Texas prison officials came under fire on Monday for approving double-digit pay raises for the agency’s top executives, while the front-line, rank-and-file correctional officers got just 5 percent.
Brian McGiverin, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project that is suing the prison agency over heat-related deaths and other problems that lack enough funding to fix, criticized the raises as “blatant cronyism” and “outrageous” because officials chose to increase pay for their colleagues while correctional officers got much less.
Using information obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, the American-Statesman disclosed that some executives got pay raises ranging from 8 percent to more than 23 percent in September, just months after the top boss — Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — had his pay increased from $186,300 to $260,000, a jump of nearly 40 percent.
Union members and officials continued Monday to blast the executive raises — mostly in anonymous e-mails and voice mails to the media, for fear of retaliation if they commented publicly.
“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been unable to fill thousands of front-line positions for months because of low pay, and there is extremely high turnover in positions it does manage to fill. This is a big reason why Texas prisons have the highest rates of sexual assault in the country, why so much contraband is smuggled into prisons, and why prison gangs are able to be so active,” McGiverin said.
“It’s because TDCJ’s executives would rather treat the agency’s budget like a slush fund than pay correctional officers professional salaries.”
“Even more outlandish,” McGiverin said, is that at the same time top prison officials got raises, the agency is asking a Houston federal court for permission to reduce religious services for nearly 7,000 Muslim convicts “because they allegedly lack necessary staff.”
Prison officials have defended the raises as necessary to keep talented employees, at a time when lucrative private-sector jobs — particularly in oil-producing areas of Texas — are luring away many corrections employees.
A number of state agencies have increased the compensation for their top executives, even as most state employees got a 1-percent raise. The issue has surfaced each of the past six years, as the pay for top state officials’ jobs has continued to outpace raises given to rank-and-file workers.
The Legislature last spring approved specific pay hikes for Livingston and other top agency executives — mostly to pay them by the size of the agency they run — and approved a small raise for most state employees, but gave the agencies the authority to raise the pay of other top executives.