At least 32 guards in the short-staffed Texas prison system are on work visas — immigrant workers from Nigeria and Mexico, officials said Wednesday.
Prison officials confirmed the use of visa workers after an East Texas lawmaker inquired about the hiring of several Nigerian visa workers at the Michael Unit near Palestine and after other correctional officers at the Eastham Unit near Huntsville raised questions about the issue.
Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the hiring of visa workers has been long-standing policy — and legal — in the 112-prison system, which has been chronically short of correctional officers. Currently, the system has 23,700 correctional officers and is about 2,600 officers short of its authorized strength.
One key lawmaker said he finds the hires “highly unacceptable” and plans to investigate.
“What this shows me is that (the department) is so desperate in their hiring that they’re taking these folks,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston. “It raises all kinds of questions. I believe I can speak for most Texans in saying this is not what we had in mind when we discuss a proper public safety policy.”