was a TDCJ employee, gave son old work badge to escape prison, officials say

Eyewitness News is learning new details about how a convicted sex offender was able to walk out of a prison unit in Brazoria.

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