Texas House and Senate draft appropriations bill aims to address TDCJ challenges

The 88th Texas Legislative Session began January 10th and the House and Senate versions of the General Appropriations Bill specific to TDCJ has been filed.
Texas State Capitol in Austin.
Texas State Capitol in Austin.(KBTX)
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 10:45 PM CST
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AUSTIN, Texas (KBTX) -The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has taken on a lot of criticism in recent months, and for good reason.

Gonzalo Lopez, an escaped inmate, killed five members of a family in Leon County last year and investigations into the escape revealed several flaws inside the state’s prison system.

This legislative session lawmakers are putting a spotlight on funding for the TDCJ.

The appropriations bills as introduced would address needs lawmakers and TDCJ officials say are critical to managing the overall operation of the state’s prison and parole system.

With a billion-dollar surplus on hand local representatives say they want to make sure the TDJC has the tools and resources needed to operate smoothly.

“From the standpoint of what they asked for pay raises, money to fix units, delivery of health care, improvements to IT, security, and functionality, providing the tools that the correctional officers need to do their jobs,” says (R) House District 12 Representative Kyle Kacal. “We’ve got to make strides to do a better job to take care of these officers so they can do their job and you know with the budget surplus it looks like we’re tackling that there.”

A significant part of the proposed legislation addresses staffing challenges not just seen in the Lone Star State but at correctional facilities across the country.

According to a summary provided by the TDCJ, the appropriations bill would provide s funding for a 5% increase for all TDCJ employees, with a minimum of $3,000 in FY 2024 and an additional 5% increase, with a minimum of $3,000 in FY 2025. The bill would also provide continued funding for a 15% Correctional Officer pay raise provided in April 2022 as well as $23.9 million to support body-worn cameras for correctional officers at 23 maximum security facilities and help maintain the FY22-23 budget funding levels s for major repair and renovation projects.

The bill as introduced would also maintain current funding levels for rehabilitation and reentry programs such as chaplaincy, reentry transitional coordinators, substance abuse treatment programs, and sex offender treatment programs.

Criminal justice experts say the proposed appropriations bill is a good start, but more funding is needed to improve sex offenders’ treatment programs, vocational rehabilitation, and reentry programs.

“It hasn’t been a huge increase in money going to these and a lot of times these figures get lost in the big picture because there are so many moving parts,” says Sam Houston State criminal justice professor Mitchel Roth.

Roth says a larger focus is also needed to improve mental health in TDCJ facilities.

“It’s well known that many prisoners do have mental health issues and you know when you have so many people in prison they don’t all get the same amount of help,” said Roth.

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