The privately run Bradshaw State Jail outside Henderson said it will lay off 229 employees by the end of August because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to idle the correctional facility.
Management & Training Corp. sent a WARN notice dated Monday to the Texas Workforce Commission saying the company will lay off the workers because of the TDCJ’s plan to idle the state jail at 3900 W. Loop 571 effective Aug. 31.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice, signed by Christina Pignatelli, labor and employment counsel for MTC, cited a nearly 25% drop in inmate population in response to the TDCJ’s efforts to minimize exposure to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Greg Abbott said in a June 16 press conference that Rusk County had 104 people test positive for COVID-19 because of a return of full-scale testing at a prison in the county. Abbott said Rusk County is one of the counties that had abnormally high positive tests contributing to 2,622 new cases in the state that day.
Pignatelli wrote the TDCJ has responded to COVID-19 by changing practices related to moving inmates to different correctional facilities, “as well as bringing new inmates into the department, which is outside of MTC’s control.”
MTC, based in Centerville, Utah, expects the decline in inmate population to continue, Pignatelli wrote.
“Moreover, due to COVID-19, the educational programming has been limited,” Pignatelli wrote. “Based on these multiple unforeseeable business circumstances, MTC was unable to give full notice of the reduction in force to 23 employees. These employees will be permanently laid off effective July 3, 2020. The remaining staff will be laid off effective Aug. 31, 2020.”
Pignatelli, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, was referring to a provision within the WARN Act that requires employers who lay off or idle 50 or more employees to give 60 days of notice. The WARN Act provides for services to help uprooted employees — locally by Workforce Solutions East Texas.
The plan to idle Bradshaw State Jail is part of a broad request from the state to cut the TDCJ’s budget by 5%, TDJC spokesman Jeremy Desel said.
“There are a significant number of things that are part of the proposal that we have sent back to state leaders, including not filling vacant positions, performing cuts to other budget areas,” Desel said. “One of the proposals is to idle the Bradshaw State Jail.”
Desel, who is based at TDJC headquarters in Huntsville, confirmed the inmate population has been declining for a decade in Texas and has taken a big hit since the pandemic arrived in March. He said the statewide offender population has dropped to about 127,000 in June from 139,000 in March.
Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano told the Gregg County Commissioners Court on June 15 that the TDCJ in April stopped accepting inmates who have been sentenced to state jail or prison.
At that time, the Gregg County Jail was detaining more than 50 inmates who should have been transferred into TDCJ’s custody, Cerliano said.
While Desel did not have the inmate count at Bradshaw State Jail, he said inmates serve less than two years.
State jails house inmates who have been convicted of state jail felonies. State prisons house inmates convicted of higher-degree offenses such as third-degree, second-degree, first-degree or capital felonies.
The jail idling could last a year, said John Clary, executive director of the Henderson Economic Development Corp.
“We will see what happens with COVID-19,” Clary said. “It is going to be slow returning (to the previous status quo), because the whole system with the courts and trials has to get cranked back up when it is safe to do so.”
Clary said MTC officials invited community leaders to meet with them Thursday morning to discuss the difference between idling the state jail and shutting it down.
Rusk County Judge Joel Hale said he will work with MTC officials, and he said Michael Bell, MTC’s regional vice president, “has worked hard to help our community, and we want to help him and MTC as much as we can.”
Hale said he hopes the lost jobs will be “re-created” and the Bradshaw State Jail will reopen.
The displaced MTC employees are likely to receive job offers at state-run prisons, and the inmates will be transferred to other MTC facilities, Desel said. MTC operates the East Texas Treatment Facility in Henderson and Billy Moore Correctional Center in Overton.
The job losses at Bradshaw State Jail amount to the fifth major layoff tied to COVID-19 that has affected Northeast Texas since April.
The most recent major layoff occurred when Saulsbury Industries notified the TWC on May 7 that it would furlough or lay off 58 employees at its fabrication plant in Henderson, citing a downturn in the oil and gas industry — a spiral triggered by the global COVUD-19 pandemic.
U.S. Steel notified the commission May 1 that it was idling 55 employees at its Wheeling Machine Products plant in Hughes Springs.
U.S. Steel’s Lone Star Tubular Operations in Lone Star also began laying off hourly workers in May starting with 24 employees, but the company said it expected all or most of the steel mill to be idled by the end of May.
The plant had about 500 hourly workers, Trey Green, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 4134 in Lone Star, said at the time.
Oilfield services company Halliburton notified the workforce commission April 14 that it would lay off 233 employees at its Kilgore plant. The company also said it plans to close the facility and move operations to Bossier City.
And fracking company FTS International Services has furloughed 59 employees from its facility at 1704 E. Whaley St. in Longview.
Meanwhile, Workforce Solutions East Texas is continuing to provide services to people who have lost jobs in the region. For assistance, call (844) 389-6757.