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08-May-2017 12:00

In fiscal 2017, TDCJ facilities in Hartley County had a 59 percent turnover rate, one of only three counties over the 50 percent mark.The other two Mitchell and Dawson counties are in the oil-rich Permian Basin."I was told this by a warden they've caught correctional officers making more in selling contraband cigarettes than they're making from the state." Unlike in some other states, such as California and New York, Texas jailers are not certified peace officers, which means they're not eligible for the more generous Schedule C pay scale."Texas correctional officers are treated no better than most security guards," Lowry said.Now, the southeast region of the state which is far from the currently most active oil and gas fields is experiencing rising officer turnover rates close to 37 percent, the highest in Texas.

Working those longer hours and having that safety aspect in the back of your mind that maybe youre not as safe as you should be or as you were, it wears on you, said one former officer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation against his friends who still work at the prison."When the economy is doing well and growing is typically when we see correctional officers leave for better paying jobs," said TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark."The more rural areas tend to be more challenging, particularly in South Texas when we've seen an uptick in oil and gas jobs being offered." But in 2017, with the oil and gas boom largely in the rearview mirror, that doesn't explain the whole picture.One of the challenges in staffing Texas prisons is the low wages.

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