If working conditions on Texas’ death row are tough, the pay can be even tougher, says the Austin American-Statesman. Correctional officers start at $26,000 a year to work in a dangerous environment, surrounded by 350 condemned killers with nothing to lose. Many correctional officers rent their homes, because they can’t afford to own. Many are single parents with second jobs to make ends meet. The top of the correctional officer pay scale is about $34,600, after more than seven years on the job. With Monday’s bust of death row convict Richard Lee Tabler for possessing a cell phone that logged 2,800 calls in a month – with at least nine other death row inmates possibly making calls – state officials have been scrambling to lock down the system to impose a zero-tolerance policy on smuggled phones and other contraband.
“If someone is desperate to make ends meet and someone offers them $2,100 to smuggle in a cell phone, it’s a hell of a temptation,” said Brian Olsen, executive director of a labor union that represents some Texas correctional officers. In ordering a lockdown, Gov. Rick Perry imposed a zero-tolerance policy on all prison contraband – cell phones, narcotics, tobacco and other items. Citing a “constant problem” of contraband, John Moriarty, the prison system’s independent inspector general, says, “We also have to work the homicides, the rapes, the assaults, all the other crimes. With limited resources, we can only do so much. Like the correctional staff, we’re stretched thin.” Of the 26,000 budgeted positions for correctional officers, the state is currently 3,000 short.