Texas, whose corrections system has been known for steady growth for decades, has mothballed parts of a state prison because there were not enough guards to properly run it, reports the Austin-American Statesman. At nother unit, prison officials recently relocated nearly 300 high-security convicts and replaced them with lower-risk convicts who take fewer correctional officers to supervise. A a group of officers contends that staffing shortages in Texas prisons have reached dangerous levels after years of administrators transferring convicts and tweaking overtime pay and schedules to try to maintain proper security in the face of dwindling staff.
“The situation is serious. It’s very scary right now,” said William Cook, 54, a correctional officer at the Polunsky Unit in East Texas for four years. State Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs a legislative committee that oversees prison operations, said, “When we reach the point where we’re shutting down beds, it’s is no longer a problem. It would be accurate to label this a crisis.” Whitmire said the state is lowering its standards, hiring 18-year-olds just a few months out of high school and 70-plus-year-old guards and others who are physically not able to protect themselves or others. Prison officials said adequate security is being maintained at Texas’ 112 lockups, which house 157,000 felons. They acknowledged that staffing shortages are an increasing problem and that low pay is a chief complaint.