TX Fills Prison, Jail Job Vacancies with High School Recruits
Friday, July 7, 2023
Texas high schools offering training in corrections and law enforcement are being tapped by the state's Department of Criminal Justice to address massive staffing shortages at jails and prisons.
Nearly a third of corrections positions in Texas prisons are vacant.
Jordan Huebner, a criminal justice instructor at Huntsville High School in rural Walker County, home to seven state prisons and headquarters for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said at least 10% of her students will work in corrections at some point.
"Corrections is a big pathway that we're showcasing to them," Huebner emphasized. "Since that is something that they can go to as soon as they graduate from high school."
Texas is one of several states with no requirement to provide air conditioning for prisoners, leaving two-thirds of the 128,000 people serving time without relief. At least nine deaths were reported in prisons there during last month's heat wave.
According to the Vera Institute, Black people account for about 13% of state residents, but 27% of people in jail and 33% of people in prison.
Across the U.S., there are more than 3,500 high school law enforcement career programs.
Judah Schept, associate professor of justice studies at Eastern Kentucky University, said it is not an easy career path.
"People who work in prisons have higher rates of alcoholism, other forms of substance abuse and addiction, intimate partner violence, mental health problems, physical health problems," Schept outlined.
Thomas Washburn, executive director of the Law and Public Safety Education Network, said nonetheless, for many in rural America, it can be a lucrative job.
"Granted, working in a jail is not the best," Washburn acknowledged. "But when it's paying 40% better than anything else in your community, then it does make it a viable option."
Officer retention is a huge problem, according to the state's Department of Criminal Justice data. While the agency hires between 8,000 and 10,000 new people every year, the turnover rate is nearly 45%.
Original reporting by Anya Slepyan for The Daily Yonder in partnership with the Marshall Project, with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.
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