Gov. Abbott's statewide call for jailers at border faced with local staff shortages

Posted at 5:53 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 14:39:33-04

BRAZOS COUNTY, TEXAS — Governor Greg Abbott issued a statewide call Friday seeking jailers across the Lone Star State to assist at the border, but here locally, there's a hefty challenge jail administrators across the Brazos Valley are faced with.... staff availability.

"The State of Texas will not tolerate criminal activity, which is why we are stepping up to address this crisis in the Biden Administration's absence," said Governor Abbott in a press release Friday.

"Part of our comprehensive efforts to secure the border include enforcing all state and federal laws, which is why we are calling on jailers and sheriffs across the state to volunteer support for our border sheriffs. Working together, we will secure the border and keep our communities safe," Governor Abbott added.

Lucky to be maintaining the staff they have, many jails across the Brazos Valley say sending help to the border isn't really something they can do at this time.

"We are still short-staffed and the ones we have here are the ones we need here. We can't let anyone go," Milam County Sheriff Mike Clore shared with KRHD 25 News.

Lieutenant Randy Rodriguez, who works at Milam County's jail says, they are struggling to maintain staffing in general, similarly to any business during this time.

"In this area, I would be hard-pressed to say that we would have many people that would be able to go without causing some detrimental loss of minimal staffing," Lt. Rodriguez said. "We are lucky we are able to maintain minimal staffing."

It's not just our neighbors to the west who are facing this issue, many counties in our area echo this same challenge.

"The Sheriff's Office has a duty to the citizens of Brazos County to keep us safe, right now, at the jail, we currently have 17 vacancies and that's something that's going on statewide. We are needing help ourselves. We want to help any way that we can, it would just depend on what that request is," Kevin Stuart, Chief Deputy of Corrections and Jail Administrator at the Brazos County Jail said.

As of right now, both Milam and Brazos County say they haven't been contacted by the Governor's Office for this statewide request.

"We haven't been contacted for any specific requests for any help," Stuart said. "If we got a specific request, we may be able to sit down and try and figure out something we could do, but at this time, the staffing shortage is so great, we are just doing well to take care of the operations here and keep folks in our jail safe and the community safe so that's our priority," Stuart added.

Governor Abbott's request comes on the heels of remnants of pandemic recruiting struggles.

"It's challenging. Finding people that are interested in coming and working in close space. We have up to 160-bed jail and we don't have the most law-abiding people in the community that come to our jail. So finding those people that are willing to dedicate themselves to a position as Jailer. It's very difficult," Lt. Rodriguez said. "...... that coupled with finding qualified applicants... the pandemic.. people not wanting to leave their home.. it made it difficult to try to find more applicants. We have been very lucky to have kept a core base of employees that have kept us going."

"We are actually making some headway, but we have turned over that's pretty on par with what's across the state, but once you get into a deficit it's kinda hard to climb back out of that. We are experiencing a phenomenon that is as you mentioned is state-wide, not just with corrections, but with all sorts of businesses... shortage of employees or applicants," Stuart said. "We are making some headway. We have done lots of interviews. We are hiring lots of people. We are just trying to get back on track. It looks like it is picking back up, but time will tell."

State standards are 1 dentition officer per 48 inmates and proper staffing remains a top priority. Stuart says the staffing is in place is to maintain that standard and to go below that ratio is not allowed.

"That's for a good reason. Texas decided to regulate all the jails on its own so that people were taking care of in the way that our communities expect them to. To keep everyone safe and to keep other entities from coming in and having oversight," Stuart said.

According to the release from Governor Abbott's office reads in part: "The state is seeking jailers with supervisory and release experience, trained booking officers with TLETS/AFIS experience, and current or former jailers who were honorably discharged within the last two years...Sheriffs and jailers who wish to answer this statewide call should contact the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement at TCOLE@soc.texas.gov."

UPDATE Wednesday 06/30:
Both Milam and Brazos County reached out to KRHD News Wednesday morning to say they received an email Tuesday afternoon (they had not heard from the Governor's office at the time of the above interview) from TCOLE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement) in relation to Governor's Abbott's announcement from June 25th, but at this time, both Milam and Brazos County share with KRHD News, their plans still have not changed, and are unable to send detention officers at this time.