Rick Thaler, who makes $133,301 as director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s prison division, lives in a state-owned, single-family house on prison grounds that costs him $75.65 a month, to help cover the cost of utilities, says the Austin American-Statesman. He is among more than 2,500 employees of Texas’ corrections system who are getting free or discounted rent in state housing. Such housing is the costliest of several employee perks that range from use of the prison system’s 11 employee-only swimming pools to free meals in prison mess halls to more than 2,100 state-issued cell phones to a $7-a-month haircut and laundry service provided by convicts for prison guards.
Top prison officials say the housing program essentially breaks even, but the American-Statesman says it lost about $900,000 in 2010 — at a time when the agency, to save money, is laying off 400 employees and cutting inmate treatment and rehabilitation programs that could make prison operations even more costly. In recent days, prison employee perks have been targeted by legislative leaders, who say that, with the state facing the largest revenue shortfall in more than two decades, costly employee entitlements need to go. “We should be cutting perks, not people,” said state Rep. Jerry Madden, who heads the House Corrections Committee. “Before one state employee is laid off, we need to look at cutting a lot of these perks — including the housing.”