By Camaron Abundes
FORT STOCKTON- Last month the Texas Department of Criminal Justice started offering $1,500 dollar incentives for new correctional officers heading to work at under staffed prisons like the Lynaugh and Fort Stockton Units in Pecos County. Despite the extra incentive, housing shortages and fuel costs are making it tough to recruit.
"I am just concerned about my staff, because like I say they're working tired and they get compensated but sometimes that's not enough," Warden W.E. Walker, said.
Warden Walker says they've already had to cut community service programs and other activities usually offered to inmates, even though he would much rather see the prisoners staying active.
"I've had to cancel church services," he said, "There's been days that I've had to suspend total activity and give the prisoners sack lunches, because I don't have enough staff to safely pull them out."
Warden Walker says it's not safe for the inmates either when they're aren't enough guards on the block. The Units aren't alone around the State, Warden Walker says at least a handful of facilities face critical shortages.
In the Permian Basin, benefit packages and retirement plans, can't lure workers away from the oilfield. Warden Walker says the energy sector is able to pay better, but he's hopeful the TDCJ can not only offer incentives but work toward raising the pay for correctional officers.
Currently the ratio of inmates to guards is 12:1, but the Warden says it should be 5:1, one reason the State is in the process of transferring more than three hundred inmates from the Lynaugh unit to other facilities. It will bring the number of inmates to 1,000.
"They put in a lot of hours, and then they work on they're days off," Warden Walker said of his staff, many of whom come in from as far as El Paso to help ease the staff shortage.
"When we have ample staff it's a good job, when it gets down and people are doing the job of four to five people, it gets to be tough on everybody," Sgt. Larry Humphries said.
Top it all off with high fuel costs, the Warden says some staff members who commute have missed days because they can't afford the drive, that's why he is hopeful a 40 bed housing unit called a bachelor officer's quarter will help alleviate the housing issue.
"The City and the County and the economic development committee are working closely to get me a bachelor's officers quarters to get those officers to live in," he said.
Doug May, Economic Development Director for the city of Fort Stockton says the decision to build will come down from the City Council within the next couple months.