TDCJ CO'S IN THE NEWS:


2014


    Force Against Texas Inmates on The Rise

    By Terri Langford
    April 3, 2014

    Correctional officers are using “major” force against inmates more often, and experts point to staff turnover, inexperience and the brutal heat of Texas summers as the most likely factors.

    Despite a decrease in the prison population from 2005 to 2013, the number of “major use of force" incidents grew some 17 percent, according to statistics kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    While TDCJ officials say the fluctuations are random and can’t be tied to any one factor, other experts say the increase in reported use of force is a symptom of an inexperienced officer corps and an often overheated environment.

    The number of “major use of force" incidents rose to 7,151 in 2013 from 6,071 incidents in 2005, according to TDCJ statistics. Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman said there was a change in the way the incidents were reported in 2012, which could account for some of the increased incident reporting. But he could not say how much that would have changed the numbers.

    Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees union, said that most of the time force is used in confrontational situations where inmates refuse to cooperate with orders.

    With many veteran correctional officers retiring, the state prison system is relying more on rookie staff members, including some who may lack the skills to “de-escalate” a confrontation before deciding to use some sort of force, Lowry said.

    In the fall of 2013, TDCJ had more than 3,000 corrections officer vacancies throughout its 109 prison units, according to agency data, even after the closure last year of two privately run facilities.

    “De-escalation skills are developed by staff through many years of experience,” Lowry said.

    The use of force statistics, are part of TDJC’s monthly Emergency Action Center reports, which track a variety of incidents, such as suicides, accidental inmate deaths and escapes, that occur within the prison system.

    Lowry said the fact that many “major use of force” incidents occurred in larger units was not surprising because those units have more serious offenders. For instance, in September at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, there were 41 incidents, and at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, there were 43 incidents. Those units are among the largest in the state, each housing about 2,900 inmates.

    Worthy of note, Lowry said, is that use of force incidents increased dramatically in summer months. Heat is a factor, he said, because Texas prisons are not air conditioned and confrontations escalate more quickly. In the Connally Unit in South Texas, for example, the number of incidents rose to 36 in August from 22 in February.

    Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, noted another trend she called troubling in the use of chemical agents, like pepper spray, against inmates.

    While the overall number of times that the agents were employed between February 2013 and the same month this year was down, the reasons given do not indicate that life-threatening situations provoked their use.

    Last February, correctional officers used chemical agents 61 times on inmates because they refused to follow “strip and handcuff procedures.” Agents were used another 32 times because inmates were blocking a meal tray slot or covering a cell door.

    “They’re all where they won’t comply with an order,” Deitch said. “There’s no particular indication that there’s an immediate danger of any kind.”

    Force Against Texas Inmates on The Rise


    FEBRUARY 21, 2014

    'The Rising Need for Bilingual Corrections Officers'

    ”There is a demand now really in a lot of places for officers who are bilingual,” explains Ken Kerle, former managing editor of the American Jail Association and the author of a number of books about jails. ”What if you’re a correctional officer running a cell block and everyone is speaking a language you don’t understand? You have to have people linguistically capable of understanding what they are talking about, particularly in an institution.”

    This is especially true for states like Texas, Arizona and California. But that doesn’t mean they are the only ones who value bilingual corrections officers. Kerle adds, “Even here in Kansas, our Hispanic population continues to grow.”

    Robert Hurst, the public information officer at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, says it is “absolutely” helpful for officer safety if officers are bilingual. Hurst says his team is always looking for skilled bilingual employees, throughout the entire department.

    To read the complete article 'The Rising Need for Bilingual Corrections Officers'; click Here


    February 07, 2014

    TDCJ Raises Recruiting Bonus To Address Staffing Shortages

    New correctional officers can make $4,000 extra if they sign a one-year contract to work at understaffed prisons

    By Cody Stark
    The Huntsville Item

    HUNTSVILLE — The Texas prison system has sweetened the pot to attract potential correctional officers to units dealing with staffing problems around the state.

    Last month, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston approved increasing the recruiting bonus to $4,000 for new correctional officers willing to sign one-year contracts to work at 15 understaffed prisons that are located in rural areas, or in areas competing for jobs with the oil and gas industry.

    “The recruitment and retention of correctional officers is a top priority for the agency,” TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark wrote this week in an email. “The recruitment bonus is another tool the agency is using to attract applicants to apply for positions at units that are facing staffing challenges. We understand that the correctional officer position is one of the most demanding jobs in all of state government.

    “TDCJ is committed to doing all it can to recruit and retain correctional officers.”

    Two of the units where the increased bonus is being offered are near Walker County. The Ferguson Unit in Midway and the Eastham Unit in Lovelady have correctional officer positions that need to be filled.

    Those eligible for the bonus must be full-time correctional officers who were newly hired or graduated from the academy on or after Jan. 15, 2014, TDCJ retirees who are rehired as full-time correctional officers after 90 days of retirement from the agency or former employees rehired after one year of separation.

    Since the bonus was raised in January, 16 officers have signed on to work at either the Eastham or Ferguson units.

    “Correctional officers must sign a contract agreeing to work an understaffed facility for one year from the date of the bonus payment,” Clark wrote. “After graduating from the academy, they would receive a check for the full amount (of the bonus).”

    This is the second time TDCJ has upped the ante to fill positions at units that are short-staffed. Livingston authorized doubling the bonus from $1,500 to $3,000 in June 2012.

    McClatchy-Tribune News Service
    TDCJ is also offering the $4,000 recruiting bonus at the following units: Briscoe Unit in Frio County; Cotulla in La Salle County; Connally Unit in Karnes County; Dalhart in Hartley County; Daniel in Scurry County; McConnell in Bee County; Lynaugh and Fort Stockton in Pecos County; Jordan and Baten in Gray County; Smith in Dawson County; Stiles in Jefferson County; and Wallace and Ware in Mitchell County.

    TDCJ Raises Recruiting Bonus To Address Staffing Shortages


    Prison Guard Union Calls on Texas to Curtail Solitary Confinement on Death Row

    By Alex Hannaford
    Published on January 28, 2014


    Photo By; Jen Reel
    Daniel Lopez, 23, waits in Polunsky Unit's visiting room for guards to escort him back to his cell on death row.

    Texas’ largest prison guard union is calling for a partial end to the controversial use of solitary confinement on death row.

    In a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) obtained by the Observer, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3807 advocates for TDCJ to house death-row prisoners who pose the lowest security risk in cells with other inmates. The union also calls for the prison system to introduce privileges such as work assignments, streaming television and technology such as computer tablets—all in an effort to reduce the psychological trauma of inmates and the potential confrontations with guards.

    It’s a particularly powerful statement given the attitude of labor unions to prisoner rights and solitary confinement elsewhere in the country. According to an article in Mother Jones last year by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella, founders of the Solitary Watch digital project on solitary confinement, those unions have largely been seen “as a major obstacle to more-humane conditions.”

    But Lance Lowry, AFSCME’s president, wrote in the Jan. 20 letter that the changes it recommends to TDCJ’s death row plan would “positively impact both the correctional staff and offenders on Texas death row.”

    The union’s call for change comes as TDCJ is reviewing its death row procedures.

    The last time there was a major change to conditions on death row was 15 years ago after seven inmates attempted to escape from the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, the former home of death row. One of them, Martin Gurule, successfully escaped the prison but drowned in a nearby creek.

    Six months later, TDCJ relocated the men’s death row to the Terrell Unit in Livingston (since renamed the Polunsky Unit). Conditions at Polunsky were much stricter than at Ellis.

    A 2010 Observer story described how at the Ellis Unit, inmates enjoyed more freedom. There they could work in the prison garment factory and had several hours a day of group recreation. They could watch TV and were only alone in their cells at night.

    At Polunsky, men on death row are no longer allowed televisions. They’re confined to solitary cells for 23 hours each day and recreate alone in a large outdoor cage. There is almost no human contact.

    Studies have shown that isolating prisoners for long periods of time can have devastating mental health effects. I have interviewed inmates on death row in Texas who recounted stories of fellow inmates screaming out at night, lying naked in the recreation yard, defecating on themselves and even mutilating themselves with shanks—weapons fashioned from objects in their cell.

    The AFSCME letter called the changes implemented following the Gurule escape a “knee-jerk reaction,” adding that “staff incompetency and lack of proper security equipment were the biggest factors” contributing to that escape.

    As a result, Lowry wrote, “the agency ignored the root of the problem.” Privileges could be used as management tool for bad behavior, he wrote. At present, “inmates have very few privileges to lose and staff become easy targets.”

    Death row inmates are currently assigned a custody level from one to three depending on their behavior (all are still housed in administrative segregation, but privileges like radios are removed for category three prisoners). Lowry wrote: “Housing death row [level 1] offenders in a solitary cell is a waste of valuable security personnel and money. [They] should be housed two offenders to a cell and [given] privileges such as work assignment and allowed TV privileges by streaming over-the-air television to a computer tablet using a closed WiFi network.

    “Use of technologies such as computer tablets and streaming TV should be offered to offenders who exhibit positive behavior,” Lowry continues. “Lack of visual or audio stimulation result in increased psychological incidents and results in costly crisis management.”

    TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said the agency has an ongoing practice of periodically reviewing its policies and that it is “currently reviewing and updating the Death Row Plan.” In an email, Clark said, “As with any input from the public, the agency will review the information.”

    He said there is no deadline for submissions from outside agencies or interested parties. Other groups, including the ACLU, are expected to submit their own recommendations.

    The AFSCME letter also suggests that staff assigned to death row should earn more money and have more staff training. “A greater pay differential will ensure we have the best officers watching Texas’ most dangerous population,” Lowry writes. “Let’s make Texas a model for successful death row criminal justice reforms.”

    Prison Guard Union Calls on Texas to Curtail Solitary Confinement on Death Row


2013


    November 18, 2013

    TDCJ Bigwigs Got Much Bigger Pay Hikes Than Front-Line COs

    The Austin Statesman's Mike Ward reported ("Texas prison managers got double digit pay raises while rank and file got 5%," Nov. 17) that, in contrast to front-line prison employees who received a five percent pay raise in the new state budget, "Executive pay increases ranging from 8 percent to more than 23 percent were given in September to top leaders in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice."

    The executive pay issue has arisen at agencies that include the Texas Department of Transportation, Employees Retirement System, Department of Public Safety and Texas Juvenile Justice Department. At those agencies, executive directors and some members of upper management teams are making six-figure salaries well in excess of the governor’s pay: $150,000 a year.

    The prison-system raises ranged from a $66,000 increase for Dr. Lanette Linthicum, the medical director who went from $309,000 to $375,000; a $22,000 per-year increase for Carey Welebob, director of the Community Justice Assistance Division who went from $94,120 to $116,150; to a $16,600 increase for Deputy Executive Director Bryan Collier and Chief Financial Officer Jerry McGinty, who both went from $133,301 to $150,000.

    Several other top officials received pay bumps of more than 12 percent, including Inspector General Bruce Toney, General Counsel Sharon Howell, Parole Director Stuart Jenkins, Facilities Director Frank Inmon and Chief of Staff Jeff Baldwin.

    By contrast, the more than 23,000 correctional officers who make $37,000 or less got a 5 percent bump in pay.

    Grits considers it bad form to count other people's money so I wouldn't join those "Prison employees [who] complain those pay hikes are too generous." But internally, the raises undoubtedly suffer from bad optics during a period when thousands of guard positions go unfilled thanks to low pay, grueling summer heat, and rural prisons located far outside Texas' main population centers.

    "Told of the executive raises, several corrections officers responded with expletives. None wanted to be quoted, citing a fear of job reprisals," Ward reported.

    Perhaps it's true, as TDCJ insists, the raises were "necessary to retain top talent." But there's little doubt that low pay and poor morale have lately worsened retention rates for front-line correctional officers. Arguably that's a bigger problem for the agency than the risk that Brad Livingston or Sharon Howell might leave for higher paying gigs elsewhere in Huntsville.

    Posted by Gritsforbreakfast


    TDCJ To Host Job Fair To Fill Dozens Of Positions

    October 23, 2013
    By RACHEL HALL

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice will be hosting a job fair at Austin Memorial Library, Coldspring Library and Shepherd Public Library in November to assist applicants interested in becoming a correctional officer.

    “It’s a rewarding career to be a correctional officer,” explained Earl Brown, one of the representatives of TDCJ that will be at the job fair.

    Approximately 130 correctional officer positions are available to be filled at the Polunsky Unit, a maximum security prison located in Livingston.

    “We’re trying to get as many applicants as we can who are qualified,” said Brown.

    Basic qualifications needed to be screened for employment include a high school diploma or GED, no felony charges and copies of a Social Security card and driver’s license.

    The salary of a correctional officer ranges from $2,435 to $3,240 per month. Starting salary is increased for individuals with a Bachelors degree or two years active military service.

    “The salary is competitive. We have great benefits,” he said.

    Correctional officers do need to have keen mental awareness, physical awareness and the ability to adapt to change in behavior of offenders, according to Brown. Males and females who are able to be firm, fair and consistent while under stress are encouraged to apply.

    Representatives of TDCJ will be on site to answer questions about the application process at the following libraries: Austin Memorial Library in Cleveland on Monday, Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Coldspring Library on Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; and, Shepherd Public Library on Wednesday, Nov. 6, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

    For more information, call 936-967-8082 or visit www.tdcj.state.tx.us.

    TDCJ to host job fair to fill dozens of positions


    Aug. 29, 2013

    Guards To Join Convict Litigation Over Hot State Prisons

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff

    The union that represents Texas’ correctional officers on Thursday announced its support for lawsuits filed over the deaths of at least 14 convicts in sweltering state prisons, saying the lockups should be cooled to relieve unbearable and dangerous conditions.

    At a time when civil-rights lawsuits are pending in several Southern states, where the summer heat is hottest and most state prisons are not air conditioned, the development could add new impetus to a public debate in Texas over whether the time has come for some form of cooling systems.

    At a press conference in Austin, Lance Lowry, president of a Huntsville-based local of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, said the union plans to join in pending litigation — including a possible request for federal court intervention over temperatures inside prisons that he said can reach 130 degrees on some days.

    “These conditions are dangerous to both the employees and the inmates,” he said, noting that for officers to agree with convicts on litigation against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is highly unusual. “It’s time for the state to modernize its system … at least to comply with its own standard for county jails that says the temperature can’t exceed 85 (degrees).”

    Brian McGiverin, a prison rights attorney with the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project, said having correctional officers behind the push for air-handling systems to be installed in prisons could help persuade state officials to make the change — even though the union has a small membership among the 30,000 correctional employees at 109 state prisons. In response, prison officials disputed the suggestion that summer conditions inside prisons are dangerous.

    “The well-being of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat,” said Jason Clark, a prison spokesman. “TDCJ takes precautions to help reduce heat-related illnesses such as providing water and ice to staff and offenders in work and housing areas, restricting offender activity during the hottest parts of the day, and training staff to identify those with heat related illnesses and refer them to medical staff for treatment.”

    Officials have previously estimated the cost of installing air-cooling units at more than $55 million. Prison officials said several months ago they have no plans to air-condition additional prisons. Currently, only 19 medical units and special-needs lockups are cooled now.

    McGiverin said that many of the older Texas prisons are actually cooler than the dozens of newer ones built during the 1980s and early 1990s that are basically “a series of hot boxes for people to bake in.”

    Both he and Lowry criticized prison officials for their recent decision to spend more than $700,000 on six new pig barns equipped with a “climate-controlled environment” to ensure the hogs don’t overheat or get cold in the winter. The barns will be for mothers to birth their piglets, officials said.

    “It’s despicable that state officials care more for their livestock than their people,” McGiverin said. “The management of this system is grossly indifferent … It’s a travesty.”

    Unlike in other states, mostly those to the north where cooler summer temperatures are the norm, most Texas prisons are not air conditioned. State prisons in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Florida are not cooled, a fact that Texas officials cite as proof their prisons are not dangerous.

    In Arkansas, though, prison policy calls for summertime cell temperatures ranging from 74 to 78 degrees in its 19 prisons. Shea Williams, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Correction, said the state’s lockups were air-conditioned starting in the late 1970s.

    “Obviously, in the summertime in the South, it makes it a more desirable place to work,” she said.

    In Louisiana, court-ordered monitoring revealed heat indexes as high as 110 degrees in July and early August, according to filings by convict attorneys.

    Actual temperatures generally are lower than heat indexes.

    Such temperatures and heat indexes could violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, according to a July 2012 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    A temperature log at the Hutchins State Jail outside Dallas shows heat indexes of 150 degrees July 19, 2011, among other readings reaching well over 100 degree at other times that same day. In general, the outside air temperatures recorded at those times were about 10 degrees cooler.

    For Lowry and other Texas correctional officers, working in temperatures that hover around 100 degrees in summer months is too much — especially for correctional officers who are on heat-sensitive medication, are obese or have hypertension and other health issues.

    “It feels like you’re working inside a convection oven,” said Lowry, a 13-year veteran. And the large fans that have been installed in prisons, “just blow hot air … . The noise can drown out cries for help, even calls on the radio.”

    Guards To Join Convict Litigation Over Hot State Prisons


    Texas Taxpayers Foot The Bill For Secret Service Style Body Guard Protection For TDCJ Director

    August 16, 2013
    By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website


    TDCJ Director Brad Livingston <<<<<<<< | >>>>>>>> TBCJ Chair Oliver Bell

    Armed body guards, state of the art surveillance equipment and alarms? A hit Hollywood movie maybe? Not exactly. The Backgate has learned from a reliable whistle blowing agency insider that it's not a cool new action movie plot, it's reality. The insider told the Backgate that after the March 2013 murder of Colorado prison chief Tom Clements that someone implemented a secret service style personal protective unit for TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston. TDCJ pulled as many as 5-7 armed OIG ( Office of inspector general ) officers to act as his personal protective unit 24 hours a day, 7 days per week on and off of the job. The source also stated that the protection did not end with Livingston, it also included his wife and child.

    OIG officers were assigned to each seperately as the child participated in sports practices, and his wife browsed the shelves at the local grocery store.

    All on the dime of Texas taxpayers. Although there was in fact one reported threat to Livingston's safety by a women identified as " an older female who was obviously mentally ill", that threat was quickly downplayed and resolved by investigators. For 90 days, the protection continued with officers staking out Livingston's personal home in an affluent Huntsville subdivision. But I doesn't stop there, Livingston reportedly had thousands of dollars in survellance and alarm system equipment installed in his private home also at taxpayer expense. When questioned as to who may have approved such a large expenditure at taxpayer expense, the insider confirmed that Texas Board of Criminal Justice chairman Oliver Bell approved the measures. Hundreds of hours of OIG overtime, and manpower pulled from Hunstville prison units to act as chaperones and body guards? All of which is obviously out of the realm of approval by the TBCJ chief. The Backgate also contacted a high ranking law enforcement official who stated that any and all possible threats would have been investigated by either local law enforcement, or the Department of Public Safety. Not the OIG.

    A prominent Austin Attorney we spoke with about the issue stated "Obviously there should have been some sort of oversight or accountability of the agency authorizing such large expenditures for services and items not relevant or necessary for state business." " For instance,the placement of an alarm system in the private home of the TDCJ director for his personal use, when and if he sells that home, who assumes the cost of removing it since the state of Texas purchased it, or will the new owner simply inherit it?" With the agency already in the red, and overtime rampant for Correctional staff statewide, we are seeking answers.

    A longtime employee of the agency wrote to the Backgate about the issue" When myself, or any other Correctional Officer is threatened, which is everyday, TDCJ doesn't supply a body guard for me or my family or any other families, what makes him better then us?" The Backgate has sent out requests for official statements to the TDCJ, TBCJ, OIG, and state Senator John Whitmire. We have yet to get any type of response from any of them as of today. As soon as we do, we will update this story.

    Texas taxpayers foot the bill for Secret Service style body guard protection for TDCJ Director


    MAY 20, 2013

    Minimal Raises For TX Prison Guards

    The union representing Texas prison guards, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), issued a press release today complaining that pay hikes for corrections officers are half those given to "other statewide law enforcement" (I presume that's DPS). Taking account "an increase in retirement contributions, correctional officers will only see a little over 1% increase in their actual pay this next September." See the full press release below the jump.

    Texas Prison Raise Raises Questions


    By Lance Lowry, AFSCME
    May 20, 2013

    With the Texas Legislature releasing its finalized budget this last week, correctional officers question why their pay raise was only half that of other statewide law enforcement. Lance Lowry President of the Huntsville American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, which represents Texas Correctional Officers, stated Monday that the State Legislature is treating correctional officers as the ugly stepchild of the Criminal Justice System. Texas Correctional Officers will only receive a 5 % raise over two years, while all other state law enforcement will receive a 10 % raise. Lowry states with the raise split up over two years and an increase in retirement contributions, correctional officers will only see a little over 1% increase in their actual pay this next September.

    Lowry has attempted to address with the legislature the increasing staffing shortages which plague Texas prisons. Staffing levels have fell to almost half the required officers at several Texas prison units. Lowry states the current proposed increases fails to cover inflationary cost of living over the last two years and the legislature is being unrealistic on their attempt to address chronic staffing demands now in the thousands. With energy production increasing dramatically in South and East Texas, Lowry states most officers can make twice as much in the energy sector and expects staffing to only get worse.

    In the late 70's and 80's the Texas Prison System was plagued with chronic under funding, which resulted in the Federal courts taking over the prison system. Lowry states the legislature and state leadership have signaled again they are incapable of properly running their prison system and states history is repeating itself.

    Lowry states while most correctional officers are out of sight and out of mind, they do one of the most important jobs in our criminal justice system. The job is hot, dirty, extremely dangerous, and is one of the most stressful jobs anyone can incur Lowry states. Prison officers receive little recognition unlike police who are exposed to the public everyday. Lowry states there is a clear wall of silence shielding correctional officers from the general public.

    In February, 17 former prison guards were indicted by a federal grand jury after a 4 year investigation authorities dubbed Operation Prison Cell. The guards are alleged to have help inmates commit crimes from behind bars at TDCJ's McConnell prison in Beeville, including bringing in drugs and cell phones to coordinate crimes outside the walls. Lowry states while the majority of correctional officers are honest, the poor pay, lack of experience, and work conditions make prison officers more susceptible to corruption. Lowry states current politicians making the decision were short sided by not treating correctional officers with professional respect. Lack of loyalty and commitment creates an atmosphere for corruption. Lowry states it's not hard to look south of the border and see what a low wage criminal justice system gets you.

    Lowry states every time he visits the Texas Capitol he is haunted by the words of AFSCME's former Beeville Union President Daniel Nagle, who stated in 1999 while on the Texas Capitol steps, "Someone will have to be killed before they do anything about the shortage of staff in Texas prisons." Two weeks later Officer Daniel Nagle was killed at the McConnel Prison Unit in Beeville by Inmate Robert Pruett who now awaits execution for the murder.

    Lowry states he appreciates a raise, but with the amount it's like appreciating a doctor treating a bullet wound with a small bandage, the problem is still there. Lowry says the prison raise raises more questions on how the state realistically plans on staffing a chronically understaffed prison system with only a small increase in funds.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST

    LABELS: BUDGET, EMPLOYMENT, TDCJ


    April 19

    Pending Execution Revives Prison Staffing Debate

    In December 1999, Daniel Nagle, a correctional officer, stood on the Texas Capitol steps, leading a rally to ask lawmakers for a pay raise for his fellow prison employees. His union had been at odds with the prison administration for months over whether a staffing shortage was compromising safety.

    "Someone will have to be killed," he said at the rally, "before the Texas Department of Criminal Justice does anything about the shortage of staff in Texas prisons."

    2 weeks later, Nagle was fatally stabbed by an inmate while working at the McConnell Unit in Beeville. "There was nobody there to call for help," said his sister Della Nagle. "It was just him and the inmates."

    Officials of the prison workers' union, a chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, including Nagle's former colleagues, said that understaffing and low pay continue to put officers in danger today. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs Texas prisons, counters that all of its critical security positions are filled. And the inmate convicted of Nagle's murder says the staffing issues created a situation that was ripe for corruption and led him to being framed.

    Robert Pruett, 33, was convicted in 2002 of Nagle's killing and is scheduled to be executed on May 21. In a recent interview, he maintained his innocence and said that inmates and corrupt officers colluded to blame him for the murder. Prosecutors convinced a jury that Pruett murdered Nagle after a dispute over a disciplinary write-up.

    "I was easy to blame," said Pruett, who was 20 at the time of Nagle's death, serving a 99-year sentence for being an accomplice in the murder of a neighbor by his father when he was a teenager.

    Lance Lowry, president of the union, said Nagle's murder "exemplifies what's going on now with staffing shortages and why we need to maintain a staffing level."

    Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed on May 21 for the murder of correctional officer Daniel Nagle. He says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates..The number of inmates in Texas prisons more than doubled between 1990 and 1999. According to TDCJ statistics, assaults on staff members at Texas prisons deemed "serious" have risen in recent years, to 96 in 2012 from 72 in 2010. Last year was also a 10-year high for deaths of inmates at the hands of other inmates -there were 11 - although other statistics, including the confiscation of fewer weapons and a decrease in assaults among inmates, suggest that violence is down. The last time an officer was killed by an inmate was in 2007.

    John Hurt, a TDCJ spokesman, said that the department is running with a staffing shortage, but that all "critical security positions are filled." He said that since Nagle's death the department has implemented new measures including body alarms, video surveillance systems and stab-resistant vests.

    "Daniel Nagle paid the ultimate price to keep the citizens of the state of Texas safe," Jason Clark, another spokesman for the department, wrote in an email. "His sacrifice will never be forgotten."

    Union leaders and prison officials agree that the shortage in certain parts of the state is partly due to the growth of the oil and gas industry in South and East Texas, which has created private sector jobs that compete with prisons for workers. "They can go out and drive a truck for twice as much as they'd make in the prison," Lowry said.

    Correctional officer pay starts around $27,829 per year, with incremental raises up to roughly $37,037. The annual staff turnover rate is currently 24.7%.

    To reverse the trend, prison officials offered a $3,000 bonus last year to new correctional officers in areas where the oil and gas boom had created the most competitive hiring environment. They are working with state lawmakers to include a 5 % pay increase for correctional officers in the budget, which would cost taxpayers $105.2 million. "We're never going to be able to compete financially with the private sector," Hurt said.

    But Lowry said the current proposals are insufficient. "I think Daniel was right. It's going to take more people getting killed," he said. "Those words haunt me every time I walk up the Capitol steps."

    In the death of Nagle, the lack of other guards nearby meant that the only witnesses were inmates. Pruett said his lawyers could not adequately investigate the theory that inmates were bought off by prison officials to testify against him. Although he conceded that his suggestions sound like a conspiracy theory, he said that further investigation would find evidence of deals between inmates and guards to frame him.

    At Pruett's 2002 trial, prosecutors told a Corpus Christi jury that Nagle told him he could not eat a sandwich in the recreation area, and filed a disciplinary report. They said that Pruett returned that afternoon and stabbed him with a sharpened metal rod. The disciplinary report was found ripped up, near Nagle's body.

    No biological evidence tied Pruett directly to the crime scene, and inmates who witnessed the crime offered conflicting testimony. One inmate, Kevin Veschi, stated at the trial that after he agreed to testify in favor of Pruett's innocence, his showering and recreation privileges were revoked.

    Last year, Texas prison officials approved a $3,000 bonus for correctional officers in units where a boom in oil and gas jobs has made it hard to find new hires. They are currently working with state lawmakers to grant all correctional officers a 5 percent pay increase..At the trial, Pruett???s lawyer suggested that Nagle might have reported the names of officers who cooperated with prison gangs to smuggle drugs into the facility to internal investigators, and that this would have been a motive for corrupt officers and inmates to have Nagle killed. Thomas Prasifka, then the warden of the McConnell Unit, said that Nagle was not formally involved in a corruption investigation, but may have given the names over. The judge called the whole matter "nothing more than speculation."

    Earlier in 1999, gangs at the McConnell Unit had been blamed by prison officials for a series of stabbings.

    And in February of this year, federal officials indicted 17 correction officers on charges of smuggling cellphones into the McConnell Unit, which were used by gang leaders to organize criminal activities outside the prison. Federal officials referred in their indictment to a "culture of corruption" in the unit.

    "This is 13 years after, and they are still corrupt over there," Pruett said.

    Lowry and Hurt both acknowledged that there had been corruption among officers at the unit. Lowry said that was a result of high turnover among officers. "You get these employees in there, and they have no intent on staying," he said. "It allows corruption to flourish."

    Brian Olsen, the executive director of the union, said of the killing, "We always thought it might be a hit related to the information Nagle was giving. We don't know that for sure."

    Olsen asserted that the problems of corruption and violence in Texans prison would be greatly reduced by increasing pay and solving staffing shortages. He said Nagle's 1999 speech was still a major inspiration as he continued to lobby, and that little has changed. "We're back to that point," he said.

    (source: Texas Tribune)


    Numerous Prison Guards Arrested in Operation Prison Cell

    Posted: Feb 27, 2013

    KiiiTV3.com South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

    BEEVILLE (Kiii News) - The federal government believes that Operation Prison Cell has helped to put an end to the "culture of corruption" at Beeville's McConnell Unit Prison.

    Prosecutors announced the arrests of 17 prison guards accused of smuggling cell phones and drugs to inmates; prisoners who would then continue directing gang operations on the streets.

    For four years, investigators have been trying to track down those involved in this racketeering case. So far, that total is 32, some prison guards, others inmates, and some the go-betweens.

    The entire conspiracy began to reveal itself after Corpus Christi Police Department officers busted an Aryan Circle stolen car ring, an operation that prosecutors say was being run from the McConnell Unit by inmates there who had cell phones, which were smuggled to them by guards.

    Prosecutors believe that the smuggling of cell phones and drugs to inmates began as early as 2005, after guards were supposedly paid $500 to $800 dollars for allowing prisoners to get cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy and those cell phones.

    The government said this was a case of organized crime being run from inside a prison, which is why they are using racketeering laws, which were originally made to try and deal with the Mafia back in the late 60s. Prosecutors say gang leaders inside the McConnell Unit were there on charges such as aggravated robbery and/or murder. Still, they were able to bribe the guards with cash so they could get those cell phones and continue to run their gang on the streets from the inside of their prison cells.

    "This is what we're facing here today, is organized crime from within a prison," U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said. "The enterprise was the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that was being used for nefarious purposes by not only the guards, but the inmates, and they were able to commit crimes through the use of these illegal cell phones and communications that the guards provided, and the people who facilitated these crimes, by providing the drugs and the money that went along with this enterprise."

    "The safety of the public outside the prison was compromised by what corrupted guards allowed into it," said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security."If proven true, they show that the walls of the McConnell Unit may have kept the criminals inside, it did not keep their crimes inside.

    Sadly, as the indictment reflects, these were not isolated incidents, nor were they the work of a few; rather, it appears that this behavior became institutionalized."

    Officials believe Operation Prison Cell should serve as a reminder to those working in our prisons to follow the law or there will be consequences.

    There are three more defendants in this case who have not been jailed. Prosecutors say they are on the run, and agents are on the lookout for them.

    Numerous Prison Guards Arrested in Operation Prison Cell


    Capitol Digest: Prison Union Seeks 14% Raise For Guards

    Posted: Feb. 20, 2013

    CRIMINAL JUSTICE

    Prison Union Calls For Guard Raises

    The union that represents correctional officers in Texas’ massive prison system called Wednesday for lawmakers to give guards a 14-percent raise, citing the growing oil boom that could make current staffing shortages even worse.

    Lance Lowry, president of the union that represents some of the 25,000 prison officers, said the prison system remains “dangerously understaffed” despite signing bonuses and other incentives offered in the past year, as hundreds of guards have left to take higher-paying oilfield jobs in South and West Texas.

    TDCJ officials have advocated a pay raise for correctional officers, and have repeatedly denied that the staffing shortages at some prisons have compromised security in any way.

    See more at: Capitol Digest


2012


    Electroshock Torture Handcuffs Now Patented:
    Delivers Shocking Torture, 'Gas Injections' And 'Chemical Restraints' To Prisoners Via Remote Control

    December 12, 2012
    by Mike Adams

    It's like something ripped right out of a dystopian futuristic sci-fi novel: A U.S. patent has been uncovered that describes electronic handcuffs capable of delivering torturous electroshocks, "gas injections" and injectable "chemical restraints" to prisoners who wear them. The cuffs can be remote-controlled by prison guards, cops or MPs to deliver stronger or weaker electroshocks as desired... or even chemical injections.

    The device is described in U.S. patent application number 20120298119, and the three people behind its invention are Reese; Corbin; (Scottsdale, AZ) ; Pegg; Donald L.; (Chandler, AZ) ; Lockwood; Lucius L.; (Phoenix, AZ)

    As described in the patent application (bold added):

    Embodiments of the restraining device of the present invention includes a restraint for physically constraining movement of at least a portion of a detainee's body; an electric shock component coupled to the restraint; and a control system coupled to the electric shock component, the control system configured to cause the electric shock component to deliver a shock to the detainee when a predetermined condition occurs. The restraining device may be any device capable of being attached to a detainee and restraining at least a portion of the detainee's body, and in various implementations may include at least one of: a handcuff; an ankle cuff; a restraining belt; a straightjacket; a harness; a facial restraint; a helmet; and a neck collar; and combinations thereof.

    To Read More On Article, Click On Link Below...

    Electroshock torture handcuffs now patented: Delivers shocking torture, 'gas injections' and 'chemical restraints' to prisoners via remote control


    Guard Shortage Forces Texas Inmates To Move

    By Allan Turner
    December 11, 2012

    Faced with shortages of guards that approach 50 percent, Texas prison officials have begun transferring inmates from two Texas Panhandle penitentiaries to units elsewhere in the state.

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said about 200 inmates have been moved to an East Texas prison from the Smith Unit in Lamesa.

    The prison has a 2,234-inmate capacity, but has been operating with about half the needed correctional officers.

    Spencer said those transferred came from the unit's "close custody" population and from those detained in solitary "administrative segregation."

    Prison officials currently are moving about 400 inmates to lockups throughout the state from the Ware Unit in Colorado City. The prison has a 916-inmate capacity and slightly more than half of a full complement of guards.

    Chronic Problems

    The Smith and Ware units, which operate with the lowest percentage of correctional officers in the state's 111-prison system, chronically have difficulty filling guard positions. Guards accepting work at the units are offered a $3,000 sign-up bonus in addition to their $28,000-a-year starting salary.

    Spencer said the Smith and Ware units' relocations - the first for the Panhandle prisons - will be temporary. Earlier this year, officials at the Connally Unit in South Texas downsized its population by 696 inmates. Connally currently is operating with about a third fewer correctional officers than needed.

    While prison units in Central Texas and the Houston area operate with guard shortages of less than 10 percent, low wages and remote locations have made it hard to find qualified correctional officers in the Panhandle and South Texas.

    Wage Hikes Sought

    Lance Lowry, an official with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents correctional officers, has called on Gov. Rick Perry to support 14 percent wage increases for guards by 2015.

    Correctional officers last received a 3.5 percent raise in fiscal 2011.

    Lowry says guard shortages have contributed to the prison system's deadliest year in two decades. Eleven inmate-on-inmate homicides had been reported by early December.

    Asked if inmate-generated security problems prompted the transfer of prisoners, Spencer responded that "each unit is unique."

    "Administrators," he said, "determine unit staffing levels based on unit design, mission, offender population and custody level."

    Guard Shortage Forces Texas Inmates To Move


    Whitmire, Employee Union Urge Prison Closures

    • By Brandi Grissom
    • December 4, 2012

    Last year, lawmakers made history when they decided to close down the aging Central prison unit in Sugar Land.

    State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and a union that represents prison employees hope to make more history in 2013, suggesting the potential closure of two privately run prison facilities:Dawson State Jail in Dallas and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility. They also argue that Texas could save money and improve safety in prisons by releasing more nonviolent offenders on parole.

    “I think the prison system, generally speaking, is being operated on good terms, but Lord knows we can continue to improve,” said Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “We shouldn’t waste money on facilities we don’t need. I think we can identify one or two more of them.”

    Whitmire and the prison employees union came to the same conclusion from somewhat different routes. Whitmire and legislators are looking to save money and reduce crime. The prison union is hoping to improve pay and benefits and attract more guards for understaffed facilities.

    The prison population dropped from about 156,000 in 2011 to about 152,000 this year, Whitmire said. He attributed the reduction to improved diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration, reforms that Texas lawmakers have aggressively adopted in recent years.

    “We are actually sitting on about 10,000 empty prison beds,” Whitmire said.

    With that many empty beds, he said, it makes sense to consider shutting down unnecessary facilities that are high security risks. The facility in downtown Dallas, run by the Corrections Corporation of America, has faced criticism recently over allegations that health care there is inadequate. The company has denied any wrongdoing and said it works with the state to provide inmates access to health care.

    The Dawson State Jail also sits on prime real estate in downtown Dallas, and Whitmire said local officials have proposed closing it to make way for development.

    The Mineral Wells facility, also run by CCA, has had a number of security issues, Whitmire said.

    “I think it would be pretty convincing to show we’re wasting dollars” on those facilities, he said.

    Whitmire and Lowry also agreed that pay should increase for prison staff and that the state should continue to aggressively pursue policies that allow nonviolent offenders to be paroled.

    Those types of decisions, Whitmire cautioned, should be driven by public safety needs, not economic considerations or staffing concerns.

    But for Lance Lowry, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, which represents prison workers, staffing concerns amount to safety challenges.

    In an October letter to Gov. Rick Perry, Lowry wrote that his group determined that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was down some 2,700 officers. The shortage of staff led to a partial closure at one unit this year, and the employees group argues the ongoing shortage jeopardizes security for both the inmates and the officers, particularly during the holidays.

    “If we could divert funds toward staff development and retention, that would be a start,” Lowry said. “That would definitely be a positive start to addressing some of the needs.”

    In addition to urging lawmakers to close the private facilities and improve prison employees’ pay to compete with private sector employers, Lowry said that he will support measures that allow more nonviolent offenders to be released on parole.

    “We need to start funding infrastructure that makes the prisons system run,” Lowry said, “and that’s the employees.”

    Whitmire, Employee Union Urge Prison Closures


    TDCJ Admits Statewide Correctional Officer Shortage

    Nov 28, 2012
    Reporter: Rashi Vats

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice admits there's a statewide shortage of correctional officers. That fact is causing some local correctional officers to fear for their lives.

    To the public eye, the last time you see a convicted felon is usually in court. But after the sentencing, the eyes in charge of monitoring the criminals in prison are becoming tainted with fear.

    "You don't know if you are going to come out in one piece or the same way you went in everyday when that door closes,” said a Huntsville prison corrections officer who didn't want to be identified in fear of retaliation.

    Every day he is exposed to what he calls a different 'world.'

    "You have to deal with 186 offenders in a cell block…There's only one of you, and maybe one watching if you are lucky,” said the officer.

    In his 10 years of being a correctional officer, he says the shortage has reached a peak.

    According to the latest records from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, just the 13 prisons in the Huntsville area are more than 700 correctional officers short.

    "You definitely worry when you enter that gate, if you are going to leave the gate in the same condition you came in,” said Lance Lowry, a correctional officer and president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

    He says the shortage is attributed to the correctional officer salary.

    "We have not kept up with the cost of living in these prison systems,” said Lowry.

    In fact, according to a study done by the union, Texas is one of the lowest 3 states in the nation when it comes to pay for correctional officers. The highest that correctional officers can make is $37,000 and starting salary is just $27,000.

    "We need to take a public safety first approach and get the pay scale more competitive with the free market,” said Lowry.

    Lowry sent a letter to the governor asking the state for an emergency cost of living adjustment.

    The TDCJ sent us a statement saying, "When necessary, the agency is utilizing overtime to ensure that critical areas of the prison are adequately staffed."

    "When the state says all critical positions are being staffed, they are not,” said Lowry.

    The TDCJ says they will urge the state lawmakers to consider a pay raise for correctional officers in the next legislative session.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says it hopes to hear from the governor once the legislative session starts in January.

    TDCJ Admits Statewide Correctional Officer Shortage


    Employee Union: Low Prison Pay Jeopardizes Security

    By Maurice Chammah
    November 21, 2012

    Leaders of the state’s prison employee union say that officials are leaving Texas prisons dangerously understaffed. On Wednesday, they renewed calls for better pay, noting that the holiday season is a particularly dangerous time in Texas prisons.

    Prison officials agreed that staffing problems exist in particular units, but said that the facilities are secure.

    “What has happened over the past several years is the Legislature hasn't kept up with cost of living for correctional officers,” said Lance Lowry, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, which represents prison workers.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has faced staffing shortages during the last year. In June, the department closed parts of the Connally unit in Kenedy, southeast of San Antonio, and moved the inmates to other facilities, because of a 40-percent vacancy rate. In October, Lowry sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, noting that his organization had found the department is currently short more than 2,700 officers.

    Both union leaders and prison officials agree that the shortage in certain parts of the state is partially due to the growth of the oil and gas industry in South Texas, which has created private sector jobs that compete with prisons for workers. "When they can go out and drive a truck for twice as much as they'd make in the prison,” Lowry said, “it creates a large vacuum.”

    The private companies pay better, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman John Hurt. “But the state is always having that problem,” he said. “We're never going to be able to compete financially with the private sector..”

    But Lowry and Brian Olsen, the union's executive director, say the department has not done enough to retain employees. Much of the experienced staff hired during the boom in prison building in the 1990’s, they explained, is now retiring and new recruits are not given adequate training. “You get someone fresh out of high school trying to tell a convicted felon what to do, it creates a very dangerous situation,” Lowry said. "These inmates know that the prisons are running with skeleton crews."

    And the union leaders say the situation wastes money because low-paid, ill-trained workers quit relatively quickly. “It costs the state millions of dollars a year to train and retrain and retrain,” Olsen said.

    To combat the trend, prison officials offered a $3,000 bonus this year to new correctional officers in certain units where the oil and gas boom had created the most competitive hiring environment.

    Among the proposals Olsen and Lowry made, they want to shorten the amount of time it takes to get from minimum pay, $27,000, to maximum pay, $37,000, from eight to five years. “We’re trying to get these new boots [newly-hired officers] a light at the end of the tunnel,” Olsen said.

    The issue takes on particular importance around the holidays, the union leaders said, since two of the most well-known breaches of Texas prison security in recent memory happened around Christmastime. In late November of 1998, 29-year-old Martin Gurule became the first inmate to escape from Texas death row, at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, since 1934. His success led prison administrators to move death row to the higher security Polunsky Unit in Livingston. In mid-December 2000, seven inmates escaped from the Connolly unit and killed a police officer on Christmas Eve.

    Hurt said the push by the union near the legislative session is meant to get lawmakers’ attention to increase their pay. He said wardens have no security concerns and that no staffing policies are being violated.

    “We're not uncomfortable with staffing,” Hurt said. “All of our critical security positions are filled.”

    Olsen, who sent the letter to Gov. Perry, said that although he did not expect a response, he thought that “behind the scenes there will be a lot of questions asked” and the holiday push will lay the groundwork for their legislative demands during the upcoming session.

    Employee Union: Low Prison Pay Jeopardizes Security


    3 At Jail Fired For Not Aiding Inmate

    By James Pinkerton
    November 7, 2012

    Two jailers and a deputy have been fired for failing to help a 72-year-old mentally ill inmate who died after one of the jailers slugged him in the face and left him bleeding in a Harris County jail cell, recently obtained records show.

    Norman Ford Hicks Sr., a retired Houston butcher with a history of mental problems and family violence, died at Ben Taub General Hospital on Jan. 22, 2011, six days after the jail incident.

    Medical examiners said Hicks died from complications of a heart attack after suffering blunt head trauma and a broken nose.

    Detention officer Christopher S. Pool, 25, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a Harris County grand jury in September 2011 after a review of his use of force against Hicks.

    Pool, Deputy Joseph P. Jameson, 36, and detention officer Christopher L. Taylor, 32, have all filed appeals of their Aug. 21 firings by Sheriff Adrian Garcia, according to records of the Harris County Sheriff's Civil Service Commission.

    The termination letters given Pool and the other two officers provide the most detailed account yet of the late afternoon incident in the jail that preceded Hicks' death.

    Hicks, who was jailed on a probation violation, had caused a disturbance in a cell block. Pool, Jameson and Taylor then escorted the inmate to a booth normally used for attorney conferences.

    Later, they noticed Hicks had defecated and urinated on the floor, so they moved him to another private booth and asked him to remove his soiled shoes and jail-issued shirt.

    Feces-Soiled Shirt

    Pool admitted he slugged Hicks in the face with his closed fist, knocking him down and causing him to hit his head on a concrete bench in the booth, according to his 11-page termination letter. The blow followed a disputed incident in which Hicks threw his shoes and a feces-soiled shirt out the booth's door. His shirt was either grabbed by Pool or landed on the jailer.

    Pool told internal investigators he left Hicks unresponsive and face down while he went to wash himself. Investigators say the jailer failed to obtain medical attention or notify his supervisor of his use of force, according to the termination letter. The floor supervisor later found Hicks, who was not breathing, lying in a pool of blood and summoned medical staff.

    "Although the facts immediately preceding your use of force appear to be in dispute, it is undisputed that you used force against Mr. Hicks, then failed to provide or obtain assistance in providing Mr. Hicks with timely access to first aid and professional medical care," reads Pool's termination notice.

    Pool later changed his story to internal affairs investigators and said he had not meant to say Hicks was unresponsive when he left him.

    Pool said Hicks threw his shirt in his face, blinding him, and that he punched Hicks as he was being advanced on. But that account of the confrontation differed from those given by the other two officers, Pool's disciplinary record states.

    Deputy No-Billed

    Taylor told investigators that Hicks threw his soiled shirt at Pool, who threw it back at the inmate, and Hicks then brought his hands up in a fighting stance.

    "It appears that your actions may have had the effect of provoking, rather than de-escalating, the confrontation with Mr. Hicks," states Pool's termination letter.

    Attorneys representing Pool and Taylor did not return calls for comment, nor did Sheriff Garcia.

    Jameson and Taylor were fired for not providing Hicks with proper aid and for failing to report the incident to super­visors.

    Richard Cobb, an attorney representing Jameson, said he will prove his client did nothing to harm Hicks, adding he is being fired "as a scapegoat."

    "My guy did not touch this man, lay hands on him or do anything. He was no-billed in the grand jury, and he wasn't even called by the grand jury as a witness," Cobb said. "We're at a loss at what he is supposed to have done. There isn't an allegation of excessive force."

    Wrongful Death Suit

    Cobb said that before Hicks was taken to the attorney's booth, he had caused a disturbance in a large cell block, "gone ballistic," and rammed his head against the wall.

    "Their allegation is he should have gotten the guy immediate aid," Cobb said of Jameson. "That presumed my client knew he was injured, which he didn't because he didn't see anything. He just opened the door. He never witnessed or saw an injury which necessitated medical care."

    Hicks' four children have filed a wrongful death suit against Pool, the sheriff's office and Harris County, charging their actions amounted to a systemic failure that "constitute a negligent implementation of the policy on securing mentally ill criminal officers by the department."

    Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan denied the allegations in the suit and also said the county is immune from liability.

    james.pinkerton@chron.com

    3 At Jail Fired For Not Aiding Inmate


    John Bradley Eyes New Prosecuting Job


    Photo By: Erich Schlegel
    John Bradley, Williamson County District Attorney in
    Georgetown, TX Friday November 11, 2011. Bradley is
    responsible for prosecuting felony criminal offenses
    that are committed in Williamson County.

    By Brandi Grissom
    October 19, 2012

    Outgoing Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley is being considered to lead the state's Special Prosecution Unit, which prosecutes crimes committed in state prisons and juvenile detention facilities and is in charge of civil commitments of sexual predators.

    Gina DeBottis, the current executive director of the unit, announced plans this year to step down from the position after the 2013 legislative session. Bradley, who lost his his primary re-election campaign in May, is one of three candidates who have been interviewed to replace her, she said.

    Bradley, who has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed prosecutor since he was appointed to that position by Gov. Rick Perry in December 2001, declined to comment.

    "I don’t have any comments on what my current or future plans are," Bradley said Friday.

    Bradley lost his election after a bruising campaign against Williamson County attorney Jana Duty. She attacked Bradley relentlessly over his role in the Michael Morton case. Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for his wife's murder and was cleared of the crime last year after DNA testing. Bradley did not prosecute Morton, but he fought efforts to get DNA tested for more than six years.

    Bradley said he regretted his decision to fight the DNA testing, and that he had been humbled by the Morton case.

    Bradley's term as district attorney will end in December, and the executive for the Special Prosecution Unit could make a hiring decision at its next meeting, in December. The board is composed of prosecutors in counties that are home to Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities.

    Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson is on the hiring committee that interviewed Bradley and two other candidates, who are prosecutors in the Special Prosecution Unit.

    "He applied for the job," Thompson said. "It wasn’t like he was recruited."

    Thompson said Bradley would not receive special consideration by the board because he is a district attorney and that many of the board members know him. He said the other two candidates are also familiar to board members.

    Thompson and Bradley share more in common than their roles as elected district attorneys. Both have been involved in the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for an arson fire in his Corsicana home that killed his three young daughters.

    Bradley was chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission when that body was investigating the science used to convict Willingham of arson. Several scientists who reviewed the science after the conviction concluded that the fire was not intentionally set. Bradley, appointed by Perry to lead the commission, was loudly criticized by innocence advocates who said he was working to stymie the investigation. Last year, the Texas Senate declined to confirm Bradley's appointment to the commission.

    Thompson, as the district attorney in Navarro County, inherited the Willingham case long after the prosecution. He became involved in 2010 when Judge Charlie Baird convened a court of inquiry to investigate whether the Corsicana father was wrongfully convicted. Thompson requested that Baird recuse himself, arguing that the judge's previous ruling on the Willingham case and his reputation as a death penalty opponent called into question his impartiality. Baird voted in 1995, when he was on the Court of Criminal Appeals, to reaffirm Willingham's death sentence. Eventually, an appeals court sided with Thompson, and the court of inquiry ended.

    Thompson said Bradley's involvement in the Willingham controversy had no effect on his decision about whether Bradley would be the right candidate to lead the unit.

    The main factors the board is considering, he said, are experience and qualifications. And he said the state law that created the unit has set high standards for the executive director's position.

    "It's not just anybody that could get it," Thompson said. "I don’t even know if I’d get an interview."

    John Bradley Eyes New Prosecuting Job


    Sept. 27, 2012

    CONTINUING COVERAGE: TEXAS PRISONS

    Prison officials: Facebook friendship with inmate no longer grounds for firing

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff

    A corrections sergeant at Texas’ oldest prison was fired last May for having a convict as a Facebook friend. Officials said he had violated policy and compromised security — even though he insisted he didn’t know the man was a prisoner, only a high-school acquaintance.

    Rules are rules, officials said, and Texas bans convicts and guards, parolees and parole officers, from fraternizing, including as Facebook friends.

    About two weeks ago, officials reinstated the sergeant after an internal investigation determined that a number of other prison employees had the same online friend, including the prison system’s chief financial officer.

    Now, officials say they no longer consider Facebook friendships, by themselves, a violation of the fraternization ban.

    The case illustrates an issue that has been popping up with increasing frequency across the country, as prison systems find themselves entangled in the social networking craze.

    “There’s almost no way a correctional officer — or anyone else for that matter — can tell if any one of their Facebook friends are convicts, parolees or ex-convicts,” said Lance Lowry, president of a Huntsville local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents prison guards. “With more than a million people in Texas now incarcerated, on parole or probation, there’s a pretty good chance some of those Facebook friends are or have been in the criminal justice system at one time.”

    With 40,000 employees and 154,000 convicts, Texas prison officials concede privately there is probably no practical way to monitor everyone’s Facebook accounts. An undetermined number of prisoners have Facebook pages these days, including some death row inmates, established and maintained by friends on the outside.

    For prison Sgt. Heath Lara of Huntsville, an innocent click almost cost him his job.

    Prison system records show Lara last April was found to have Gary Wayne Sanders among his Facebook friends. Sanders, 46, was serving 72 years for a Fort Worth murder in 1990, records show.

    At the time, Sanders was assigned to the same prison where Lara worked.

    Citing a longstanding rule that prohibits “establishment, or continuation of an offender relationship that jeopardizes security or compromises the employee,” Lara was fired by Huntsville Unit Warden James Jones, records show. The regional director subsequently upheld the termination.

    Lara, who had been with the agency for a decade, had no previous disciplinary violations, officials said.

    Lara appealed, arguing that Sanders was merely a high-school acquaintance who he didn’t know was a convict — much less a resident of the sprawling red-brick fortress known as “The Walls” where he worked in downtown Huntsville. First opened in 1849, the lockup houses 1,700 convicts and has 443 employees.

    Lowry said that Lara found Sanders was a Facebook “friend” of more than a dozen other correctional employees, including Jerry McGinty, director of finance for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    Lara and McGinty couldn’t be reached for comment.

    But Jason Clark, a spokesman for the agency, confirmed that Lara was reinstated after “additional investigation showed he had no relationship with this inmate.

    There was no correspondence or anything. There was no security concern there.” As for McGinty, Clark said he, too, was unaware that Sanders was in prison. When he found out, he “unfriended” Sanders “very quickly,” Clark said.

    Even though Lara won his case, Lowry and others say other prison employees haven’t been so lucky. According to complaints by several employees in recent months: at least three other corrections workers have been terminated or disciplined in the past year for having Facebook friends who are convicts or ex-convicts; several wardens are reported to have initiated investigations into guards’ Facebook accounts; and several employees say they have been ordered to “unfriend” anyone they don’t personally know.

    Some guards consider Facebook a bad idea in their line of work.

    “I don’t know why anyone in the prison business would want to be on Facebook, with their family photos and everything out there for anyone to see,” said retired Huntsville prison guard John Wheeler, echoing sentiments of current officers who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. “You’re just asking for trouble, on the job and off.”

    Despite the policy change, critics say the current policy is still ripe for abuse.

    “The only way the agency does anything now is if someone rats someone else off,” said Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional employees union that represents more than 6,000 prison workers.

    Even so, prison officials say the change should resolve a big issue. “To violate the policy has to be more than just ‘friend’ status on Facebook,” Clark said.

    Prison officials: Facebook friendship with inmate no longer grounds for firing


    Aug. 25

    TDCJ Faces Ongoing Staffing Challenges

    Duane Stuart, who has been employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 22 years, says conditions for workers in prisons are only getting worse. The only thing keeping him in his job as a correctional officer is his desire for the retirement benefits that he will be eligible for after 30 years of employment.

    Stuart added that his peers have been voicing concerns that some of the units are becoming increasingly unsafe, especially as staffing numbers shrink and employees are being forced to work overtime.

    Several TDCJ facilities built in rural areas have had particular difficulty in attracting and retaining correctional officers. During fiscal year 2011, units in Kenedy, Beeville, Beaumont and Lamesa all had turnover rates above 40 %. While TDCJ has increased its efforts to bring employees to these positions - addressing staffing issues remains a "top priority" for the department, said TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark - the problem has made headlines throughout the summer.

    2 recent downsizings were announced at the Connally unit in South Texas: In June, 4 dorms containing a total of 376 beds in the facility were taken off-line explicitly because of employee shortages. (As of the end of the month, more than 1/3 of correctional officer positions for the unit remained open.) And in July, another four dorms containing an additional 320 beds went idle.

    Declining incarceration rates allowed flexibility for these temporary cuts, but appropriate long-term solutions remain in debate. Clark attributes much of the staffing problems in South Texas to the growing oil and gas industry, which can offer higher-paying jobs. But correctional officers and advocates argue that the job conditions are simply too horrible for the position to be desired, no matter what other options may be available.

    Problems on the Job

    Reasons abound for why the job as a correctional officer is a tough one: Pay is low, most prisons are not fully air-conditioned and inmates are not always happy to be taking orders.

    With such staffing complaints, the overall turnover rate in TDCJ facilities has hovered above 20 percent at least since 2005. The average rate for fiscal year 2011 was 22.4 percent, with higher turnover seen among lower-level positions, and although this is not the highest it has been the department has identified seven rural units in particular that suffer from significant staffing shortages with a turnover rate above the average.

    To help improve those facilities, in June the agency doubled its initial offer of a $1,500 bonus to correctional officers who agree to work for at least 1 year. The department also built "bachelor officer quarters" that can house up to 96 employees in the Beeville and Kenedy area.

    Still, in a survey by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, in partnership with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 79 % of correctional officers polled said they felt under-compensated. (The current starting salary for full-time correctional officers is $2,319.05 a month. Veteran officers, those with 90 months on the job, earn more than $3,000 monthly.)

    "It's a horrible job," said Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the TCJC. "The stress that you go through is horrific."

    The poll was conducted for submission to the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is currently conducting its 12-year review of TDCJ. The survey also highlights the need for an improved employee grievance process. About 3/4 of those surveyed said they did not find the process to be "fair and effective."

    Stuart agreed that staff are hesitant to report any corruption or wrongdoing to TDCJ. In addition to his role as correctional officer, he also helps to manage an independent site called The Backgate Website, which provides a forum for TDCJ employees to discuss prison and job issues and could be considered to be helping "fill that void," he said.

    Clark wrote in an email that TDCJ "encourages employees and supervisors to attempt resolution of a situation by using informal problem-solving techniques," but explained that the department also facilitates a 3-step grievance process for any employee who remains unsatisfied.

    "TDCJ is committed to making sure employees are treated fairly and equitably," Clark added.

    The Sunset Commission is expected to announce Sept. 5 whether it will use testimony given regarding the department.

    Paying the Price

    A recent Backgate post about TDCJ "staffing woes" by Michael Williams warned that "the agency will be in real crisis within the next year if things don???t change." Staffing plans, Williams writes, "have been cut to the bone" as each officer must take on more responsibilities.

    The turnover rate raises several issues, said Michele Deitch, a prison conditions expert and professor at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs. TDCJ is consequently operating prisons run by staff with less experience, which can create security problems and increased violations of prison rules.

    Deitch noted that TDCJ is also losing money spent in training its staff.

    Some have found hope in the declining prison rate. This month, TDCJ reported its lowest number of inmates in the last 5 years. The population as of Aug. 10 was 152,595 inmates, which is down from 156,522 in fiscal year 2011 but still higher than the populations for fiscal years 2002 through 2005.

    One factor contributing to the high turnover rates for correctional officers, though, cannot be fixed: the rural locations of some prisons.

    During the prison boom of the 1990s, as the number of state prisons more than tripled, a belief pervaded that the construction and operation of new lockups would stimulate a surrounding community's economy. This assumption has been largely unsupported, but the prisons remain.

    "Whether you were pro-prison building or against it, everyone thought it was a form of economic development," Deitch said. "In the long-term sense, they never should have been built there."

    State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate committee on criminal justice, agreed that many prisons were built in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons. Now, he said, legislators need to focus on getting Texans to pay for improvement of conditions for the workers.

    But Scott Henson, a former reporter who writes the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, said increased spending on prisons is unlikely.

    "We're at the complete end of that cycle that was begun 22 years ago. No one wants to foot the bill for how expensive it is," Henson said.

    Most agree that the temporary closures in Kenedy due to staffing shortages are not something to be celebrated, but Henson said that the state should continue efforts to reduce the prison population and close prisons in an intentional manner.

    Even after the state closed its 1st prison last year, Henson said, Texas is operating more prisons than it should be.

    (source: Texas Tribune)


    Texas Prison Officials Struggle with High Turnover Rates, Staff Shortage

    The state's prison system is offering a $3,000 signing bonus for new guards in hopes of filling latest in series of shortages

    Posted: August 6, 2012
    By AZIZA MUSA
    MORRIS NEWS SERVICE


    Correctional Officer Maria Dover searches a cell in the
    high-security wing of the Polunsky Unit. She is a member
    of the shake down team responsible for finding and
    removing contraband from the unit.

    Lt. Robert Heins closes a cell door on Death Row A Pod.

    AMARILLO — Texas correctional officers guard one of the largest state inmate populations in the country but are plagued by a shortage of people willing to do the job.

    It’s a thankless but critical function. The pay is low, the hours are long, the conditions are grueling and the danger is constant.

    “If they say that Texas schoolteachers are underpaid, correctional officers don’t stand a chance,” said Keith Price, retired warden of the William P. Clements Unit in Amarillo. “Prisons and prisoners are out of sight and out of mind. Correctional officers get that same kind of treatment.”

    The state’s prison system is offering a $3,000 signing bonus for new guards in hopes of filling the latest in a series of shortages. The prisons department this year had 2,800 vacancies in an authorized complement of 25,778 full- and part-time guards.

    Those openings are driven by a turnover rate last fiscal year of nearly one in five guards, according to state records. More Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees voluntarily left the agency last year than workers in any other state department, state reports show.

    In June, the shortage forced prison officials to temporarily shutter four dorms, or 320 beds, of the John B. Connally Unit in Kenedy. It was the first time the prison system closed part of a lockup since 2008, when the agency emptied 316 beds in the Dalhart unit. Prison officials shuffled around inmates until the wing reopened about 22 months later, criminal justice department spokesman Jason Clark said.

    Shortages heighten the hazards in a world that already places guards in constant contact with criminals, a local union representative said. When fights break out in understaffed prisons, guards sometimes are unable to leave their posts to help, said Marty Turner, local representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union Correctional Employees Council 7.

    “It’s not an easy fix,” Price said. “It’s a very expensive one.”

    State lawmakers approved a 3.5-percent raise for most criminal justice employees in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, Clark said. But it wasn’t enough.

    Correctional officers and jailers statewide make an average annual salary of about $34,880, some $8,500 below the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

    Full-time, entry-level prison guards start at an annual salary of $27,800, and the amount increases another $1,700 after two months, according to the Department of Criminal Justice website.

    In a fiscally conservative state, politicians aren’t likely to dole out large raises for correctional officers, said Price, now an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at West Texas A&M University.

    Staffing increased during the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, but dipped the next year, records show. That’s because the recession started about December 2008, and it’s gotten better recently, Price said.

    “In a slow economy, government jobs look more attractive,” he said.

    Texas Panhandle and South Plains prisons are no strangers to staffing shortages. The area units — especially the maximum security Clements unit in Amarillo — led the pack in unfilled positions five years ago. They now rank second in shortages behind the coastal region.

    About five Texas Panhandle and South Plains prisons, including Dalhart, were at or less than 75 percent of full staffing in February, and most of those units housed medium-security inmates.

    “Dalhart, like many other prisons, is located within a rural area,” Clark said. “This does present some challenges because of the limited pool of workers in the area.”

    The department competes with other industries, too. For example, a hiring uptick in the oil and gas industries has enticed some correctional officers, Clark said.

    Poor working conditions also contribute to the turnover rates, Price said.

    “It’s shift work, and that’s extremely disruptive on family life,” he said. “It can be dangerous, boring and yet it can be dangerous while being boring.”

    Most guards spend 12-hour shifts in poorly heated or cooled prisons, he said.

    Meanwhile, overtime costs soar. The state paid about $7.5 million for 285,000 overtime hours in fiscal year 2011, records show.

    “Staffing plans have been so reduced that there’s just no fat left on the bone,” Turner said. “You have one person doing two people’s jobs.”

    Guards might not get vacation, and prisoners might not get their recreational hour, he said.

    And guards might not complete or thoroughly search cells as part of routine checks, Turner said.

    Still, criminal justice officials ensure staffing is sufficient, Clark said.

    “The agency’s priority is to fill all correctional officer positions, and is actively recruiting correctional officers across the state of Texas,” Clark said. “The agency authorizes overtime when it’s necessary to provide the appropriate level of supervision.”

    Lawmakers likely will face another budget deficit during the upcoming legislative session, and they’ve asked state agencies to slash another 10 percent from their budgets.

    Prison officials could explore cost-effective alternatives to help retain guards. Those alternatives could include affordable training and mentorships for guards, said Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

    The nonprofit research agency conducted a survey of 61 state correctional officers and found a majority of them think they are underpaid and don’t receive adequate training.

    Correctional officers receive about 200 hours of curriculum and administrative training and another 104 hours of training at the unit, Clark said. Training includes defensive tactics, firearms use and nonviolent crisis intervention.

    The Justice Coalition recommended more training for preventative methods, including identification and handling of vulnerable inmates and strategies to reduce assaults and de-escalate conflict.

    The criminal justice department doesn’t give guards reason to stay, Yanez-Correa said.

    Justice officials “need to think about the motivators for doing the job,” she said. “It comes down to: what conditions would you want to work in?”

    Texas prison officials struggle with high turnover rates, staff shortage


    Staffing Shortage Idle More Prison Beds

    By Mike Ward
    August 2, 2012

    Four additional dorms housing 320 convicts are being mothballed at a large maximum-security South Texas prison because of a continuing shortage of staff at the lockup, officials confirmed this afternoon.

    The move marks the largest such temporary closure of portions of a state prison in well over a decade, even during previous staffing stages that forced dorms at several prisons to be mothballed for many months.

    Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the convicts will be transferred from the Connally Unit in Kenedy, about 55 miles southeast of San Antonio, to other state prisons in coming weeks.

    “The agency has sufficient capacity to temporarily idle these beds without causing a capacity issue,” Clark said. “We are doing this to help deal with staffing challenges at the unit.”

    In June, officials closed four dorms at the 2,900-bed prison holding 376 convicts because staff vacancies attributed mainly to the ongoing oilfield boom had left the lockup unable to properly staff the cellblocks.

    The prison, considered one of Texas’ toughest because it houses large numbers of violent offenders serving lengthy sentences, has also been plagued in recent months with water outages blamed on broken pumps and well problems that have limited daily showers and food service.

    In several instances where the outage lasted for more than a day, water had to be trucked in to keep the prison open.

    Clark said that on June 30, the Connally Unit had 197 vacancies among its 513 authorized positions for correctional officers.

    Only 316 guards were on duty.

    To attract new guards, the agency in June authorized doubling the recruitment bonus from $1,500 to $3,000 for correctional officers who agree to work at one of the agency’s seven understaffed units — including Connally.

    Officials said this afternoon that the additional bonus had not alleviated the shortage at Connally, where officers have been quitting to find higher-paying jobs in the oilfield.

    Staffing Shortage Idle More Prison Beds


    JUNE 23, 2012

    TDCJ Staffing Woes Growing More Acute: CO Departure Rates Up

    After TDCJ closed a wing of the Connally unit because of understaffing among correctional officers (COs), Grits asked for data regarding staffing levels at other units and was sent this report from May 31 detailing staff vacancies across the agency. Correctional officer staffing at the Connally unit was lowest, but five other units were at less than 70% of full staffing as of that date:

    McConnell 59.89%
    Connally 59.30%
    Smith 61.85%
    Dalhart 67.80%
    Daniel 63.17%
    Ware 65.03%

    These units are dangerously understaffed and operating unsustainably on overtime. Another five units were at between 70-80% of full staffing. Overall, last year TDCJ was 22.4% below the number of correctional officers budgeted. But digging a bit deeper into the numbers, TDCJ is having an even harder time retaining COs than in the past. According to the agency's FY 2011 turnover report, obtained by Grits yesterday and COIs, or entry level staff, continued to leave the agency at a whopping 59.4% rate, roughly the same as the year before.

    But separations by COIIs increased last year, to 56.5%, up from 50.6% in 2010.

    Equally concerning, COIII's are leaving the agency at a higher rate than the previous year: One third (33.8%) left the agency in 2011 compared to 28.1% in 2010.

    And a third of COIIIs left last year as well. (People with a bachelors degree or military experience can start at COIII, so their high turnover rate also reflects folks leaving in the early part of their tenure.)

    In essence, out of every five COIs the agency hires, they lose (a bit more than) four of them.

    More experienced COs are also leaving at slightly higher rates. Some 14.7% of COIVs left the agency in 2011 compared to 11.4% in 2010, and 10.2% of COVs left the agency, compared to 8.4% the year before. Overall, a whopping 6,124 COs left TDCJ last year, which after new hires left more than 2,500 slots unfilled.

    As a commenter pointed out the other day, there's a limited pool to draw on for these jobs. Folks with significant education or skills can generally find higher paying work. And with one in 25 Texas adults in prison, jail, on probation or parole - and a much larger number having criminal records - many folks for whom TDCJ would seem like a good job from an economic standpoint aren't eligible.

    Plus, Texas is an urban state and most of the prisons are in rural counties, so there's a location mismatch between jobs and workers.

    TDCJ has offered a one-time bonus to recruits willing to work at their most understaffed units, doubling a bonus created in 2008 for the same purpose from $1,500 to $3,000. That should help but it's a short-term fix. As of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for Texas correctional officers stood at $34,880 - not the lowest in the region but probably not competitive enough to attract people from elsewhere. State and local governments collectively employ more than 48,000 people as guards in Texas prisons and jails, according to the BLS, giving Texas the largest number of correctional officers in the nation. One wonders whether the state has maxxed out its labor pool available to do that job in areas where units face chronic understaffing.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST


    Portion of South Texas prison closed because of water, staffing shortage

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    June 21, 2012

    In a rare move, Texas prison officials on Thursday temporarily shut down portions of a South Texas prison that has been plagued by chronic staffing shortages and water outages.

    The order marked the first time that portions of a state prison have been shuttered — "temporarily taken offline," in official-speak — since 2008, when portions of two other prisons, one in the Panhandle and one in Northeast Texas, were emptied.

    Prison officials said late Thursday that four dorms housing 376 convicts at the Connally unit in Kenedy, about 60 miles southeast of San Antonio, will be temporarily closed starting next week "to help deal with staffing challenges at the unit."

    The convicts will be taken by bus to other prisons across Texas, officials said. Texas' prison system is currently operating below capacity.

    In the past month, the 2,800-convict prison has been plagued by outages in its water system that has necessitated rationing, water being brought in on tanker trucks, bagged cold sandwich meals known as "johnnies" being served and every-other-day showers for the inmates.

    Convicts' families and advocacy groups have for several weeks protested the water restrictions, especially acute for some convicts as the temperatures spike during the hot summer months inside cells that are not air-conditioned.

    But Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the staffing shortage, not the water shortage, is to blame for the surprise dorm closures at Connally.

    He said the maximum-security lockup has been operating with about a 40 percent vacancy rate among guards — a critically high amount that generally limits the ability of the staff to properly supervise convicts, and can lead to programming and activities being cancelled.

    "As of May 31, there were 527 authorized correctional officer positions at Connally," he said. There are currently 309 correctional officers on duty and 218 vacancies.

    Texas has 154,000 convicts in 111 state prisons, more lockups than any other state. Many like Connally are located in small towns in remote areas, most of them built during the early 1990s to ease an overcrowding crisis that at one point had more than 30,000 state felons backlogged in county jails.

    Those remote locations have always posed logistical and staffing challenges for prison officials, underscored in recent weeks by the water outages at Connally.

    Clark said that on May 27, the largest water well in Kenedy went out of service.

    Pressure dropped, and prison officials were forced to bring in water coolers with ice and use barrels filled with water to service convicts.

    By the next day, water rationing was ramped up. Officials limited when convicts could flush toilets, and they brought in bagged sandwiches because the kitchen could not be operated without water.

    Clark said the well was fixed May 30 and water pressure was restored to the prison the following day.

    Then on June 6, the water pressure dropped again after a truck hit a power pole supplying electricity to a key pump. Prison officials began hauling water to the prison.

    Clark said the water pressure got so low that state officials ordered all water used there be boiled. Meals, showers and toilet flushing was again restricted.

    Though the problem was fixed the following day, the water pressure dropped again June 13 — and officials were once again forced to impose rationing, and again begin boiling water.

    Clark said the most recent problems stem from low pressure in Kenedy's wells. City officials said Thursday they plan to drill a new well by sometime in August.

    While local residents blame the water problems on oil drilling and so-called "fracking" activity in the area, state and local officials discounted that theory.

    But the area's oil boom, without any doubt, is blamed for the staffing shortage. Prison guards have been leaving in growing numbers to take high-paying oil field jobs, and replacements have been hard to find.

    "There have been operational challenges at the Connally unit, yes," Clark said. "Its because of things we have no control over."

    Even so, to ease the chronic staffing shortages at Connally and six other state prisons, Brad Livingston, the prison system's executive director, announced a one-time recruitment pay bonus will be doubled — from $1,500 to $3,000 — for guards who agree to work at the understaffed lockups.

    "We are also redoubling our recruitment efforts and have recently launched a newspaper and radio recruitment campaign for correctional officers," he said.

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Portion of South Texas prison closed because of water, staffing shortage


    May 16, 2012

    Texas ACLU to look at possible TDCJ employee rights violations,
    AFSCME union fuming over internal corruption and facebook privacy.

    By Doug Glass
    Backgate Website

    Over the past week, fall out from our story on the forced resignation of former TDCJ Information Officer Michelle Lyons, along with blow back from accusations made against the TDCJ admin for advocating violation of employee rights by allowing it's wardens, and others to demand employee social media passwords is coming to head.

    The Texas ACLU, along with the Federal EEOC has been advised of the issues within the agency, and should be looking into the matter in coming weeks. Also, Lance Lowry, policy analyst for the AFSCME union has contacted the national lobby in Washington D.C. regarding the issues, as well as firing off a detailed letter to Senate Criminal Justice Committee chair John Whitmire of Houston. Lowry made the following statement to the Backgate this week via email in regards to the forwarded message he sent to Washington.

    "My understanding from our legal staff is TDCJ maybe in violation of the Stored Communications Act, under 18 U.S.C. § 2701, and the CFAA prohibits intentional access to a computer without authorization to obtain information, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C). Facebook's terms of service are clear in regards to sharing a security password."

    Lowry also included a letter the union forwarded to Senator Whitmire last week regarding the issues with Ms. Lyons, and the facebook privacy violations.

    "Dear Honorable Senate John Whitmire,

    I am contacting your office today in regards to TDCJ employees being censored from contacting state elected officials and other activities occurring in which TDCJ is attempting to censor employee organizing activities.

    As of this last week the former Public Information Office Michelle Lyons contacted your office via agency email in regards to possible illegal labor issues occurring inside TDCJ. After Michelle contacted your office the agency suspended her email, which is vital to her job duties, and has informed her she is under investigation for her email sent to your office.

    TDCJ is engaging employees and prohibiting them from networking with one another on Facebook and other social media’s. The agency has terminated several employees for Facebook activities, under the disguise they are jeopardizing the security of the institution.

    With the Sunset hearing coming up and the several other important legislative activities occurring, it is important TDCJ employees feel protected from any kind of retaliation. It is important for public safety that the Legislature receive free flowing information on the activities occurring in these state agencies.

    Please assist in making TDCJ upper management understand this concept."

    Sincerely,
    Lance Lowry
    Policy Analyst
    AFSCME – Texas Correctional Employees

    If you have a first hand story to tell about a social media/rights violation issue with TDCJ, you are asked to detail those issues in an email and send it with your name and contact information to:info@aclutx.org

    You are asked to stick to that issue at the present time.

    Posted by The Backgate Website


    May 10, 2012

    TDCJ Public Information Officer charged for responding to Backgate and Senator Whitmire via email regarding misconduct by the agency, resigns amidst false claims, retaliation.

    By: Duane Stuart
    Backgate Website


    Michelle Lyons

    TDCJ Public Information Officer (PIO) Michelle Lyons resigned this morning after being targeted by TDCJ's Bryan Collier and others for simply reporting the truth. Lyons, who has been employed by TDCJ for the past 11 years, resigned after enduring retaliation and harassment by agency officials for several months. Michelle had been nothing but cordial and professional throughout our years of exchanges as the website sought out answers to questions regarding policy, statistics or contraband issues. Many of our inquiries were also forwarded to state Legislators for their knowledge as well.

    Ultimately, this action (forwarding emails to Legislators) is what is believed to have put Michelle on the radar with her TDCJ bosses. She responded to us like she would have any other entity seeking answers. Certain TDCJ administrators didn't appreciate the fact that we were in the loop as we are sometimes critical of TDCJ policies and other issues. Last Friday, Michelle responded to a request for information we filed the week prior for a statement about the ongoing facebook privacy story. She stated that she had been removed from that position, and explained why she had been. She had raised concerns to her bosses about the way time was being kept months ago within the department, and brought it forward. That's were it all began. A few trumped up charges later, one for not helping a subordinate by not supplying a statement for him to use in her name, and one for explaining to us via email why she wasn't able to answer our "official request" and the rest is history. Michelle emailed us this statement this morning;

    "When I received the email from Duane on Friday and when I responded to him and everyone who he had originally copied on the message, it set in motion a chain of events. Within a couple of hours, my email account was 'frozen' and I was told I was under investigation. Before I was charged with failing to obey an order, I was told that I should not have responded to Duane because he is considered media. At this point, I would note that some time ago, I was tracking down an answer to a question Duane had asked me and I went to Mr. Collier. He asked why I was responding to Duane since "he's not media." It's interesting to me that he wasn't 'media' several months ago, but now he is? At the time, I said that while Duane may not meet the definition of media in TDCJ's own media policy, that he is a TDCJ employee and member of the public and that I respond to as many inquiries I can from the public in addition to those I receive from the media. That's exactly what I did on Friday. I view it as responding to a message from a colleague about possible federal labor law and privacy violations and including on it my union representative and two state lawmakers. Why is that an issue?"

    Michelle went on to say;

    "I know that what I've gone through these last six months is similar to what so many other TDCJ employees have had to endure during their own tenures with the agency. I just really didn't understand until it happened to me. I'll never know exactly what initiated the discriminatory measures they took against me with my demotion and pay cut, but I can pinpoint that the retaliation began as soon as I questioned the way TDCJ requires employees to track their time and how they appear to be circumventing federal labor laws through some policies (although an agency policy obviously shouldn't trump federal law). Within two weeks, Mr. Collier told me "I should have just fired you," and it only escalated from there."

    It's ashamed that any employee with TDCJ must endure these types of retaliation and harassment. But it hits home when it's an employee in the public eye, and with media connections like those of Michelle Lyons. TDCJ has become so comfortable with it's unchecked retaliation and harassment that it doesn't skip a beat in mistreating employees statewide. As the Sunset Commission Hearings with the Legislature approach us soon, i am almost positive these issues will be heard by Legislators. Michelle Lyons was the last line of defense and the open door that provided some sense of transparency for an agency still living and operating in the dark ages. With her gone, the agency will surely suffer a huge blow to their ability to be believable and honest. We wish you the best Michelle.

    TDCJ Public Information Officer charged...


    MAY 06, 2012

    Adult, Juvie Corrections Took 39% Of State Employee Reductions In Last Year

    After the Texas Legislature finished its budget cutting last year and the dust finally settled, a whopping 39% of Texas state employee reductions in the last year came from two agencies: the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the recently merged Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD).

    TDCJ lost 2,035 FTEs (full-time equivalent positions), and TJJD lost 816.5, according to a recent state auditor's report (pdf). All told, according to a summary, "As of the end of the second quarter of fiscal year 2012, agencies reported that they employed 147,100.4 FTEs. That was a decrease of 7,321.6 (4.7 percent) FTEs since the end of the second quarter of fiscal year 2011." TDCJ's staff was reduced by 5%, TJJD's by 23%.

    Of course, both these agencies suffer from high turnover among front-line staff, so relatively few of those reductions represent layoffs, particularly on the adult side. But Texas' corrections footprint declined in the last year in more ways than just from the closure of the Central Unit and lowered jail populations: Prisons and jails have gone from a reliably expanding government sector to among the first areas to be cut when Texas policymakers must prioritize in the face of tight budgets. That's a big change in political priorities from just a few short years ago.

    In 2013 when legislators again face tough, arguably tougher budget choices even than last session, Texas could not conceivably focus employment reductions as heavily in corrections without closing (probably several) more prison units. For these and related reasons, Grits remains convinced that budgets will stymie the growth of the prison-industrial complex long before any brand of moral outrage might convince state leaders to reduce it.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST

    LABELS: EMPLOYMENT, JUVIE CORRECTIONS, TDCJ, TJJD


    April 30, 2012

    Is TDCJ violating your privacy rights by requiring you give them your facebook password?

    By Doug Glass
    Backgate Website

    Well, looks like TDCJ may be requiring employees to present their personal facebook or other social media site account passwords to the administration as so some snooping can be done. We received word today that employees around the state have run into bullying and threats over their personal facebook account access. The TDCJ contends that employees cannot have ex-offenders, family of ex-offenders, or even friends of friends of ex-offenders or their families on their facebook/Twitter friends list.

    An offense under this rule (rule #42) could spell termination with no chance of mediation for that employee. Although we understand the issue with ex-offenders or even ex-offenders families, how can it be proven you were aware of who was who?

    How can you know that the high school friend from 1985 you have not seen since then has a brother or sister that was once in prison? Or may even once were themselves? Were does safety and security meet with common sense and violation of your rights? Well, we will obviously be looking into this more closely over the next week or so. We will seek clarification by TDCJ, and see what the TDCJ unions, State Lawmakers, and even civil rights attorneys have to say about the practice.

    Facebook administrators have released a statement that read that they (facebook attorneys) would sue any agency or employer that required employees to turn over there passwords as it violates there own terms of service with their members.

    Stay tuned...
    Posted by The Backgate Website


2011


    DECEMBER 28, 2011

    Juvie, adult prison guards atop list of high-turnover state jobs

    The combined turnover rate for Texas juvenile and adult correctional officers (i.e., prison guards) in FY 2011 was 23.4%, according to a new report (pdf) on state employee turnover by the state auditor. That's 22.3% for adult COs, and 39.6 for JCOs, including layoffs. Other key highlights:

    Statewide, 29.6% of turnover came from involuntary separations - either firings or other reductions in force (RIF), sometimes for budgetary reason, with 14% of departing employees dismissed for cause and another 9% resigning in lieu of dismissal.

    The Texas Education Agency had a higher one-year turnover rate than TDCJ, but that's a statistical fluke resulting from a budgetary RIF. TDCJ "accounted for the largest percentage of separations (29.6 percent) within the State. The majority of the separations at TDCJ during fiscal year 2011 were voluntary.

    TDCJ’s turnover rate was 19.2 percent in fiscal year 2011."

    The most experienced staff are more likely to retire these days: Statewide across all agencies, "Between fiscal years 2007 and 2011, retirements increased by 40.6 percent." (Some of those folks may still be working: A wag might add that even Governor Rick Perry has taken retirement, and is surely counted among those statistics.) The number of voluntary separations increased 12.9% over last year.

    "Thirty-four state agencies experienced reductions in force. The Texas Youth Commission, the Texas Education Agency, and the Department of Criminal Justice accounted for 72.6 percent of all staff reductions due to reductions in force in fiscal year 2011."

    Reductions as TYC was merged into the new Juvenile Justice Department accounted for a large chunk of involuntary separations: "The three job classification series with the most separations as a result of reductions in force in fiscal year 2011 were Juvenile Correctional Officers, Program Specialists, and Administrative Assistants."

    TDCJ lost 8,116 employees in FY 2011, 3,025 of them via involuntary separation (including layoffs).

    The turnover rate at the Department of Public Safety was 9.9%, with 66 involuntary departures out of 846 total.

    Via the Austin Market Examiner.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST

    LABELS: EMPLOYMENT, TDCJ, TJJD


    SEPTEMBER 27, 2011

    2,000 jobs cut at TDCJ

    Summarizing the effect of state budget cuts on job losses, the Texas Tribune's Becca Aaronson mentioned that the greatest number of jobs eliminated came from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which employs more people than any other state agency:

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the largest state government employer, lost more than 2,000 state-paid full-time positions. Agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said the job losses were “absolutely because of the budget cuts.” The agency attributes the loss of 1,000 positions directly to lost funding. The agency also chose not to fill many vacant positions, Lyons said, and eliminated programs, transferring the services offered by those programs to other departments. “Everyone was trying to be pro-active in identifying areas where we could save money in these economic times,” she said.

    So Texas cut 2,000 prison jobs but failed to enact legislation that will significantly reduce the prison population.

    As Grits suggested earlier this year, most of those cuts came through attrition, which is possible because of the extraordinarily high turnover rate among Texas prison guards. Not only does high turnover among "new boots" contribute to understaffing at prisons, it also partially explains the high volume of contraband flowing into Texas prisons despite so-called "zero tolerance" policies which have been in place for several years. Less experienced staff with fewer institutional ties are more prone to corruption.

    Will such large force reductions harm safety for prison staff and inmates or limit the number of beds the state can operate? Already we've seen reports of increased mandatory overtime to make up for fewer boots on the ground. It wasn't that long ago that TDCJ faced staffing shortages so severe that administrators had to shut down whole prison wings because of too few guards to oversee them. One wouldn't be surprised to see the same situation recur in the near future. With accompanying cuts to health insurance and retirement benefits for prison staff, even in the current recession, it's not likely to get any easier for TDCJ to recruit and/or retain staff in the short to medium term.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST

    LABELS: BUDGET, EMPLOYMENT, TDCJ


    SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

    Former TDCJ, TYC employee on trial for sex crimes against disabled, elderly

    The man on trial as the so-called Twilight Rapist in southeast Texas is a former prison worker who also had two employment stints at the Texas Youth Commission.

    Reported AP:
    A former Texas prison employee suspected of a being a serial rapist accused of targeting older women will be handcuffed and shackled during his trial after his defense attorney made the request.

    Testimony was scheduled to begin Tuesday in the trial of Billy Joe Harris, 54, who is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a disabled person. Jury selection for his trial was completed Monday, the Victoria Advocate reported.

    ... Harris was found about 100 miles from Rosharon, where he worked in the kitchen of a Texas state prison. Harris had worked in state correctional facilities on an off for about 12 years since 1995, according to state records.

    His jobs included two stints at the once-troubled Texas Youth Commission, which was overhauled several years ago in wake of a widespread sex abuse scandal involving guards attacking juvenile inmates.

    Harris bounced around to several prisons around the state, working mostly in food service. Background checks before his hiring revealed no prior criminal history, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    I'd read about these crimes and remember the alleged rapist being caught, but I hadn't realized until this story that the fellow was a TDCJ employee, much less that he'd previously worked at TYC before the scandals there broke in 2007. It makes one wonder whether such predilections ever played out on the job.

    According to the Advocate, Harris' attorney plans to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST
    LABELS: SEX CRIMES, TDCJ, TYC


    Former prison guard convicted of drug charge

    August 23, 2011

    HOUSTON -- A former southeast Texas prison guard has pleaded guilty to a drug charge after being arrested during an undercover operation in June.

    U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno announced Tuesday that 21-year-old Alejandro Smith pleaded guilty Monday to possessing with intent to distribute heroin.

    Smith, who was a guard at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Eastham Unit in Lovelady, was arrested June 1 after receiving a duffle bag containing heroin from an undercover officer at a parking lot in Huntsville, about 34 miles south of Lovelady.

    Moreno said in a statement that the investigation started after a source told the FBI that Smith was providing contraband to prisoners.

    Smith is set to be sentenced Nov. 21. He faces up to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

    Copyright ©2011 by The Associated Press.


    Three Top Prison Jobs Filled

    By Mike Ward
    August 19, 2011

    Three key positions in the state’s prison system that had been left open through retirements were filled today.

    Bruce Toney, 44, was named inspector general of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; Scott Hornung, 56, was named the internal auditor, and Rudolph Brothers Jr., 61, was named the state counsel for offenders.

    Toney, a 15-year prison system veteran, replaces John Moriarty, who is retiring. Born in Abilene, he worked as a local policeman for five years before joining the prison system. He holds degrees from Western Texas College, LeTorneau University and Sam Houston State University.

    For two years he served as inspector general of the Texas Youth Commission, after that agency was engulfed in a sex-abuse and coverup scandal, before returning to the prison system.

    Hornung, a graduate of the University of Texas, has been with the prison system for 22 years, serving most recently as deputy internal audit director. As the new internal audit director, he replaces Raymond Pyeatt, who is retiring.

    Brothers, who replaces Kim Vernon, will oversee independent appellate work done on behalf of indigent offenders in the prison system. He is currently the chief of general law and immigration for the State Counsel for Offenders. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Brothers holds degrees from Rutgers University and Suffolk University.

    The promotions, affective Sept. 1, were approved unanimously this afternoon by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, the governing board of the state’s prison system.

    Three top prison jobs filled


    August 2, 2011

    2 Estelle Unit employees jailed in smuggling investigation

    By Cody Stark Staff Reporter

    HUNTSVILLE — Two Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees were arrested at the Estelle Unit over the weekend in connection with an investigation concerning contraband being smuggled in to inmates.

    Mary Elizabeth Walker and Yosennia Carolina Dejoie were both booked into the Walker County Jail on Saturday.

    Walker is being held on two counts of bribery and remains in custody on a pair of $50,000 bonds. Dejoie has been charged with having prohibited substances and items in a correctional facility. Dejoie was released Sunday from the Walker County Jail on a $20,000 bond.

    The TDCJ Office of the Inspector General is investigating the matter and would not comment on specifics of the case.

    “I can confirm that we have an on going criminal investigation at the Estelle Unit which has resulted in the arrest of two employees. We do not comment on an open investigation other than that,” Inspector General John Moriarty wrote in an email.

    The Estelle Unit has been placed on lockdown and officials were searching for contraband Monday.

    Walker and Dejoie were correctional officers at the Estelle Unit, which is located 10 miles north of Huntsville on FM 3478. Walker had been employed by TDCJ for two years, and Dejoie had 10 months of service.

    “We take these allegations seriously,” said Michelle Lyons, TDCJ director of public information. “If we hear even a rumor about contraband we are going to act on it and eradicate it from our units.”

    Bribery is a second-degree felony punishable with a minimum of two to 20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

    Prohibited substances and items (weapons, cellular phones, drugs, alcohol or tobacco) in a correctional facility is a third-degree felony, which carries a minimum of two to 10 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.


    Editorial: Guards learn stern lesson

    Posted: April 4, 2011

    It's the kind of story that often doesn't get much attention: a high-risk prison inmate needs to be subdued by several corrections officers.

    It happens all the time in The Joint.

    But four officers at the maximum-security William Clements Jr. Unit in Amarillo allegedly went several steps too far in subduing a particular inmate, who is serving a life sentence for murder.

    Three of them got fired and a fourth was allowed to retire from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    There must be a lesson in there somewhere. As bad as prison life is for convicted criminals who deserve to be locked up, it shouldn't be made worse by corrections officers who use excessive force.

    The incident occurred in June 2010 at the Clements Unit. The inmate, Jackie Ronald Green, allegedly threatened corrections officers, who then reportedly pulled him out of his cell and beat the stuffing out of him.

    A Potter County grand jury indicted the officers on misdemeanor charges of official oppression, which is the name of the offense in which someone allegedly mistreats another person.

    TDCJ fired three of the officers. The fourth, the oldest of the officers, was allowed to retire.

    The case hasn't been adjudicated yet. Therefore, the four men are presumed innocent.

    But an indictment means that there is enough evidence - in grand jurors' minds - to bring this case to trial. And in a community that is relatively friendly toward law enforcement, these indictments send an important message.

    It is that corrections officers are entitled to use force when the need arises to restraint troublesome inmates, but that everyone has lines they never should cross.

    The 3,000-plus inmates at the Clements Unit certainly know it. So should those who are assigned to keep the peace behind those walls.

    Guards learn stern lesson


    March 11, 2011

    Failure rates high on the Texas prison guard career ladder

    Wednesday I mentioned that RIFs (reductions in force) among Texas prison guards could probably be accomplished through attrition instead of having to do actual "layoffs." Today let's look a little closer at the turnover rate among Texas correctional officers, as described in a report (not online) I received in an open records request from TDCJ called "FY 2010 Agency Turnover by Title."

    Here are the total number of Correctional Officer "separations" from TDCJ in FY 2010 for all reasons, along with the respective turnover rates for the employee classifications COs I-V that year.

    CO I: 478, 59.27%
    CO II: 1285, 50.61%
    CO III: 2,366, 28.14%
    CO IV: 814, 11.38%
    CO V: 781, 8.42%

    At least three notable problems jump out:

    1. TDCJ is having a hard time retaining new hires. Someone hired as a CO I who wants to work their way up the ranks has a 80% chance of washing out before they make it to CO III. (Multiplying success rates for the first two categories, i.e., those who didn't "separate" from the agency, one gets .4073 x .4939 = .2012, or a 20.1% success rate, and conversely 80% failure.) In other words, TDCJ must hire and train five CO Is to end up with one, fully trained, more experienced CO III down the line. The others are going to disappear on you.

    2. The agency is hemorrhaging CO IIIs, with 2,366 employees under that classification leaving the agency in FY 2010. Once employees make CO IV, separation rates begin to stabilize as employees presumably decide stick it out for retirement. But that's an 85% washout rate before COs reach that level. The large number of CO III departures is particularly troubling from a management perspective because that's happening after they've been fully trained and completed any probationary period. So replacing them requires not just paying someone else their salary but training, certification, etc., representing a significant drain on the agency.

    3. Both the House and Senate filed budgets anticipate cutting front-line guard pay, eliminating the 7% boost given them in the last biennial budget to increase retention rates. Some of that money was spent on front-end subsidies to attract new hires that will now go away. As the economy improves - particularly as oil prices rise - the struggle to attract and retain employees at TDCJ will only worsen.

    Jobs are scarce, so people are still applying, but from these numbers the job clearly isn't for everyone. Many are called, I suppose, but few are chosen - or more accurately, few ultimately choose to stick with the profession beyond the short term. Apparently this is a job most applicants don't want to do no matter how badly they need the money!

    Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
    Failure rates high on the Texas prison guard career ladder


    Guards fired over abuse charge

    Posted: March 30, 2011
    By Joe Gamm

    State prison officials fired three corrections officers and a fourth retired after investigators accused them of hitting or kicking an inmate at the Clements Unit last year.

    A Potter County grand jury has indicted Lt. John Jowers II, 40; Sgt. Matthew Borunda, 26, and corrections officers Robert Nixon, 24, and Jeremy Bevill, 23, on misdemeanor official oppression charges after a June incident at the Amarillo maximum-security prison unit.

    Official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor, occurs when a public servant, acting under color of their office, intentionally mistreats another person. If convicted of the crime, the defendants face up to a year in jail and a possible $4,000 fine.

    The Special Prosecutions Unit, established to assist district attorneys' offices in prosecuting criminal cases in the Texas prison system, accused the four men of illegally beating an inmate on June 26 last year.

    Jackie Ronald Green, a 46-year-old high-risk inmate in the Clements Unit serving a life sentence for murder, was either threatening to or throwing things at the guards, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice public information officer Jason Clark.

    "The inmate was pulled out of the cell in a use of force," Clark said. "He was pushed against a wall and down to the floor. There was an allegation that an excessive use of force was used in the incident."

    A jury convicted Green of killing a man in Smith County by beating him to death over a three-day period in 2007, court records show.

    Officials contacted by the Amarillo Globe-News did not provide further details or answer questions about whether Green was handcuffed during the June 26 incident at the Amarillo prison.

    The indictments, handed up on March 9, accuse the four corrections officers of causing bodily injury to Green.

    Borunda and Nixon are accused of beating the inmate with their hands or feet.

    Jowers and Bevill are accused of striking Green with their hands or feet or knees, court records show.

    Prison officials fired Borunda, Nixon and Bevill shortly after the incident and Jowers resigned rather than face discipline, Clark said.

    Texas Inspector General John Moriarty, whose office investigates criminal cases in prisons, said in an e-mail that he could not comment on the pending criminal matter. The prosecutions unit also declined to comment on the case.

    Guards fired over abuse charge


    New prison system layoff details

    By Mike Ward
    March 14, 2011

    New details on the layoffs at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have just been made public:
    A total of 568 employees have been laid off so far, 400 who work directly for the corrections agency and 168 others who work for Project RIO, a rehabilitation and jobs-training program.

    Huntsville got hit the hardest, with 258 layoffs. Austin was next with 64, followed by Dallas (14), Beeville (11), Houston (9), Palestine (8), Plainview, Gatesville and Rosharon (6 each), San Antonio and Fort Worth (4 each), Childress and Conroe (2 each) and Sugar Land, Abilene, Amarillo, Beaumont, Harlingen and Henderson (1 each).

    By division, the numbers roll out like this:
    Administrative review/risk management (11), business and finance (47), community justice assistance (13), correctional institutions (64, non-unit based), executive administration (9), facilities (59), health services (8), human resources (23), information technology (21), internal audit (3), manufacturing and logistics (34), inspector general (7), general counsel (6), parole (46), private facilities contract monitoring (15), reentry and integration (5), rehabilitation programs (15), state counsel for offenders (9) and victims services (5).

    New prison system layoff details


    Prison agency proposes 1,000 layoffs, less drug treatment, fewer convict meals

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    Published: Feb. 7, 2011

    State prison officials are considering a budget-cutting plan to lay off more than 1,000 workers , close three drug treatment centers including one in Burnet and reduce the number of meals fed to prisoners on weekends.

    Hundreds of parole and probation officers would be among those laid off. And a slimmed-down menu for prisoners proposes sliced bread instead of hamburger and hot dog buns, powdered milk instead of dairy milk, one dessert per week instead of two and only two meals — brunch and dinner — on Saturdays and Sundays instead of three.

    Prison officials have been meeting privately with legislative leaders in recent days about the $74.5 million in cuts that the Legislative Budget Board ordered during the current fiscal year to help make up for a projected multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall. The cuts were ordered last fall, but the prison agency is just now working out details. The proposed cuts are separate from 10 percent cuts ordered for the next two-year budget, though they would reduce the agency's base spending going in to the 2012-13 budget.

    A draft copy of the proposed reductions was obtained Monday by the Austin American-Statesman.

    Brad Livingston , executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which operates 112 state prisons that house 154,000 convicts and employ more than 35,000 people, could not be reached Monday for comment.

    But in a statement, agency spokesman Jason Clark said officials have not decided to proceed with the draft plan and are seeking input from legislative leaders.

    "Although some of the items identified for reduction can be accomplished without substantially impacting front line agency staff or major criminal justice policy initiatives enacted during recent legislative sessions, some of the items have a much more significant impact on agency operations," he said. "At this time, the agency continues to communicate with the state offices."

    The four-page briefing document warns that the 2.5 percent budget cut ordered last fall, if fully implemented, "could significantly alter all agency operations and compromise the agency's ability to accomplish the core mission of providing public safety."

    If the layoffs begin on April 15, the earliest likely date, about 1,033 full-time positions would be eliminated, the document states. If they do not occur until July, 2,235 positions will have to be eliminated.

    "With few months remaining in this fiscal year, this staffing reduction would be spread throughout all correctional institutions," the document states. "Reduced staffing levels could \u2026 compromise the operations and security of our institutions."

    Draft budgets proposed last month by both the Senate and the House had hefty cuts in treatment programs and prison jobs. But those cuts will not take place until September, when the new two-year budget takes effect.

    The reaction from legislative leaders with authority over prison operations was swift.

    "Tell them that plan is DOA," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, whose committee oversees prison operations. "Their plan could dismantle many of the treatment programs that are making our criminal justice system work right now."

    Rep. Jerry Madden, a Richardson Republican and author of many of the recent prison initiatives that would be cut, agreed.

    "It's a big agency, and there are a lot of other areas that they need to look at," Madden said, "like how many (prison system) employees have cell phones and how many actually need them \u2026 the cheap housing we provide employees, the free haircuts, free food, free laundry — the entitlements that they're not touching."

    Madden also suggested that Texas consider parole for some of the estimated 12,000 foreign-born convicts who are in the country illegally, sending them back to their home countries; an operational reorganization of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; and perhaps voluntary pay cuts to reduce the number of people who will lose their jobs.

    mward@statesman.com; 474-2791

    Prison agency proposes 1,000 layoffs, less drug treatment, fewer convict meals


    2010


    Prison guard accused of sexual assault against inmate

    Posted: November 24
    By JOHN TOMPKINS

    ANGLETON — A Stringfellow prison guard was taken into custody Wednesday morning on charges he forced an inmate to perform a sex act.

    Casmir Irielle, 40, of Angleton, then is accused of threatening to tell other prisoners about the inmate’s sexual assault of a child conviction, court documents state.

    “In a penitentiary environment... he would be subject to physical assault and even death if it became common knowledge that he was convicted of this charge,” the document states.

    Irielle was charged with first-degree felony aggravated sexual assault and he faces up to life in prison if convicted.

    The inmate told Texas Department of Criminal Justice investigators Irielle came into his cubicle at one of the prison dorms and forced him to perform a sex act, court documents state. The inmate was serving his sentence at the Stringfellow Unit, just outside Rosharon.

    TDCJ investigators took DNA evidence from the inmate which matched Irielle’s DNA, said John Moriarty, TDCJ inspector general.

    “We received a warrant for his arrest after we got the DNA results,” Moriarty said. “We have a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault.”

    Irielle started working for TDCJ in February 2009 as a guard at the Stringfellow Unit, TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. He was still employed with TDCJ on Wednesday but most likely will be placed on paid, administrative leave due to his arrest, she said. He will not be allowed back at work.

    The inmate still is serving his sentence for sex assault of a child at the Stringfellow Unit, according to TDCJ online records.

    Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne said she could not speak about the case.

    “We would not comment on pending litigation,” she said.

    Moriarty said the alleged assault angers him because it tarnishes the reputation of TDCJ guards.

    “It makes the 99 percent of the ones doing a good job look bad,” he said.

    Irielle was at the Brazoria County Detention Center late Wednesday on $75,000 bond.

    John Tompkins is senior reporter for The Facts.
    Contact him at 979-849-8581.

    Prison guard accused of sexual assault against inmate


    Jailer charged in prison fight
    Pre-trial scheduled for next month

    November 05, 2010
    BY JIM MUSTIAN

    A former Texas Department of Criminal Justice lieutenant is scheduled to appear in court next month in connection with charges he allowed a prison guard and an inmate to fight at the Lynaugh lockup near Fort Stockton.

    Former Lt. Ruben Rivas faces one count of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony, and one count of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. He has pleaded not guilty to both counts.

    No trial date has been set in the case, but Rivas is scheduled to appear Dec. 14 in 83rd District Court for a pre-trial hearing, according to court records.

    A Pecos County grand jury indicted Rivas in May but declined to indict Edgar Acosta, the jailer who reportedly fought the inmate and later resigned. Grand jurors also declined to indict two TDCJ sergeants who “have been terminated from TDCJ employment,” said John Moriarty, the department’s inspector general.

    Rivas “allowed” Acosta and Lee James Clark, a prisoner serving a 10-year-sentence for robbery, to fight “after they had a verbal argument earlier in the day,” Moriarty said in an e-mail message.

    Moriarty declined to comment on why Rivas was charged with tampering with evidence. He referred further questions to Gina DeBottis of the Special Prosecution Unit, who was not available for comment Friday.

    The charges against Rivas have not previously been reported. His defense attorney, Randol L. Stout of San Angelo, did not respond Friday to a request for comment on the case.

    According to an incident report, the fight happened March 16after Clark disregarded an order to stop as Acosta escorted him through the hallway to lunch. Clark is accused of “walking into” Acosta, who “pushed the offender away from him.”

    Clark assaulted Acosta, according to the report, prompting guards to intervene, handcuff Clark and place him in the “administrative segregation dayroom.” Acosta was later “escorted” into the dayroom after conferring with several of his supervisors, the report states.

    “The officer and the offender began fighting and offender Clark struck officer Acosta once in the mouth, knocking him to the ground,” the report said. Clark was uninjured, while Acosta was treated for minor injuries.

    The day after the fight, Clark was transferred to the Torres unit, a prison just west of Hondo in Medina County, according to TDCJ records.

    Though Rivas was indicted in May, he was not arrested until July 16, Moriarty said. He posted a $15,000 bond the same day and was released, Pecos County jail officials said.

    Rivas had been scheduled to appear for a pre-trial hearing Nov. 16, but his attorney filed a motion seeking to continue that setting, according to the Pecos County District Clerk’s Office.

    Jailer charged in prison fight


    Drug tests of prison workers turn up 13 violations
    Officials say they are pleased with small number of correctional employees who fail random screenings.

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    Published: Oct. 14, 2010

    Turns out the folks who thought new random drug tests of state prison employees might yield surprising numbers were right.

    Surprisingly low, by some measures.

    Of the 1,393 employees who were tested in the first three months of the mandatory program, 13 — about 1 percent — have tested positive for illicit drugs, officials said Thursday.

    All have been recommended for termination.

    So far, three have resigned, nine are in mediation, and one is in the final termination process, said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    Of the 13 employees, nine were correctional officers, three were administrative or clerical workers, and one was a safety officer.

    Seven tested positive for marijuana, two for amphetamines, two for propoxyphene (Darvon), one for benzodiazepines (Xanax or Valium) and one for cocaine.

    "One percent is a positive number, a low number," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, who last summer persuaded prison officials to initiate the program — amid complaints from some corrections officers that mandatory testing was unfair.

    Some threatened to quit.

    "What I think this shows is that we now have one way of finding out what kind of problem we have, or if we have a problem. I think the percentages for other industries may be much higher, so this is good."

    The tests are expected to cost about $300,000 per year. For their part, prison officials said they are pleased — but not surprised — by the low number of positive test results. After all, corrections agency employees must pass a drug test and a background check before they are hired, deputy executive director Bryan Collier noted.

    "I'm glad we're doing these tests," said Brad Livingston, executive director of the corrections agency, which has 40,750 employees and 154,500 convicts in 112 prisons. "I'm glad the number (of positive tests) is low."

    On Monday, Livingston received word to go take a urine test in Huntsville, his first since he started with the agency in 1997.

    He passed.

    mward@statesman.com

    Drug tests of prison workers turn up 13 violations


    After 33 years in Texas prisons, Huntsville warden done
    He was the last to speak to dozens of condemned men - and one woman

    By Michael Graczyk
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Published: Sept. 2, 2010

    HUNTSVILLE — For about 140 people in the past six years, the soft Texas drawl of Charles Thomas O'Reilly was the last voice they heard before they died.

    O'Reilly retired Monday from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit, where he presided over more lethal injections than any other warden. He says he leaves with no reservations, no nightmares.

    "I don't have any intentions of changing my mind, reflecting on how could I have ever done this stuff," he said of the execution duty, which began for him in September 2004 when he took over the 1,700-inmate penitentiary in downtown Huntsville that is more than a century and a half old. "If you think it's a terrible thing, you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. You don't do 140 executions and then all of a sudden think this was a bad thing."

    O'Reilly, who turned 60 Wednesday , retired after more than 33 years with the Texas prison agency. On his last day as warden, he looked as if he were straight out of Central Casting : burly, white-haired and in jeans, a western-style belt with a star dominating the buckle and a black shirt.

    He didn't keep an exact tally of the number of inmates he stood over as they were strapped to the gurney and prepared for injection. The estimated 140 inmates whose executions he oversaw account for about a third of the 463 put to death since Texas resumed capital punishment in 1982.

    Some left an impression, although the only name that came immediately to mind for O'Reilly was Frances Newton, who in 2005 became the third woman executed in Texas in modern times. She was the only woman executed on O'Reilly's watch.

    "One guy, he cracked jokes. He cracked jokes through the whole thing," O'Reilly said. "I can't remember his name. But I remember things like that."

    With witnesses assembled and looking through windows, the chaplain offering a comforting hand on the inmate's leg and the final OK from a prison department executive, O'Reilly stands near the prone inmate's head and leans over.

    "I ask them: Do you wish to make a statement?" he said. "I leave the words 'last' out, or 'final,' or anything like that . \u2026 I just try to keep that out of it."

    The condemned inmates arrive in Huntsville from death row, at a prison about 45 miles to the east, early in the afternoon on the day of an execution. The punishments generally occur just past 6 p.m.

    O'Reilly would meet with inmates when they arrived to explain what would happen.

    "What I want to do is talk to him and figure out his demeanor," he said. "Whenever they get here, they're either angry, extremely upset or nervous. They know why they're here. \u2026 It's weighing kind of heavy on them. One way or another, it's weighing heavy on everyone here.

    "I tell them I want to afford them all the dignity they allow us to. I tell them I'm going to come back at 6 o'clock and tell them: 'It's time.'\u2009"

    Few condemned inmates balked when the "time" arrived, O'Reilly said. "We've had some tell us: 'I'm not going to fight, but I'm not going to walk.' We picked them up and carried them. Ninety-nine percent of them, they walked on their own."

    He told inmates they could say whatever they wanted in their last statement, but it must be in English — "That's all I understand," he said — and it can't be profane. If the obscenities start, so do the drugs.

    "He's got about 15 seconds to do all the cussing he wants to and it will be all over," O'Reilly said. "It is going to be the last thing they're going to say. It ought to mean something. Most of the statements are pretty decent. They apologize to the victim's family and tell their family they love them."

    Once the statement is over, the drugs begin, normally carried through needles inserted in each arm of the prisoner. About five minutes later, a physician is summoned to make the death pronouncement.

    The Huntsville Unit was the 11th stop in a career that took O'Reilly to prisons from one end of Texas to the other beginning in January 1977.

    Edward Smith, a warden who worked as an assistant under O'Reilly, called him a natural leader. "I took from him on how to be cool in the face of crisis, being the warden everyone looks to see if you're in control," Smith said.

    Although he has no qualms about capital punishment, O'Reilly would prefer to remembered for other aspects of his career. He figures he's worked with about three generations of prison staff and sees some of the grandchildren of people who were there when he started.

    "The things I want to stand out in my career, my past, isn't executions," he said.

    After 33 years in Texas prisons, Huntsville warden done


    Budget shortfall could mean 7,300 layoffs for Texas prisons
    Corrections officials say deep spending cuts would endanger public safety.

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    Published: Aug. 16, 2010

    More than 7,300 criminal justice employees would have to be laid off if Texas' corrections agency is required to cut its spending by 15 percent, officials said Monday, warning that such a move could force the closure of several prisons and endanger public safety.

    The prediction came as state corrections officials made public their budget request for 2012-13. The proposal asks for $6 billion and holds the line on much new spending, but it includes more than $720 million to fund already-promised pay raises for correctional and parole officers, and escalating costs of medical care for prisoners, among other items.

    "We are clearly moving into a very tight fiscal time for the state \u2026 and we are trying to maintain a criminal justice system that at this point is stable and sound," said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which operates 112 state prisons that house more than 154,000 felons.

    Livingston and Austin businessman Oliver Bell, chairman of the prison system's governing board, made it clear that they hope to justify an exemption from budget cuts of as much as 15 percent over current spending. Texas is facing an $18 billion revenue shortfall in 2012-13, and state leaders have asked agencies to prepare budget requests that are 10 percent below current spending.

    Last spring, state leaders ordered most agencies to prepare spending cuts of 5 percent in the current budget, but the criminal justice agency was exempted from the requirement and ended up cutting less than 1 percent.

    "Our goal is to keep the public's safety right here in front of us, with our eyes on the ball," Bell said.

    In unveiling the proposed corrections budget, Texas joins a list of states that find themselves hard pressed to continue pay for growing corrections programs as their state revenues plummet.

    Some states have closed prisons. Others have dropped treatment and rehabilitation programs. Others, such as California, have moved to free thousands of prisoners early.

    Texas operates the second-largest prison system in the country.

    Officials said a 15 percent reduction in spending would cut deep.

    "It would be a significant downsizing of the entire enterprise," including the likely closure of several prisons, Livingston said. "It would be an extreme challenge."

    In all, more than 5,100 of the state's 26,300 correctional and parole officers would have to be let go. More than 1,200 beds at privately run prisons would be shuttered, likely meaning at least one such lockup would be closed.

    Funding to local probation programs would drop by $51.9 million, limiting the number of offenders — who otherwise might have been sent to a state prison — that local officials could serve in community-based programs. Counseling and rehabilitation initiatives that have helped felons successfully transition back into tax-paying residents would be curtailed. Cash-strapped health care programs for convicts would come up even shorter, with at least 740 fewer medical staff members.

    "All of these items are critical to the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, and the impact of not funding them will likely increase recidivism, cause significant growth in the prison population and negatively impact both supervision within the community and security within our institutions," a budget briefing document said.

    At a prison board meeting in Austin, where the proposed budget was approved Monday, board member Terrell McCombs of San Antonio echoed the concerns of others by asking whether public safety would be compromised if the Legislature mandated the deep cuts, as proposed.

    "Yes sir," said Jerry McGinty, the agency's chief financial officer. "To cut one area would have a devastating impact on the other areas."

    mward@statesman.com

    Where would the layoffs occur?

    Correctional security operations 4,122
    Institutional services 1,208
    Unspecified correctional and parole divisions 636
    Parole supervision 518
    Correctional unit support 477
    Administartive support 179
    Treatment services 85
    Offender services 56
    Correctional industries 42
    Information technology 30
    Total 7,353

    Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice legislative appropriations request

    Budget shortfall could mean 7,300 layoffs for Texas prisons


    Texas prison guard accused of child porn

    The Associated Press
    Aug. 5, 2010

    PALESTINE, Texas — A 47-year-old Texas prison guard is accused of possession of child pornography.

    Attorney General Greg Abbott's office Thursday announced the arrest of Allen Lynn Ward of Palestine (PAL'-uhs-teen).

    The arrest Wednesday stemmed from a referral by the Oregon Department of Justice, which notified Texas authorities that Ward's personal e-mail account appeared to be involved in trading child pornography.

    Investigators who searched Ward's home say they recovered images on his computer and in print.

    He was in the Anderson County Jail under $1 million bond. If convicted, Ward faces two to 10 years in prison.

    Texas prisons spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says Ward worked since February at the Gurney Unit in Anderson County. She says he resigned Wednesday.

    Copyright 2010, The Associated Press.

    Texas prison guard accused of child porn


    Prison official urges convicted guards should serve time where they worked

    June 21, 2010
    Mike Ward
    Austin American-Statesman

    AUSTIN – Oliver Bell, chairman of the state prison system's governing board, is championing an unorthodox new punishment for prison guards who are convicted of crimes and sentenced to do hard time: Send them back to the same prison as inmates.

    "If you get caught doing wrong, I want you to go back to where you [worked]," Bell said during a board meeting last week in Austin, as surprised prison officials looked on.

    "I think it will be a deterrent – even if we just take them back to that unit and walk them through as an inmate."

    Generally, prison officials consider convicted police and prison guards as among the most likely prisoners to get assaulted. For that reason, they are kept in protective custody while they do their time – and almost never at the same prison where they once worked.

    Hundreds of Texas' 45,000 correctional employees are arrested each year on charges such as drug smuggling and domestic violence. Prison officials don't know how many are convicted but said many are placed on probation, and relatively few are sent to prison.

    Bell said his plan would help stress that criminal conduct by guards – whether it is smuggling contraband to prisoners, theft or bribery – "is not going to be tolerated at this agency."

    Bell, who is the chief executive of an Austin labor relations consulting business, was appointed chairman of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice board by Gov. Rick Perry in 2007.

    His comments came as the board was briefed on a new program to administer random drug tests to state prison employees, as a way to curb contraband and improve security.

    Officials said they plan to test 9,600 corrections department employees a year, or about 800 a month. The testing is to begin in August, said Brad Livingston, executive director of the agency.

    The program will cost more than $278,000 – at a time when prison officials are being asked to perhaps trim another 10 percent from their already-strained budget for 2012-13.

    In recent months, Bell said, he has repeatedly announced his ideas about convicted guards as he has toured some of the state's 112 prisons. "Usually the response is applause," he said.

    Bell said he requested several months ago that prison officials take a guard at a Southeast Texas prison who was convicted of a felony back to that prison to set an example to inmates and the correctional officers. He said he was never told whether his request was carried out.

    Livingston said he did not recall Bell's request.

    John Moriarty, the agency's inspector general who investigates prison crimes, said a correctional officer was convicted several months ago in a contraband-smuggling episode at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont.

    But he said he doubted that the former officer, as a convict, would be returned to Stiles.

    House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, said he wholeheartedly supports Bell's intent "that we're not going to put up with any wrongdoing."

    But, he added, "I'm not sure I'm wildly enthusiastic about doing that. I think we need some more discussion about that."

    Mike Ward,
    Austin American-Statesman

    Prison official urges convicted guards should serve time where they worked


    Random drug tests for prison employees

    By Mike Ward
    June 10, 2010

    In a new push designed to bolster security and curb contraband in Texas’ massive prison system, officials for the first time plan to order random drug tests for of majority of the state’s 41,000 corrections employees — including all guards and parole officers.

    Bryan Collier, deputy director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the new policy expected to be unveiled next week is designed to raise staffing standards inside Texas’ 112 state prisons.

    Like other state prison systems, Texas’ state-run lockups have had chronic problems with contraband — highlighted two years ago when a death-row convict used a smuggled cell phone to call a key state senator.

    A zero-tolerance policy since then had resulted in the seizure of thousands of weapons, drugs, phones and other illicit items — but a smuggled gun used in an escape and a string of other headline-grabbing incidents have made prison contraband a continuing public-safety issue.

    While prison officials insisted the costs of the random tests are still being calculated, union officials suggested the program could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    “At a time when they’re not filling positions, and a lot of people expect there could be layoffs, is this the best time to do this?” said Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional employees’ union that represents more than 6,000 prison workers. “We have a lot of questions about how this will be done, a lot of questions.”

    While officials have for years conducted random drug tests on convicts and parolees, the change marks the first time that agency employees ranging — ranging from rookie guards to Collier and Executive Director Brad Livingston — will have faced the same mandate.

    The agency has more than 41,300 employees, including more than 29,200 correctional officers and supervisors and nearly 1,300 parole officers.

    “It will cover a majority of the agency’s employees,” Collier said.

    “Any of us who are in this business, if people are doing drugs, we don’t want them working in the institutions. It’s not safe.”

    Collier and other officials said the new program will go into effect later this summer, with employees selected for the random tests through a computer-generated list. Employees who are asked to take a drug test will go to a private lab chosen by the state and provide a specimen.

    Additional details of the new program are to be made public next week during a meeting of the prison system’s nine-member governing board.

    Initial response from prison employees has been mixed, although Collier and other officials said they are confident most workers will embrace the policy once he details are announced.

    The agency has for some time required pre-employment drug tests, and has tested some workers for cause — if there was suspicion that they might be using drugs. But there have been no random tests for employees.

    House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, said he has been told the random testing will begin on or before Aug. 31. He said he pushed for the new policy after quizzing a warden last spring about what he needed to stop the flow of illicit contraband into his prison.

    “He said: Random drug tests,” McReynolds said.

    “This is a no-brainer. It should have been done a long time ago …

    My son is with the Lufkin fire department. They do random testing.

    Other state agencies do random testing of employees. It makes sense we should be doing this in our prison system.”

    McReynolds and Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, said they think the random tests will help curb Texas’ chronic problems with contraband in its prisons.

    “If the leadership believes that this will deter contraband and create a safer working environment for correctional officers, who could oppose it,” Whitmire said.

    McReynolds echoed the sentiment. “With these random tests, we’re trying to get after those employees who could be bringing drugs and other contraband in — absolutely,” he said. “We’re trying to get after those employees who may smoke dope or use drugs, and may be more likely to be involved in illegal activity.

    “We may have an exodus of (correctional officers), but I don’t think we care about that. Anyone who would object to this testing at the largest agency in the state probably shouldn’t be working there.”

    As initial word about the new policy trickled in recent days, some correctional officers have questioned whether their rights will be adequately preserved — whether they will be allowed to take a second test at a lab of their own choice if the first one registers positive for drugs, how the same testing standards will be maintained statewide if as many as 100 testing labs are, whether employees will be allowed to use their own labs instead of a state-designated lab.

    “Most states do some form of testing, and that’s not the issue,” Olsen said. “We want to make sure the standards and procedures are fair and that they’re fairly administered.”

    Random drug tests for prison employees


    TDCJ extends drug testing to staff
    Sen. Whitmire hails decision to include employees in random checks

    By ALLAN TURNER
    HOUSTON CHRONICLE
    June 10, 2010

    JOHN WHITMIRE said he “can't imagine why anyone would object” to the policy.

    State Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime critic of what he considers lax state prison security, on Thursday praised prison administrators' decision to extend random drug testing to tens of thousands of agency employees.

    Whitmire, chairman of the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, called the testing plan “one more tool to use in removing contraband from prisons.” The plan will be presented next week to the prison system's governing board.

    TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said no date has been set for the start of the random urine testing, which will apply to approximately 26,000 correctional officers, 1,300 parole officers and other personnel holding security-related jobs.

    She said the testing is an extension of routine screening of job applicants and employees suspected of substance abuse. In the last fiscal year, she said, 69 of 10,180 job applicants failed the drug test; 13 of 60 employees suspected of drug abuse tested positive.

    Considered in the past

    Lyons said employees who test positive will face administrative sanctions, including termination.

    Lyons stopped short of describing the measure as an attempt to control contraband smuggling that has plagued a number of the agency's 112 prisons.

    “It's something that has been considered in the past,” she said. “Some other states have been doing it for a while.”

    Whitmire, D-Houston, said the random testing is “long overdue,” adding that sources have informed him that some prison employees engaged in smuggling drugs into lockups are themselves substance abusers.

    “I can't imagine why anyone would object,” Whitmire said. “It ought to improve the safety and working conditions of all prison employees. Most major law enforcement organizations have such a policy. Let's get on with it.”

    Special search teams

    Random drug testing is the latest in a series of measures implemented by prison authorities in an effort to enhance prison security. Earlier, the department created special teams to search inmates' cells for contraband, installed video cameras and tightened security checks for those entering prisons.

    Many of the measures were prompted by last November's escape of convicted rapist Arcade Comeaux Jr., who used an apparently smuggled pistol to overcome two armed guards transporting him to another prison.

    Additionally, efforts to curb the spread of contraband cell phones were stepped up after an inmate used one to telephone Whitmire from death row.

    About 900 contraband telephones were confiscated at state prisons last year.

    allan.turner@chron.com

    TDCJ extends drug testing to staff


    OP-ED: Prison cells pose threat to guards, inmates, 'hit targets'

    By From The Huntsville Times
    May 30, 2010
    By Jon Ozmint

    HUNTSVILLE, Ala. _ In 2007, a federal witness in Baltimore was murdered after a Maryland inmate put out a "hit" using a cell phone. Largely because of that tragedy, in October 2009 the U.S. Senate finally passed the Safe Prisons Communications Act.

    The purpose of the Act is to allow surgical jamming of cell phones inside of prisons.

    Seemingly every week, published reports depict new crimes committed by inmates with cell phones. Just last month authorities in Indiana announced arrests in a methamphetamine ring that was operated by an inmate using cell phones.

    Alabama confiscated 3,100 cell phones from state inmates last year, a problem State Prison Commissioner Richard Allen said is a huge safety and security threat in Alabama prisons. Allen said the devices are smuggled in body cavities, through corrupt guards, by inmate work crews, and thrown over fences along with chargers and prepaid calling cards.

    Washington politicians can only feign surprise.

    Over a year ago, I offered the following prediction: "Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before another witness, judge, prosecutor, or innocent victim is killed as a result of efforts coordinated by an inmate using a cell phone.

    When that happens, I hope that the U.S. Senate will remember the warnings of correctional professionals and the recalcitrance of the FCC."

    On March 5, 2010, the home of a South Carolina Department of Corrections captain was invaded. The assailant shot the unarmed Captain Johnson six times, leaving him almost lifeless. His bullet-riddled body has since endured almost a dozen surgeries and he still faces more. The reason: because this contraband captain intercepted packages that were thrown over the fence line of his maximum security prison.

    The primary contraband in those throw-overs: anonymous, prepaid, cell phones. The tool used to coordinate those throw-overs: anonymous, prepaid cell phones. And, the tool used to put out the "hit" on Captain Johnson: an anonymous, prepaid cell phone.

    While cell phones are contraband in prison, contraband can get past even the best detection systems. X-ray scanners, metal detectors, drug and bomb dogs, and the best of search techniques are all creations of human ingenuity and they can all be defeated by human ingenuity.

    However, surgical jamming technology, already used by our federal government and already used in prisons in other countries, can eliminate this threat.

    More than a year after we demonstrated surgical jamming technology here in South Carolina, the FCC finally allowed Maryland to host a demonstration of surgical jamming.

    The demoncrations proved that surgical jamming does not interfere with law enforcement radios or block E-911 calls, or any frequency outside of the prison perimeter.

    In order to get the Safe Prisons Communications Act passed by the U.S. Senate, so many concessions were made to the wireless industry that if the bill became law tomorrow, it would be at least two years before any prison could get approval for surgical jamming.

    Even with so many concessions, as soon as the Act passed the Senate, the wireless industry began using its considerable financial resources to influence the U.S. House of Representative and the Obama Administration's Commerce Department, which immediately weighed in against the bill that passed U.S. Senate unanimously.

    Out of respect for Captain Johnson, other victims, and law enforcement officers everywhere, these profit protecting concessions should now be removed from the Act and Congress should pass a bill allowing the immediate use of surgical jamming in prisons and jails.

    If Congress fails to act, more "hits" will be forthcoming from inmates across the country using anonymous prepaid cell phones.

    I understand why the cellular industry is fighting to protect the untraceable, prepaid cell phone market: the phones are highly profitable.

    Our elected officials and the FCC knew that the threat created by cell phone use in prisons could be eliminated without interfering with outside calls yet did nothing. Captain Johnson last month became a victim twice - the victim of a cowardly criminal and, he is the victim of a Washington political culture more concerned with protecting powerful special interests than with promoting public safety.

    Jon Ozmint is director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Alabama Prison Commissioner Richard Allen forwarded this op-ed with Ozmint's permission.

    Prison cells pose threat to guards, inmates, 'hit targets'


    Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Inspector General's Office investigating inmate's death

    May 21, 2010
    Houston Chronicle

    HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The death of a blind inmate after a confrontation with correctional officers at the Estelle Prison Unit is being investigated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Inspector General's Office.

    Thord Dockray, known as "Catfish," a 42-year-old inmate from Lubbock County serving a five-year sentence for assault on a public servant, died May 13, the day after correctional officers used force against him when he became combative in his prison cell.

    Dockray's actions and the confrontation were captured on videotape.

    Dockray, housed alone in a cell in the prison's medical wing, began assaulting prison staff around 9:20 p.m. May 12 by throwing urine on them, said TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark.

    A five-man team of correctional officers entered Dockray's cell and restrained him, Clark said. He was taken to the infirmary, where he was combative and uncooperative with medical staff and refused treatment several times, officials said. After he returned to his cell, security checked on him every half-hour, Clark said.

    The next day, Dockray was found lying face down in the cell. He was pronounced dead at Huntsville Memorial Hospital, TDCJ reports show.

    Houston Chronicle

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Inspector General's Office investigating inmate's death


    Court records detail prison smuggling scheme
    Inmates running drugs, laundering money with help of guards, family members, documents state.

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATEMAN STAFF
    Published: May 5, 2010

    Troubling new details surfaced Wednesday about the depth of illegal smuggling inside Texas' massive prison system, including revealing glimpses into how convicts may be operating drug- and money-laundering rackets with the help of guards and family members.

    The new information surfaced in 20 pages of court filings in Travis County, revealing that authorities are investigating a 21-year-old Waco woman and at least five convicts for alleged organized criminal activity at the Coffield Unit near Palestine in East Texas.

    According to a search-warrant affidavit, investigators listening in on phone calls made by several convicts at Coffield and intercepting ingoing and outgoing mail believe that some convicts are arranging for their family members to deposit money in one another's accounts, with the arranging inmate taking a cut of as much as 25 percent.

    Thousands of dollars were being funneled through the scheme, according to the affidavit. In another intercepted phone call, one convict admitted buying drugs from another convict — and "although he did not observe guards deliver any dope, he knew they had."

    According to the affidavit, the Waco woman "drops the dope off to someone, then the dope is brought into the prison by an unknown person."

    In one instance last month, the affidavit by prison investigator Manuel Fuentes states, a Coffield convict who is believed to be a point man in the alleged smuggling and money-laundering told his mother in a phone call that he would write her with details on how to handle money orders she was depositing into his prison account.

    The letter never left the prison through the regular mail, the affidavit states, and the investigator said he "believes that (the convict) received assistance from a (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) employee to deliver the letter" to the Waco woman, who authorities believe was acting as a go-between in the scheme.

    The woman was identified in the affidavit as Natalie Johnson, 21, a Baylor University student whose brother is Jerome Rosette, the Coffield convict who is identified as the point man.

    Efforts to reach Johnson by phone on Wednesday were unsuccessful. She has not been charged with any crime, officials said, although computers, financial records and an assortment of other records were seized from her Waco apartment during a Tuesday search by police.

    "I got $120 from Billy F. I am about to add him to my frequent sender's list. Ha, ha," Johnson wrote in an e-mail to one of the Coffield inmates, according to the affidavit.

    The prison system, which recently became the last in the country to install an inmate phone system, also contracts with a company to allow approved friends and family to send e-mails to offenders.

    According to the affidavit, one convict in a phone call "explained to his father how drugs are brought into the prison through prison guards. He told him that guards make only $7.50 an hour and that offenders can get whatever they want from the guards. \u2026 It was just like in the movies. No one was going to stop it, not even the President, as long as there was money to be made."

    Prison officials heading the investigation remained tight-lipped, refusing to discuss details. They said the unexpected disclosure of the affidavit, though revealing the details of what authorities believe is a seldom-seen netherworld of smuggling, could compromise an ongoing investigation.

    "This is an active investigation. We aren't going to discuss anything," said John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general. "But it's no secret that inmates are moving money and contraband in a network that's very complicated to investigate and track down."

    "I think you can assume this is just the tip of the iceberg."

    Other prison officials confirmed that the investigation of the Coffield smuggling ring is quickly expanding to include family members and additional convicts.

    They said the convicts identified as being involved in the Coffield smuggling ring have been placed on lockdown.

    The details revealed in Wednesday's affidavit show that the telephone system that was installed last year in Texas prisons to allow convicts to make calls — with an elaborate security component that records all conversations and allows convicts to call only pre-cleared people at verified numbers — is proving its worth in allowing investigators to detect possible criminal activity that would not have been possible before.

    The details emerged as prison officials have continued to wage a crackdown to curb smuggling since a condemned murderer on death row, Richard Tabler, used a smuggled cell phone to call — and later threaten — a state senator in October 2008.

    In the months since, prison officials have seized thousands of smuggled cell phones, drugs, booze, weapons, cash and other illegal items from convicts or from prison grounds.

    The crackdown was ramped up last year after a convict escaped from the Estelle High-Security Unit near Huntsville, using a loaded pistol that had been smuggled to him. Investigators still do not know how Arcade Joseph Comeaux got the gun.

    Alerted to the Coffield investigation by a reporter, state Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who was called by Tabler, said the initial details underscore his continuing calls for a zero-tolerance policy on prison contraband.

    mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

    Court records detail prison smuggling scheme


    As prison system tries to shape up, so do the guards
    Physical testing mandated after escapes, smuggling troubles

    By ALLAN TURNER
    HOUSTON CHRONICLE
    April 18, 2010

    IT'S HEAVE-HO, TOUCH YOUR TOES

    For the first time in five years, Texas prison workers are being required to prove their physical fitness.

    Who's involved: Approximately 26,000 current correctional officers and all applicants for correctional officer academy admission.

    What's involved: Pull-ups, push-ups, deep squats, lifting/carrying a 45-pound weight, ladder climb and a quarter-mile walk-run.

    How many tested: Most recent count is 691, all but three passing And if they fail? : Policy still is being determined, but initially those who fail would be allowed to try again.

    Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

    Push-ups, sit-ups, and deep squats are among the state prison system's new weapons in combating the criticism the agency has received for a series of spectacular escapes and its ongoing crisis with smuggled contraband.

    The so-called physical agility testing joins stiffened academic standards for entry tests and in-service training as a way to enhance the professionalism of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's 26,000-plus cadre of correctional officers.

    Those men and women — at once the agency's strength and its Achilles heel — are the front line in the operation and security at the state's 112 prisons.

    Testing for TDCJ academy applicants began in March, and by April 9, 691 people had completed the requirement, all but three passing. Current employees, who will be required to pass the test annually, will be tested later this year.

    On April 2, 19-year corrections officer Robert Goodley, 50, died of a heart attack after participating in an agility practice session. A family member said Goodley, who stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 220 pounds, suffered heart problems.

    The fitness testing and other measures are among steps TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston pledged would be taken in the wake of the November escape of rapist Arcade Joseph Comeaux Jr. from the Huntsville-area Estelle Unit.

    Comeaux's escape — he pulled a pistol on two correctional officers driving him to another prison, handcuffed them together and stole their van — came just two months after burglar Joshua Barnes bored a large hole in a prison hospital wall, fashioned a 40-foot rope from sheets and lowered himself seven stories to a Galveston street.

    For the past two weeks, authorities have scoured South Texas for Jose Bustos-Diaz, a Houston murderer, and kidnapper Octavio Ramos Lopez, who broke out of a Dilley prison by crawling through a workshop ventilation fan duct and then cut a fence.

    Comeaux's escape brought the firing of nine Estelle Unit employees — correctional officers and top prison administrators — and a tongue-lashing from state Sen. John Whitmire, who called for replacement of COs at key prison posts with independent, state-trooper- level guards.

    Tasks assigned points

    The Houston Democrat, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has decried low wages and training standards for correctional officers. He also has criticized smuggling that plagues state prisons. Last year, more than 1,000 contraband cell telephones were found within prison walls.

    Prison spokesman Jason Clark last week said that no “one specific incident” prompted TDCJ brass to mandate agility testing.

    The tests — the first since February 2005 — require men and women to perform a sequence of physical feats, each assigned a numerical value. To pass they must accumulate 75 points.

    Major components of the test include continuously climbing up and down a ladder five times, 20 points; carrying a 45-pound weight 30 yards in one minute, 10 points; and walking or running one-fourth of a mile in 5 ½ minutes, 25 points.

    Push-ups, sit-ups and deep squats are valued at one point each.

    After reviewing the requirements, Dan O'Connor, assistant professor at University of Houston's Department of Health and Human Performance, opined that the tests might be challenging, but not undoable, for a sedentary, middle-age male.

    Union welcomes tests

    Still, he said, some of the tests, specifically the weight carrying, might be more difficult than they appear. “A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, so that's like carrying 5 gallons of water,” he said. “ That's not unheard-of, but it's not an easy thing to do.”

    The ladder climb also might present challenges. “That's like lifting your whole body weight one foot at a time,” he said.

    Brian Olsen, Texas director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing correctional officers, applauded the agility testing.

    “I think they need people who can walk and talk,” he said. “... It's essential that COs be able to climb a ladder, to walk down hallways. In the past they sometimes hired people who couldn't do anything.” Olsen, who described himself as a former football player who now tops 300 pounds, said he completed the test with no undue strain.

    Clark said employees who fail the test can take it again. No decision has been reached on how to handle current employees who never pass. The same standards apply to men and women and to employees with pre-existing medical conditions.

    National trend

    Phillip Lyons, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, said prison systems increasingly are enacting agility testing.

    “Agencies are finding cost savings associated with that,” he said. “There is less medical-related absenteeism. A healthier work force can be less costly.

    Another issue: When officers are in better shape there are fewer instances of using excessive force.”

    Spokesmen in some other big-prison states indicated they also require agility testing. In Georgia for instance, men and women corrections officers will have to pass agility testing involving push-ups, sit-ups and a 1-mile walk-run, by the end of 2012.

    Spokesmen in some other big-prison states indicated they also require agility testing. In Georgia for instance, men and women corrections officers will have to pass agility testing involving push-ups, sit-ups and a 1-mile walk-run, by the end of 2012.

    Raising the bar for Texas correctional officers, both physically and academically, has been tied to efforts to make the job more appealing. New and returning officers are being offered a $1,500 sign-up bonus, and, beginning in September, starting pay will be raised to $2,319 a month.

    Even with those incentives, though, the job remains demanding — and often dangerous.

    Last year, TDCJ records reveal, 4,547 injuries were reported among the system's COs — 869 of them resulting from “aggressive action.”

    Systemwide, TDCJ experiences an annual turnover among COs in excess of 20 percent; at present the agency has about 400 CO vacancies.

    allan.turner@chron.com

    As prison system tries to shape up, so do the guards


    Prison cuts: 3,000 jobs, meds, programs to get axe

    By Mike Ward
    February 16, 2010

    Nearly 3,100 jobs of prison guards, parole officers and other officials would be eliminated, privately run prisons would be closed, highly touted treatment and rehabilitation programs would be cut and medical care would be significantly reduced under a proposed 5-percent budget reduction plan unveiled today.

    Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, warned that the $294.3 million in cuts requested by state leaders “will likely increase recidivism, cause significant growth in the prison population …

    negatively impact both supervision in the community and security within our institutions.”

    In addition, Livingston predicted that the reductions would “remove all flexibility to manage potential fiscal shortfalls and operational challenges” by the agency.

    Because of those concerns, Livingston requested the prison system be exempted from all but $50.4 million of the cuts.

    Highlights, from the budget-reduction plan that was just made public:

    Some 2,037 jobs for correctional officers would be eliminated to save $84.4 million, even though the report warns that the change would result in “reduced staff levels that would place public safety and and security of our institutions at risk.”

    To save $41.9 million, prison medical clinics would stop providing over-the-counter medications to convicts, dietary services would be eliminated, an infirmary at UT-Tyler would be closed, convicts leaving prison would be given a prescription form rather than a 10-day supply of medications, most prison clinics would see their already-reduced hours of operation cut even more, dental and mental health services would be reduced, and voluntary and routine HIV and Hepatitis C testing would be suspended. In addition, the planned opening of a new prison hospital in Marlin would be delayed for a year to save another $10.3 million.

    Jobs of approximately 195 parole officers would be eliminated, increasing the number of parolees that each officer will have to supervise and likely increasing revocation rates — which will put more people back in prison.

    Funding to the state’s 122 county probation departments would be cut by $22 million, forcing the reduction of 162 probation officers. That would mean that the remaining officers will have to supervise more felons on probation, that revocation rates will increase so more people will go to prison and that successful programs that divert people from prison will be thwarted, officials said.

    Academic and vocational training programs would be cut by $200,000, leaving 370 offenders without those programs and hindering rehabilitation, officials said.

    Some 400 beds in halfway houses would be cut to save $1.6 million, leaving more people in prisons, which cost more to operate.

    To save $42 million, 465 prison jobs would be eliminated in food service, farming operations and maintenance divisions. An additional 75 administrative support positions would be cut to save $3.9 million, reducing correctional training and investigative initiatives.

    Another 198 support positions would be eliminated in state prisons that “will negatively impact our ability to manage” day-to-day functions, officials said.

    Some $7.8 million would be cut from substance-abuse treatment programs, meaning that 1,346 fewer prisoners would have access to the programs. That would keep more people in prison longer and would likely increase recidivism.

    Some $10.7 million in funding for 817 beds in privately run prisons would be eliminated, reducing the state’s prison capacity. The savings would be $10.7 million.

    Prison cuts: 3,000 jobs, meds, programs to get axe


    Prison worker posted of heartbreak before deadly double shooting

    By Erin Quinn
    Tribune-Herald staff writer
    February 17, 2010

    Days before police say David Louis Henry killed his ex-girlfriend and himself on the Coryell County Courthouse steps, he wrote on his MySpace page that he was feeling lost, distressed and broken.

    “Live, love and never surrender,” the prison maintenance supervisor wrote. “Don’t take life too serious. No one gets out alive. If you run, you only die tired.”

    Gatesville police say Henry, 46, argued with 42-year-old Carrie Dean Stroope in the courthouse parking lot just before 4:30 p.m. Monday, then pushed her to the ground and shot her. He then ran toward the courthouse doors, which were locked for Presidents Day, and killed himself, police say.

    Gatesville police say David Louis Henry, 46, argued with his ex- girlfriend in the courthouse parking lot, then pushed her to the ground and shot her. He then ran toward the courthouse doors, which were locked for President’s Day, and killed himself.

    Stroope was seeing a counselor Monday afternoon at an office near the courthouse, where she sought therapy regarding her and Henry’s relationship, police say.

    Henry wrote on his MySpace page that she broke up with him late last month.

    On Jan. 26, Henry posted: “Well, it’s crazy again. As much as we care about each other, Carrie is moving out again. She needs to decide what her priorities are in her life.”

    Police say they don’t know why Henry and Stroope were near the courthouse Monday or what they were arguing about.

    On Feb. 4, Henry posted that he was “feeling lost” in life. The next day he wrote, “This is not a life.”

    The graduate of Central Texas College in Killeen later apologized online to his friends, who posted comments expressing concern about his welfare.

    Hours before meeting with Stroope on Monday, Henry wrote he was “distressed” and wished his friends a happier Valentine’s Day than he had.

    The next post was from his daughter reporting that her father had shot Stroope and then himself.

    Henry was hired in November 2005 at the Lane Murray prison unit in Gatesville, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said Tuesday.

    Police said Tuesday it was unclear why Henry was in the parking lot near the office at which Stroope was seeking counseling.

    Attempts to reach family and friends of Stroope and Henry on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

    equinn@wacotrib.com
    757-5748

    Prison worker posted of heartbreak before deadly double shooting


    Two wardens retire after escape

    By Mike Ward
    January 12, 2010

    Two top wardens at the Huntsville prison where a wheelchair-bound convict escaped last month in a headline-grabbing escapade have chosen to retire rather than face disciplinary proceedings, prison officials confirmed today.

    Senior Warden Alfonso Castillo, 50, and Assistant Warden Thomas Hunt, 48, announced their retirements Monday as two other prison officials who were earlier recommended for termination have appealed and asked for mediation to try and keep their jobs, said prison system spokesman Jason Clark.

    Castillo was the warden at the Estelle Unit east of Huntvsille, and Hunt was the supervisor of the Estelle High-Security Unit — a prison within Estelle — where Arcade Comeaux Jr. was housed before he escaped.

    Each had about 25 years’ service with the prison system, Clark said. Their retirements will be effective Jan. 31.

    Using a pistol that had been smuggled into prison for him, Comeaux, 49, overpowered two guards in early December who were transferring him to a Beaumont prison. Though he was supposed to be confirmed to a wheelchair, he fled on foot after forcing the guards to drive him to Baytown, near Houston.

    He fled with their shotguns and wearing a guard uniform he stole from one of the guards.

    Comeaux was recaptured a week later after an extensive manhunt. He was found in northeast Houston, still armed and still wearing the gray uniform.

    The escape has heightened criticism of the agency over continuing problems with contraband. A year ago, a convict from death row who called a state senator on a smuggled cell phone triggered a system-wide lockdown and cell-by-cell search of all 112 state prisons and officials have worked since then to bolster security at all prisons.

    Clark said that Thomas L. Hutt, 43, the major of correctional officers at the Estelle prison, was recommended for firing and has asked for mediation, as has Correctional Officer David Delaney, 52.

    Clark said Hutt was accused of violating agency rules, and Delaney was accused of delivering notes between convicts at Estelle, including Comeaux. That is a violation of prison rules.

    Hutt has been with the system more than 16 years, and Delaney a year and half.

    Earlier, four other correctional officers and supervisors retired or were recommended for firing for alleged rules violations in the escape. Included were the two guards who Comeaux took hostage at gunpoint.

    Comeaux, currently facing escape and kidnapping charges in Montgomery County, is serving three life sentences for sexually assaulting a child and for repeatedly stabbing his wife during a visit at another prison in 1999, officials said.

    Categories: Criminal justice

    Two wardens retire after escape


    Wardens quit in wake of Comeaux escape

    By JAMES PINKERTON
    HOUSTON CHRONICLE
    Jan. 12, 2010

    Two high-ranking wardens at the Estelle Unit prison in Huntsville retired in lieu of disciplinary action and the major of correctional officers and a guard are fighting dismissal as a result of continued investigation into last month's escape of Houston convict Arcade Comeaux Jr., according to the Texas prison system.

    The two Estelle officials, Senior Warden Alfonso Castillo, 50, and Assistant Warden Thomas Hunt, 48, both elected to retire instead of facing of disciplinary proceedings. Thomas L. Hutt, 43, the major of correctional Officers, and has requested mediation after prison officials recommended he be fired.

    A fourth Estelle employee, correctional officer David Delaney, 52, has also begun mediation after prison officials recommended he be fired for delivering notes and contraband among convicts in the prison.

    Comeaux, 49, was recaptured in north Houston after he pulled a pistol on two correction officers who were transporting him from Huntsville to a prison in Beaumont. He was serving three life sentences for sexually assaulting a child and for repeatedly stabbing his wife during a 1999 prison visit.

    james.pinkerton@chron.com

    Wardens quit in wake of Comeaux escape


    Ex-Stiles Unit guard smuggled drugs, cell phones

    Associated Press
    Jan. 12, 2010

    BEAUMONT — Sentencing is Feb. 16 for a now-former Stiles Unit guard who tried to smuggle drugs and cell phones in his lunch container.

    Prosecutors say 25-year-old Eric Talmore pleaded guilty Monday in Beaumont to bribery and having a prohibited substance in a correctional facility. He faces a maximum 30 years in prison.

    Investigators say Talmore on Feb. 3, 2009, was caught with the banned items as he arrived for work. Talmore had tobacco in his socks and rolling paper in his underwear. The wrapped marijuana and cell phones were in fried rice that Talmore said was his lunch.

    Investigators say Talmore apparently previously did not have his food checked, but was caught when a different sergeant was on duty and scanned the clear container.

    Defense attorney Audwin Samuel is seeking probation for Talmore.

    Ex-Stiles Unit guard smuggled drugs, cell phones


    2009


      Texas prison guard accused in stabbing deaths

      Posted on Sunday, 12.27.09
      THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

      ROSENBERG, Texas -- Authorities say they are looking for a Texas prison guard accused of stabbing his wife and mother-in-law to death in front of children.

      Rosenberg police Lt. Colin Davidson says 44-year-old Albert James Turner is facing murder charges after an argument at the home of his in-laws turned violent early Sunday in the Houston suburb.

      Davidson tells the Houston Chronicle that Turner was identified as the suspect by eyewitnesses, including a child who called 911. The sound of children screaming can be heard in the background on the tape.

      Police say Turner could be headed to the Orlando, Fla., area, where he has family.

      The victims were Turner's 39-year-old wife, Keitha Frank Turner, and her mother, 66-year-old Betty Jo Frank.

      Texas prison guard accused in stabbing deaths


      Another Officer Fired After Escape
      Arcade Comeaux Captured After Week On Run

      POSTED: December 16, 2009

      HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Another Texas Department of Criminal Justice employee has been terminated following a prisoner's escape during a transfer, KPRC Local 2 reported.

      TDCJ officials said Correctional Officer III Crystal M. Allen, 45, was dismissed for the violation of establishing a relationship with an offender.

      Arcade Comeaux, 49, is charged with pulling a gun and taking two transport officers hostage as he bolted to freedom on Nov. 30. He was captured after one week on the run.

      Officials said Comeaux claims he got the gun with help from a nurse and a senior corrections officer at the Estelle Unit in Huntsville, where he was being transferred from.

      Allen has admitted to placing several calls to Comeaux's ex-wife at Comeaux's request. She had been employed with TDCJ for 10 months.

      Earlier, Lt. Monte S. Henson, a five-year TDCJ employee at the Estelle High Security Prison, was fired for what TDCJ termed a "failure to follow policy and procedures." Prison investigators said he failed to properly supervise the application of restraints as Comeaux was about to be loaded into a transport van.

      Another Estelle corrections officer, Michael Price, was fired for what prison leaders called "reckless endangerment. " He lost his job for failing to locate the gun that Comeaux had been hiding in his cell.

      Both transport officers who were taken hostage in the escape lost their jobs. Prison officials said they were beginning termination proceedings against Lance Waldo, 43, and Matthew A. Smith, 43, but both men turned in their retirement paperwork to avoid the disciplinary proceedings against them.

      Waldo became a corrections officer in April 1990 and Smith was hired by TDCJ in March 1985.

      Prison officials said both men were facing likely termination for failing to search Comeaux properly before loading him into the transport van. They were also expected to be written up for other policy violations in handling the offender before, during, and after the hijacking of their van.

      Comeaux was originally serving a life sentence for indecency with a child in Harris County, aggravated sexual assault in Brazos County and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Fort Bend County.

      The 6-foot, 200-pound Comeaux has been in and out of the Texas prison system for the last 30 years on various charges, including rape of a child, indecency with a child and burglary.

      Another Officer Fired After Escape


      Former guard at halfway house sentenced

      12/15/2009
      Associated Press

      A former contract guard at a Houston halfway house has been sentenced to five months in federal prison for sexual abuse of a person in detention.

      U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson said 30-year-old Nathan Jones of Houston was sentenced to prison on Tuesday. He will serve five months in home confinement after completing the prison sentence.

      Jones was convicted over the summer of the federal felony offense. He admitted that in 2007, while employed at Leidel Comprehensive Sanction Center, he engaged in a sexual act with a female federal prisoner in his office.

      He is no longer employed at the center.

      Former guard at halfway house sentenced


      Texas officials investigate how inmate escaped

      December 11, 2009
      April Castro, The Associated Press

      AUSTIN – A guard at an East Texas prison was fired Thursday for "reckless endangerment" after a convicted sex offender escaped with a loaded pistol that had been smuggled in to the inmate.

      NICK DE LA TORRE/The Associated Press

      Before inmate Arcade Comeaux was recaptured Monday, he was the subject of a massive weeklong manhunt.

      Arcade Joseph Comeaux Jr., 49, who overpowered prison guards while being transported to another unit, was captured Monday in Houston after a week on the run.

      He gave officials the names of three people – allegedly prison employees – who he said helped him escape. Officials said they are still trying to verify the truth of Comeaux's statements.

      Prison guard Michael Price was fired from the Estelle High Security Unit near Huntsville after six years of employment, said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Price was the guard who should have searched Comeaux as he was removed from his cell to be transferred to a Beaumont prison.

      Investigators said earlier that Comeaux was not searched as required. Armed with a loaded pistol, he overpowered the guards while en route, taking from them three state-issued weapons.

      Comeaux is serving three life sentences for sexually assaulting a child and for stabbing his former wife and another man as the ex-wife visited him in a Houston-area prison in 1999.

      A prison official also said Thursday that periodic security reviews will be expedited at all state prisons.

      "Units go through a security review process on a periodic basis. We are accelerating that, so we will be having all of our units go through that process as a result of this incident," said Brad Livingston, executive director of the department.

      He said policies at Estelle, where Comeaux was housed, as well as offender transportation operations are being reviewed.

      The Estelle Unit last had a security review in November 2008, Lyons said. She said a search of the facility this week turned up tattoo paraphernalia and "nuisance contraband" – such as pornography or extra clothes – but no weapons.

      John Moriarity, the prison system's independent inspector general, said investigators were still determining how the weapon was smuggled in.

      "We're trying to get people identified and verify that they are employees," Moriarity said.

      Moriarity said both names were of corrections officers.

      "We're also checking to see if the one identified person had written him any disciplinary citations, if he had filed any grievances against him, we're looking for motive also – was it a retaliatory act because that person was doing their job? We're looking at the entire spectrum."

      Information from Comeaux, including some claims that he belonged to a large organized crime network and that a nurse helped smuggle him the weapon, has been dubious, Moriarity said.

      "Everything we're getting from him is questionable, as far as his ability to tell the truth," he said.

      April Castro,
      The Associated Press

      Texas officials investigate how inmate escaped


      TDCJ: Guard lax in search of inmate

      Prison veteran faces firing for not detecting gun used in Nov. 30 escape

      By ALLAN TURNER
      HOUSTON CHRONICLE
      Dec. 11, 2009

      Texas prison officials Thursday moved to fire an Estelle Unit guard they said failed to adequately search Arcade Joseph Comeaux Jr., the rapist who later used a hidden pistol to commandeer a prison van and escape.

      In a disciplinary hearing before top prison administrators, correctional officer Michael Price, 42, a six-year department veteran, was found to have recklessly endangered the lives of others and was relieved of his duties without pay.

      Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said the recommendation to dismiss Price came after an administrative, not a criminal, investigation. Price can appeal the ruling through mediation.

      The move came as state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and an outspoken critic of TDCJ's continuing problems with prison contraband, suggested that independent peace officers be assigned to screen everyone entering and leaving Texas prisons.

      Clark said Price was to have thoroughly searched Comeaux on Nov. 30 as he was removed from a solitary confinement cell at the prison in Riverside to be taken to the Stiles Unit in Beaumont. But, Clark said, “he did not follow policy.”

      Price is not believed or suspected of actively assisting Comeaux in the escape, said TDCJ Inspector General John Moriarty.

      Comeaux, 49, who was serving three life terms — including one for raping a child — used a contraband pistol to commandeer the prison van. Authorities believed Comeaux was reliant on a wheelchair for mobility, but after firing a shot and demanding his two captors drive him to Baytown, the convict fled on foot.

      He was recaptured Monday, barefooted and bedraggled after a week on the lam, at a northeast Houston oil equipment factory.

      Says gun bought in prison

      In a lengthy jailhouse consultation with Houston community activist Quanell X, Comeaux said he had purchased the pistol from prison employees with drug money. The names of prison workers accused of intentionally helping Comeaux escape have not been made public.

      Whitmire, who has called for creation of an independent panel of experts to review TDCJ procedures and policies, Thursday said he believes an independent cadre of trained peace officers should be assigned the task of screening everyone entering and leaving prisons.

      At present, those chores fall to prison employees.

      “We need to create a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) for prisons,” the senator said. Such an organization might be overseen by the Texas Department of Public Safety or the prison system's Office of the Inspector General, Whitmire said.

      The lawmaker accused prison officials of “just getting by,” rather than candidly expressing to lawmakers the department's problems and needs.

      Late last year, Whitmire received telephoned threats from a death row inmate who had gained access to a contraband cell phone. About 900 cell phones have been confiscated from inmates this year, he said.

      allan.turner@chron.com

      TDCJ: Guard lax in search of inmate


      10/06/09

      Jury process starts today in trial

      The process of selecting a jury in the trial of a Texas Department of Criminal Justice offender charged with murdering a Huntsville TDCJ officer in September 2007 begins today in Centerville.

      Jerry Duane Martin, 39, will be tried in Leon County in the death of Susan Canfield, a TDCJ officer who was killed when Martin and fellow inmate John Ray Falk Jr., 41, escaped from the Wynne Unit off Farm-to-Market Road 2821 on Sept. 24, 2007.

      State District Court Judge Kenneth Keeling of the 278th Judicial District will try the case.

      Falk's trial has not been scheduled.

      Walker County Criminal District Attorney David Weeks said Martins trial is being held in Leon County due to complications involving other sites.

      "We will be bringing in the intitial panel for the trial," Weeks said as proceedings start at 9 a.m. today. "The judge will qualify them and we will provide a quetionnaire they will fill out.

      "Then both sides will have Tuesday to look at the questionnaire and then we will star talking to the jurors individually, which is the process in a death penalty trial."

      Weeks said they expect to talk to 7 jurors a day, which is "a pretty long process."

      He said 350 people have been summoned in Leon County.

      He expects the jury selection to take at least 3 to 4 weeks.

      "We will qualify close to 50 people," he said. "Once we have that many people, we will go through the list starting with the 1st juror.

      "The prosecution gets to accept or reject. If we accept, then the choice goes to the defense. We each get 15 preemptor strikes we can use anyway we want.

      "As we go through the process, we will certainly pick alternates, but we haven't decided how many at this point. We will use the preemptor to go through that process and that is when the jury will be finalized."

      Weeks said he expects the trial to last through the end of November and maybe into December.

      "It's hard to tell with the jury selection," he said. "We hope to cut down the number of evidence and witnesses."

      Weeks previously said tthe principal question is whether or not Canfield's death qualifies as capital murder.

      "This is a difficult case," Weeks said. The situation is very unique because Ms. Canfield died as the result of being thrown off a horse, so there are issues there that are different than most.

      "I feel very confident, but it's going to be up to the jury. I believe it's capital murder, but the jury's going to have the final word on that."

      Weeks said that if Martin is found guilty, jurors will have the option of recommending the death penalty.

      Martin and Falk were indicted in March 2008 in the murder of Canfield.

      The charge was elevated to capital murder due to provisions in the Texas State Penal Code that allow a murder to be upgraded to capital if it occurs during an attempted escape from a penal institution.

      The 2 men were working outside the Wynne Unit when Martin approached an officer and asked him to hold his broken watch.

      As the officer reached for the watch, Falk distracted him with a sound, allowing Martin to grab the officer's weapon.

      Using the weapon to hold off nearby officers, the 2 offenders were able to scale a barbed-wire fence. After stealing a second weapon at gunpoint and exchanging fire with several nearby officers, they were able to commandeer a City of Huntsville truck.

      While escaping, they rammed Canfield.

      Canfield, who was on horseback, was thrown from her horse and was killed due to head injuries sustained when she struck the windshield of the truck and the ground. Her horse was later euthanized due to wounds from the collision and gunfire.

      According to TDCJ reports following the incident, Martin was the driver of the vehicle when it struck Canfield.

      Martin and Falk later dumped the truck a mile away and hijacked a motorist Madilene Loosier who was in line at a nearby bank drive-through.

      Officers from several local agencies were able to shoot out the tires of the hijacked vehicle, leaving Martin and Falk to continue to flee on foot.

      Falk was apprehended within an hour after the escape, while Martin was found hiding in a tree approximately three and a half hours later.

      At the time of their escape, Martin was in the 1oth year of a 50-year term for attempted murder, while Falk was serving a life sentence for a 1986 murder.

      (source: Huntsville Item)


      Warden among 4 named in lawsuit

      By Enrique Rangel
      enrique.rangel@morris.com
      Publication Date: 09/29/09

      AUSTIN - The warden and three officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Jordan Unit in Pampa are among the defendants named in a civil lawsuit in the death of a 30-year-old inmate who suffered from asthma.

      The lawsuit the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project filed in U.S. District Court in Austin on behalf of Gail O'Neil of Houston alleges that Warden Michael Savers placed Shermaine Peterson in a poorly ventilated cell, even though he knew Peterson suffered from asthma.

      In addition, the three officers, identified only as Capt. Anderson, Major Penan and Officer Herman, are accused of failing to provide assistance while Peterson suffered the fatal asthma attack in July 2008, despite repeated calls for help from other inmates.

      "The day before Mr. Peterson died, the administrators and staff refused to provide Mr. Peterson with medical care, despite his constant complaints of severe chest pains," the lawsuit contends.

      The TDCJ referred all questions to the state Attorney General's Office, but Jerry Strickland, press secretary for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said the office could not comment because it had not reviewed the lawsuit.

      Todd Batson, with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the defendants have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

      "This is a classic example of TDCJ's and the prison guards' deliberate indifference towards the welfare of inmates," said Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington, who filed the lawsuit.

      The civil rights organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of O'Neil because she's the adoptive mother of Peterson's 10-year-old daughter, Batson said.

      The lawsuit seeks punitive damages that would be determined by a jury, as well as attorney's fees, Batson said.

      Click Here to read story:

      © The Amarillo Globe-News Online


      Prison guards demand right to complain online

      September 17, 2009
      By ROD McGUIRK
      Associated Press Writer

      CANBERRA, Australia — A group of prison guards dubbed the Facebook Five has gone to an Australian court to fight for the right to complain about their boss on the Internet.

      The case has stirred debate in Australia about whether writing on social networking sites amounts to a chat between friends or a form of publishing.

      New South Wales state prison authorities accused the five guards of misconduct and threatened to fire them last month over their disgruntled cyber exchanges about their superiors, including the man who runs the state's prisons, Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham, according to court documents.

      Their union, the Public Service Association, has gone to the state Industrial Relations Commission to save their jobs.

      The union also wants the court to change the prison guards' employment agreement to protect them from disciplinary action "in respect of out-of-work conduct intended to be private," according to the documents.

      A hearing on the case began Wednesday and will continue next Tuesday. The Australian media have dubbed the three men and two women the Facebook Five.

      Union official Stewart Little said the prison guards were letting off steam in their own time and within a private Facebook group that was closed to outsiders over plans by management to privatize a Sydney prison operated by the state government. It is unclear how prison authorities gained access.

      The guards claim in their submission to the court that a senior official wrote them a letter saying he was considering disciplinary action against them that could include dismissal. They said letter alleged they had made "unauthorized public comment" on their department's work and "comment to the media without permission."

      They were also accused of making offensive comments about Woodham and other senior officials.

      The department declined Thursday to comment on the case.

      Little said the guards acknowledged that their comments — which have since been taken down — were disparaging toward Woodham, but insisted they were only meant to be shared with each other.

      "We don't believe it constitutes misconduct," Little said. "It's more like people getting together in a pub and having a beer and bagging the boss because the boss wants to privatize their jobs."

      Peter Black, a Queensland state University of Technology lecturer on Internet law, said that writing something unpleasant about someone online "is different from a conversation over a cup of coffee or a barbecue because there is always a record kept in the online environment which is usually searchable."

      Lawyer Stuart Cole-Morgan said a conversation on Facebook or MySpace with colleagues or about colleagues could legally be considered work-related.

      "I think the workplace would be considered to extend that far and certainly if we look at activity such as sexual harassment outside the workplace, that has been considered to impact on work," Cole-Morgan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

      Facebook's reputation as a strictly social network was jolted in Australia last year when a court ruled that a mortgage lender could use it to break the news to a couple that they had lost their home.

      Some people are concerned that such court-approved contacts with their social networks could amount to a violation of privacy.

      Prison guards demand right to complain online

      Copyright 2009, The Associated Press.


      No prison time for prison guard who admits she broke the law

      Posted: Sep 17, 2009

      LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - There will be no prison time for the woman who admits she sneaked a cell phone into the Dalby Prison unit in Post.

      Janet Smith was a prison guard at that unit.

      Smith is not sentenced to time behind bars or probation.

      Her punishment is a fine of $2,500.

      ©2009 KCBD NewsChannel 11

      No prison time for prison guard


      Prison worker sues TDCJ over back pay

      9/2/2009
      By Kelly Holleran

      A Jefferson County woman claiming the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has failed to fully compensate her is suing the department for more than two years' back pay.

      Plaintiff Valerie Mahfood filed a lawsuit against TDCJ on Aug. 27 in Jefferson County District Court.

      Mahfood states she has worked for TDCJ for 16 years at the LeBlanc Unit in Beaumont in a dual position as grievance investigator and law librarian.

      At the time Mahfood was hired to work the positions in July 1999, both positions received the same lieutenant-level pay, according to the complaint.

      In September 2005, however, the law librarian position was raised to a higher, captain-level pay and all law librarians should have received a salary increase, the suit states.

      Because Mahfood was spending a majority of her time performing law librarian duties, she contends she should have received the pay increase. However, she continued to be listed as a grievance instructor and receive only lieutenant-level pay, the complaint says.

      It was not until January 2008, after Mahfood made repeated demands that she be raised to captain-level pay, that her salary was finally increased, she claims.

      But when Mahfood's salary was increased to captain-level pay, she was not compensated with back pay for the period between September 2005 and December 2007, according to the complaint.

      In her suit, Mahfood is seeking unpaid wages and benefits, interest, attorney's fees, costs and other relief to which she may be entitled.

      Kelly J. Stewart and James E. Wimberley of McPherson, Hughes, Bradley, Wimberley, Steele and Chatelain in Port Arthur will be representing her.

      The case has been assigned to Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court.

      Jefferson County District Court case number: E184-797.

      Prisoner Worker Sues TDCJ over Back-Pay


      August 29, 2009

      TDCJ dips into line staff raises for higher supervisor pay

      There's little doubt the Texas Legislature primarily intended upcoming pay raises for Texas prison guards primarily for the rank and file. That was clear both before and during the time the Lege was in session. But now Mike Ward at the Statesman reports TDCJ is shifting that money around to give larger raises to supervisors ("Prison guards say pay raise not as much as promised," Aug. 29):

      Four months ago, with the state budget feeling the pinch of a diving economy, Texas' 24,000 correctional officers cheered the news that the Legislature had given them a 3.5 percent pay raise, effective this fall.

      By Friday, that thrill was fading: Prison officials acknowledged correctional officers will get slightly less — 3.35 percent — while their bosses will get more — for some, raises of more than 8 percent.

      The difference in the size of the raises for correctional officers amounts to about $51 a year in most cases. But to some of Texas' prison employees, who are among the lowest paid in the United States, the change represents a broken promise — in a system where such things can sometimes turn into nettlesome problems for administrators.

      Dozens of correctional officers are reportedly filing grievances on the issue.

      "You talk about a morale buster — this is it," said Brian Olsen, executive director of a Huntsville union that represents about 5,000 correctional officers in Texas. "It's crazy to me that they'd take any percentage away from the officers, the lowest paid, so they can pay the supervisors more."

      Maybe this is partly happening because TDCJ officials aren't feeling the same staffing pressure they were this time a year ago, when they first proposed 20% raises for the next biennium to the Legislature. When the session began in January, TDCJ was more than 3,000 guards short statewide, as it had been chronically for a number of years. But front-end hiring bonuses and a tanking economy combined (with somewhat surprising rapidity) to fill up a couple of thousand of those empty slots by mid-year.

      Now, the agency likely doesn't see pay hikes as being quite so critical to solving an immediate understaffing crisis. Their priorities have changed since they asked for the money, in other words.

      TDCJ says they're following a legislative mandate by shifting the raises to supervisors, while House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds told Ward, ""For crying out loud, this was never the intent of the Legislature ...

      We said we wanted a 3.5 percent increase for each year, and that's what we meant ... To have supervisors getting a lot more like this was never on our radar screen."

      I don't know who is correct on the legalities in this he-said/she-said situation. (MORE: According to a commenter, "The State Auditors Office's changed the schedule B job classifications and salaries, which is contained in the budget [SB 1] and passed by the legislature. TDCJ, like other state agencies, can not pay less than the minimum on the new schedule, which increased the supervisors' pay.") Certainly McReynolds is right, though, that larger pay hikes for supervisors were never part of the public debate nor any presentation I'm aware of by TDCJ to the Lege.

      Given the rotten economy and competing financial obligations, it's true as TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said that prison staff were lucky to receive the raises they got. But it appears agency leaders will fritter away any morale benefits from the raises by this petty dipping into the line staff's pockets.

      From a symbolic perspective, this will be a disappointing and frustrating outcome for workers, made more poignant because TDCJ administrators spent two years touting line staff's needs while begging for money at every turn up at the capitol.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: budget, employment, TDCJ


      Prison guards say pay raise not as much as promised

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      August 29, 2009

      Four months ago, with the state budget feeling the pinch of a diving economy, Texas' 24,000 correctional officers cheered the news that the Legislature had given them a 3.5 percent pay raise, effective this fall.

      By Friday, that thrill was fading: Prison officials acknowledged correctional officers will get slightly less — 3.35 percent — while their bosses will get more — for some, raises of more than 8 percent.

      The difference in the size of the raises for correctional officers amounts to about $51 a year in most cases. But to some of Texas' prison employees, who are among the lowest paid in the United States, the change represents a broken promise — in a system where such things can sometimes turn into nettlesome problems for administrators.

      Dozens of correctional officers are reportedly filing grievances on the issue.

      "You talk about a morale buster — this is it," said Brian Olsen, executive director of a Huntsville union that represents about 5,000 correctional officers in Texas. "It's crazy to me that they'd take any percentage away from the officers, the lowest paid, so they can pay the supervisors more."

      Jerry McGinty, chief financial officer for the state Department of Criminal Justice, said the Legislature, not agency officials, set the raise amounts for both correctional staff members and supervisors.

      He said the raise for officers will be close to the 7 percent expected over two years. "The problem may have been how it was communicated ... but the total works out to be about the same," he said.

      At least one legislative leader said officers have a point.

      "For crying out loud, this was never the intent of the Legislature," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin.

      "We said we wanted a 3.5 percent increase for each year, and that's what we meant ... To have supervisors getting a lot more like this was never on our radar screen."

      According to prison officials, pay increases for correctional officers will increase 3.35 percent during the next year while sergeants will get 4.9 percent more, lieutenants will get 6.5 percent more and captains and majors 8.1 percent each.

      Assistant wardens and wardens will get pay increases of about 6 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively, said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the prison system. By contrast, parole supervisors will get the same raise as parole officers.

      In the budget year that begins in September 2010, all correctional staff members — correctional officers all the way up to majors — will get a 3.5 percent boost.

      Lyons said lawmakers allocated additional funding to raise the pay of supervisors as part of a realignment of salaries recommended by state auditors to improve consistency among agencies and ensure that supervisors' pay is enough to make promotion attractive to rank-and- file workers.

      In their initial budget request, prison officials had sought a 20 percent hike for correctional officers to make their pay scale more competitive and reduce turnover. But between then and when the budget passed, the economic recession set in and a years-long shortage of guards had begun to evaporate.

      Correctional officers and union representatives had lobbied throughout the session for a raise and had grudgingly accepted the 7 percent increase.

      Even so, in recent days, correctional officers across Texas began complaining publicly about the less-than-expected raise. "Hundreds are filing grievances with the agency saying they have been cheated," Olsen said.

      While other prison officials said they could not immediately verify whether grievances were on the uptick, they acknowledged the grumbling. "The good news is our correctional employees got a raise," Lyons said. "Considering the economy, that was a feat."

      Find this article at:
      Prison guards say pay raise not as much as promised


      Ex-corrections officer sent to prison in inmate abuse case

      Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
      Aug. 26, 2009

      A former Texas correctional officer will spend the next two years in prison after he was convicted in an inmate abuse case, officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office said today.

      A federal grand jury in May 2008 found Eugene Morris Jr. guilty of providing false information about the assault of a prison inmate under his supervision.

      The inmate — Robert Tanzini - suffered a fractured skull and brain injuries while fighting with Morris, officials said.

      Morris reported that the inmate's injuries were caused when his head hit the floor during the struggle. But, investigators said Morris kicked Tanzini in the head while he lay on the ground with his hands bound behind his back, officials said.

      The federal jury found him not guilty of violating the inmate's civil rights, officials said.

      Morris also will serve two years of supervised release after completing the prison term, officials said.

      Ex-corrections officer sent to prison in inmate abuse case


      New TDCJ employee raises, step differentials causing confusion at the unit level

      By: Duane Stuart,
      Backgate Website
      UPDATED 08-21-09

      TDCJ sent us this link via email.

      These are the new salary rates for TDCJ supervisors.

      Waiting for more detailed information.

      Will update as necessary.

      Correctional Supervisor Salary
      Effective September 1, 2009

      Title - Salary Group - Minimum Salary per Month:
      Sergeant - B17 - $3,131.08
      Lieutenant - B18 - $3,287.67
      Captain - B19 - $3,452.08
      Major - B20 - $3,701.58
      ------------------------

      08-20-09:

      The announcement of TDCJ raises for the next two years for some staff members has created excitement, but also much confusion. The announced 7% raise is scheduled to be delivered over the next two years. But there are now questions regarding step raises and differentials that have been projected for supervisory staff. Unit HR reps say one thing, the comptrollers office says another, and the employees are left wondering. To clear up the controversy over how much and when, the Backgate has gone straight to the horses mouth so to speak. We contacted top TDCJ HR staffers and administrators who promise to be able to clear it all up for TDCJ employees. That information should be available at some point today hopefully. As we get it in, we will post the facts for you here.

      Article from The Backgate Web Site


      Region III Director heads north to fill empty Region II Director's position

      By: Tonya Peters,
      Backgate Website
      08/21/09

      Brian Rodeen, longtime TDCJ employee and TDCJ's region III director for the past couple of years has been transferred effective September 1st to region II.

      Rodeen will fill the job that previous region II director William Stephens vacates to assume his new position as deputy director for support services effective Sept. 1st. Rodeen is said to have changed the image of region III in his short tenure there. Rodeen, who came to region III after serving as the senior warden at the Bill Clements unit in Amarillo, assumed the region III director's position when former regional director Jackie Edwards was promoted to head up TDCJ's risk management and operational review office in Huntsville.

      A change that many applauded in region III.

      So who could be the next region III regional director ? The position was posted as of 08/21/09.

      Only time will tell.

      Hopefully the path of the problematic region will remain in a positive direction.

      And yet another regional director's position sits idle in region IV as Oscar Mendoza heads to Huntsville to assume his new position as TDCJ's deputy director for management operations which also becomes official on Sept. 1st.

      There is no information as to who may assume that post as of yet.

      Article from The Backgate Web Site


      Selections made for new top TDCJ Administrators

      08-19-09

      Division Director for TDCJ Manufacturing and Logistics:
      C.F. HAZELWOOD:
      C.F. HAS OVER 26 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE WITHIN THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVING IN VARIOUS CAPACITIES TO INCLUDE HIS MOST RECENT POSITION OF DIRECTOR OF AGRIBUSINESS, LAND AND MINERALS.

      Deputy Director for TDCJ Management Operations:
      OSCAR MEDOZA:
      HE BRINGS TO THIS POSITION OVER 30 YEARS OF CORRECTIONAL EXPERIENCE. HIS LEADERSHIP WILL SERVE THE AGENCY WELL AS WE FACE FUTURE CHALLENGES AND PURSUE NEW OPPORTUNITIES.

      Deputy Director of TDCJ Support Operations:
      WILLIAM "BILL" STEPHENS:
      STEPHENS HAS MANY YEARS WITHIN THE TDCJ, AND HAS SPENT THE LAST FEW AS THE REGION II REGIONAL DIRECTOR.

      Article from The Backgate Web Site


      East Texas prison guard accused of killing brother

      Associated Press
      July 7, 2009

      HENDERSON — A 22-year-old Texas prison guard is charged with murder over the shooting death of his teenage brother during an apparent argument.

      The Rusk County Sheriff’s Office said Justin Gregory Raner of Bullard was jailed today on $1 million bail.

      Sgt. Amber Rogers told The Associated Press that she had no information on an attorney for Raner.

      The body of 19-year-old Jeremy Neal Raner was discovered Saturday, in a hayfield, by his stepfather. Deputies interviewed Justin Ranger on Sunday.

      Rogers declined to release details on why the brothers had argued.

      Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark told AP that Justin Raner had been a correctional officer at the Hodge Unit in Rusk since June 2008. Clark says Raner’s employment status is pending the outcome of the investigation.

      East Texas prison guard accused of killing brother


      June 28, 2009

      Fewer prisoners, more guards at TDCJ

      According to AP:

      Texas prison officials plan to cancel contracts to house up to 1,900 state convicts in county lockups because the number of inmates in state prisons has fallen.

      Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the Austin American-Statesman that officials plan to move the convicts now housed in county lockups back into state prisons by the end of August.

      Lawmakers, who directed the move, anticipated the population decline and did not appropriate $28 million to continue leasing the contract beds.

      The decrease in state inmates — part of a national trend — coincides with an increase in correctional officers at the state’s 112 adult prisons. The vacancy rate for prison guards has dropped to about 5 percent, the lowest in more than a decade for a state that has long had a shortage of prison guards.

      Texas has just 1,262 correctional officer jobs now open, compared with more than 3,700 just over a year ago. Officials say more people have become guards because of pay incentives and the struggling economy.

      "It’s the economy. No doubt about it," said state Sen.. John Whitmire, D-Houston. "When there’s not many choices for employment, and the oil patch slows down, these prison jobs start looking real good."

      I'd wondered recently whether TDCJ would achieve significant prison population reduction by the end of FY 09 in August as estimated (pdf) by the Legislative Budget Board, and this news makes me think those estimates may have been pretty accurate.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: LBB, TDCJ


      Published: June 27, 2009

      Inmate sentenced for assault on officer

      By PAUL STONE
      The Palestine Herald

      PALESTINE — A Coffield Unit inmate was sentenced to 20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice last week after being found guilty of assaulting a correctional officer more than two years ago.

      James Dean Lucas, 25, was found guilty of the felony offense of assault on a public servant by a seven-man, five-woman jury Wednesday at the Anderson County Courthouse.

      The offense is typically a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but was enhanced to a second-degree felony based on Lucas’ previous conviction.

      The 20-year punishment represents the maximum sentence for a second- degree felony.

      According to testimony in the trial, Lucas struck a TDCJ sergeant in the left eye with a closed fist as the officer was attempting to investigate the offender’s movements from one cell to another.

      At the time of the assault, the sergeant was supervising offenders returning to their cells from recreational time, according to testimony.

      The sergeant testified that the cut was painful and required four stitches.

      During an ensuing struggle, the officer also suffered a scrape to his chin and a cut to his ear, he further testified.

      Lucas confessed to striking the officer, but testified that he acted in self defense after the officer placed him in a behind-the-back restraint hold.

      The state, however, argued that Lucas’ version of the events was impossible, labeling the defendant as the aggressor.

      Allyson Mitchell, prosecutor with the state’s Special Prosecution Unit, said she was pleased with the jury’s verdict and punishment.

      “Hopefully, the jury’s decision will send a message to other inmates here and around the state,” said Mitchell, who represented the state during the trial, “that juries in Anderson County will not tolerate physical aggression towards correctional officers.

      “Every day when the men and women of TDCJ put on their uniform and go to work, they run the risk of injury to themselves,” she continued. “But just because that risk exists, it does not excuse away the actions of their would-be assailants.”

      The defendant was represented by Barbara Law of the State Counsel for Offenders.

      Third State District Judge Mark Calhoon presided over the trial.

      Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at;
      pstone@palestineherald.com

      Inmate sentenced for assault on officer


      PRISONS

      Prison guard shortage eases
      Officials attribute progress to economy and pay incentives.

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      June 27, 2009

      Texas' longstanding shortage of prison guards has evaporated significantly in recent months — to the lowest numbers in more than a decade, thanks to a struggling economy and pay incentives that include bonuses and raises.

      In addition, prison officials confirmed this week that because the number of convicts held in state prisons has dropped in the past year, officials soon will cancel contracts to house 1,900 state convicts in county lockups — saving $28 million.

      Corrections officials said that for the first time since 1998, the vacancy rate of correctional officers at the state's 112 adult prisons has dropped to about 5 percent — with just 1,262 jobs now open, compared with more than 3,700 openings just over a year ago.

      "It's the economy. No doubt about it," said state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee that oversees prison operations. "When there's not many choices for employment, and the oil patch slows down, these prison jobs start looking real good."

      Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the declining vacancy rates are "absolutely great news."

      "While we still have some units that are below 80 percent in staffing, we're continuing to see an upward trend in hirings," she said. The developments stand in contrast to other states, where budget shortfalls are forcing officials to close prisons, lay off guards and, in some cases, release hundreds of convicts on parole.

      Officials in states including New York, Michigan, Nevada, Washington, Kansas and Georgia have closed or proposed closing at least 38 prisons in recent months — with more cuts expected to follow.

      In California, which operates the only prison system in the U.S. larger than Texas', officials are considering prison closures because of a state budget crisis. Lyons attributed the vacancy rate drop in the past year to $1,500 signing bonuses that prison officials offered new employees in the fall of 2008, a restructured pay scale and a 7 percent pay raise over the next two years that the Legislature approved in May.

      Starting pay for correctional officers in Texas is about $26,000 a year. After eight years, it tops out at about $34,600.

      Even with the pay raises, Texas still ranks low nationally in correctional officer pay. Last year, it ranked 13th among 16 southern states, according to prison officials.

      "Regardless of the economy, we'd already begun to see improvement in our staffing," Lyons said. "We have been very aggressive in our hiring process in the past several years."

      Even so, prison officials said some remote prisons, such as those in Dalhart and Fort Stockton, are operating more than 20 percent short on staff. A year ago, Dalhart was struggling with a 38 percent vacancy rate that forced officials in January 2008 to mothball more than 300 of the lockup's 1,300 beds.

      About the same time, the two prisons in Fort Stockton had guard vacancy rates of 42 and 35 percent, and officials mothballed more than 300 beds there, as well.

      The growth in guards has paralleled a drop in the inmate population, down from nearly 158,000 four years ago to about 155,000 — part of a national downtrend in prisoners.

      As a result, Lyons said prison officials plan to move up to 1,900 felons now housed in county lockups back into state prisons by the end of August. Lawmakers, who directed the move, anticipated the population decline and did not appropriate $28 million to continue leasing the contract beds.

      Nationally, a drop in crime rates and the enactment of more treatment and rehabilitation programs have brought a population decrease in most states' prison systems.

      Even with the improved hiring rates, Lyons said officials have no immediate plans to reopen the mothballed prison beds and will house the additional convicts in empty bunks at various prisons. "We are operating below capacity now ... and have ample space in our existing units to accommodate them," she said.

      Brian Olsen, executive director of a union that represents some Texas correctional officers, said that while the improved hiring rates are helping the working conditions, "the turnover rate is still basically the same — and at some point, when the economy gets better, it will catch up with you."

      Olsen and Whitmire agree that the drop in the vacancy rate should be seen as an opportunity, not as a solution to the chronic staffing problems of the past.

      "We should take this opportunity to upgrade the force — where we're not hiring officers who are too young or too old, people who are not physically fit or people who don't have the proper education," Whitmire said.

      He noted that the prison system has lowered its hiring standards — reducing physical agility requirements, for example — in recent years to keep jobs filled.

      "As we work on quantity, we should also work on quality."

      mward@statesman.com

      Prison guard shortage eases


      June 20, 2009

      Governor Perry's 2009 Criminal Justice Vetoe

      No loan assistance for prison staff

      HB 518 by Kolkhorst/Van de Putte would have provided student loan assistance to correctional officers attending Sam Houston State.

      Perry said they shouldn't be specifically targeted and instead "the state should focus on fully funding the four main programs to make financial aid available to more students."

      So the state's chronically 3,000 guards short-staffed but the Lege declined to increase pay to market rates and the Governor vetoed the only substantive increase to prison staff benefits? Geez! Message to TDCJ staff: "Lump it and like it."


      06.02.09

      Ex-Texas guard convicted of contraband smuggling

      THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

      MIDLAND, Texas -- A federal jury in Midland convicted a 21-year-old former prison guard of smuggling contraband to inmates.

      Jacob C. Guzman of Pecos was convicted Tuesday of accepting bribes, attempted destruction of evidence and attempted smuggling of contraband to prisoners.

      The federal inmates were at the county-owned but privately managed Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos. The prison, owned by Boca Raton, Fla.-based The GEO Group Inc., was the site of inmate riots in December and January.

      Guzman faces up to 15 years in prison. Sentencing is Aug. 29.

      Prosecutors say Guzman in 2008 accepted $600 from someone in Tennessee to smuggle cell phones, tobacco and MP3 players to an inmate.

      Guzman was indicted, along two other former employees, earlier this year.

      Ex-Texas guard convicted of contraband smuggling


      Two Dallas police officers accused of assaulting prisoner

      June 2, 2009
      By TANYA EISERER
      The Dallas Morning News
      teiserer@dallasnews.com

      Two Dallas police officers are under criminal investigation over allegations that they were captured on videotape assaulting a prisoner at the city's drunk tank late last month.

      Officers Christian Mendoza and Henry Silvestriz were placed on administrative leave late last week.

      Mendoza could not be reached for comment. Silvestriz declined to comment, referring questions to his attorney.

      "There is a video of the incident," said Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop, who oversees the department's public integrity unit. "We're currently investigating it."

      The staff at the city's detox center, which is run by city marshals, reported the incident to Dallas police, Waldrop said. He declined to comment further.

      On May 26, one officer was captured on video pushing a prisoner down in the parking lot for no apparent reason.

      On the video, which has not been released to the public pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, a second officer is then seen looking up as if to see if there are surveillance cameras in the area. The video then shows him using his elbow to strike the prisoner across the jaw.

      In both cases, it does not appear that the prisoner did anything to provoke use of force.

      Dan Montalvo, who is the attorney for Latino Peace Officers Association and is representing Silvestriz, said his client denied hitting the handcuffed prisoner.

      "My client will be vindicated of the accusations," he said.

      Montalvo said Silvestriz told him that the prisoner had threatened to kill the officers when he got out of jail and that he was refusing to follow their instructions.

      Both officers were hired in 2007 and were assigned to the city's northwest patrol station.

      Rebecca Lopez of WFAA-TV contributed to this report.

      Two Dallas police officers accused of assaulting prisoner


      Former Gatesville prison guard arrested in alleged sexual relationship with inmate

      By Regina Dennis
      Tribune-Herald staff writer
      May 23, 2009

      A former correctional officer at the Gatesville state prison has been arrested on a charge of having an improper relationship with a prisoner.

      Wiliam David Rivera is being held on $50,000 bond in the Bell County Jail for the charge. He has an additional $1,000 bond on a charge of writing a bad check.

      Rivera began working at the prison’s Crain Unit in August 2006, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said. Staff members in the unit became suspicious that Rivera had begun a sexual relationship with one of the prisoners and filed a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General, which investigates employee misconduct, Clark said.

      Rivera abruptly resigned from the jail in June 2008 when an investigation into the alleged relationship was initiated, Clark said. Rivera was arrested Thursday by Killeen police.

      “Anytime we have someone who is employed as a correctional officer, that person has authority over someone in custody, so whether there was consent does not play into it at all,” TDCJ Inspector General John Moriarty said. “The inmate is automatically at a disadvantage because of their status and could be subject to other ramifications.”

      In 2008, TDCJ had 108 cases statewide in which inmates’ civil rights had been violated, Moriarty said. Of those, 105 involved sexual contact, and three were based on claims of excessive force.

      rdennis@wacotrib.com
      757-5755

      Former Gatesville prison guard arrested in alleged sexual relationship with inmate


      Gatesville state prison guard faces civil rights charge

      From staff reports
      May 21, 2009

      A 44-year-old former Gatesville state prison guard was being held Wednesday night in the Coryell County Jail, charged with violating the civil rights of an inmate.

      Eddie James Davis was being held in lieu of $25,000 bail, according to the county’s Web site.

      Davis was arrested Tuesday afternoon by the Coryell County Sheriff’s Office in the case being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General, which acts as an internal affairs division for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Michelle Lyons, a TDCJ spokeswoman, said that from September 2007 to September 2008, Davis was a correctional officer at the Crain Unit.

      Crain is an all-female unit with a capacity of 1,500 inmates, Lyons said.

      Details of the alleged offense were not available Wednesday.

      Gatesville state prison guard faces civil rights charge


      Prison guards get 3.5 percent raise

      By Mike Ward
      May 19, 2009

      Senate and House budget negotiators agreed this morning to give Texas’ 25,000 correctional officers a 3.5 percent pay raise in each of the next two years — seven percent overall.

      That is less than the 10 percent overall raise recommended earlier in the Senate version of the budget, and much less than the 20 percent requested by prison officials last August.

      The House-approved budget included a five-percent overall raise.

      Cost of the raises for correctional officers is $113 million.

      Other prison workers and parole officers will get the same percentage raise as correctional officers at a total cost of $10.2 million.

      Once the House and Senate negotiators complete the consensus version of the budget, it will go back to the House and Senate for final approval — perhapswithin the next few days.

      Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the proposed raises, while less than prison officials requested, “represent a very substantial investment in state dollars in a very tight budget year.”

      “Seven percent over two years will allow us to make progress” in filling chronic vacancies in the ranks of correctional officers, he said. The agency is approximately 1,500 officers short.

      Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

      Categories: Criminal justice

      Prison guards get 3.5 percent raise


      May 2, 2009

      Texas: Accused Former Sheriff Dies

      NATIONAL BRIEFING | SOUTHWEST
      By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

      A former sheriff accused of running a small-town jail where some cells did not lock and some inmates openly took drugs and had sex with female guards has died.

      Montague County authorities said the ex-sheriff, Bill Keating, who was awaiting sentencing for coercing a woman into sex to avoid jail, died after collapsing at home.

      His lawyer, Mark Daniel, said the cause of Mr. Keating’s death was apparently a heart attack.

      Mr. Keating, 62, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman.

      He faced up to 10 years at his June sentencing in federal court.

      Texas: Accused Former Sheriff Dies


      Apr. 26, 2009

      Banned items find way into Texas prisons -- sometimes with jailers' help

      BY DEANNA BOYD
      dboyd@star-telegram.com

      FORT WORTH -- The bills were piling up, and Enrique Segura said he was falling behind.

      So the 26-year-old Tarrant County jailer began moonlighting as a smuggler.

      In exchange for a $40 "delivery fee," Segura said, he sneaked in cigarettes and a lighter to Tarrant County Jail inmates on three occasions.

      But during a fourth delivery attempt, on March 29 -- this time he also had marijuana on him -- sheriff's investigators were waiting.

      Last week, Segura was charged with bringing a prohibited substance inside a correctional facility, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

      "I know what I did was wrong," said Segura, who has since resigned. "I was just trying to make money because I needed to pay bills."

      Jail and prison officials acknowledge that fighting contraband is an uphill battle.

      Last fall, a governor-ordered lockdown of Texas prisons uncovered, among other contraband, 128 cellphones and 185 weapons. More security measures have been added since then, but prison officials say the smuggling attempts go on.

      And though family members, friends and even inmates themselves are usually responsible for bringing in the contraband, occasionally, like in Segura's case, those to blame are the very people tasked with keeping it out.

      "I don't think you'd find a jail anywhere in Texas that hasn't had to fight this battle. It's just one that never ends,” said Terry Grisham, a sheriff’s spokesman. "You fight it every day and you try to win a few. That's what we did in this case."

      'A small city'

      Of the Sheriff Department's roughly 1,400 employees, almost 1,000 work in Tarrant County's four jail facilities.

      In addition, 450 to 500 contract workers in services like commissary, food and medical care have access to the facilities.

      "Basically, when you're talking about the jail, it's the equivalent to running a small city," said Alan Dennis, chief deputy over confinement housing.

      The sheriff's office conducts background checks on all employees before allowing them access to inmates, whether they're a food service contractor or an officer. But routine searches of officers and contract employees are not performed.

      "It's just not feasible with the short turnaround times we have for shift changes and the number of employees that come in and out," Grisham said.

      To help find contraband, the sheriff's office in 2007 bought Bosco, a Belgian Malinois trained to search for narcotics in jails.

      "One of our goals was to use him as a deterrent," Dennis said.

      But the dog died a few months after arriving, and officials are still trying to find a replacement.

      Officers are subject to polygraph tests and random drug screens, Dennis said.

      "You put things in place you hope are going to be enough of a deterrent upfront to where they won't even consider stuff like that," Dennis said.

      On occasion, however, some jailers choose reward over risk.

      Making arrests

      In 2005, two former Tarrant County jailers were sentenced to two years' probation and 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to recklessly having a prohibited substance in a correctional facility.

      Sheriff's investigators had arrested the jailers three years earlier on accusations that they smuggled marijuana in for inmates in exchange for money from a visitor. The men, however, contended that they didn't know the packages contained marijuana.

      In the more recent case, a confidential informant told sheriff's officials that Segura was sneaking in cigarettes, cocaine and cellphones for inmates and that his next delivery was expected March 29, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

      When Segura arrived at work that night, he was questioned by investigators and admitted that he had brought in marijuana and cigarettes. In his blue net bag, officers found 11.5 grams of marijuana and three packs of cigarettes. In his uniform jacket, investigators found Segura's personal cellphone.

      Segura says that he never brought in cocaine or cellphones and that he simply forgot that his cellphone was in his pocket.

      Segura, who was hired in September, said he had previously brushed off requests by inmates to sneak in contraband, changing his mind when he began struggling to get by on his $15- to $16-an-hour job.

      "The economy is really bad. Everybody needs to make money somehow," Segura said. "I know it wasn't honest doing that, but I wasn't trying to get rich. I was trying to pay bills."

      A lucrative business

      It's hard to measure how often correctional officers smuggle contraband, officials admit.

      "The problem with putting a number on it is it's such a secretive operation," said inspector John Moriarty, whose office investigates crimes in Texas prisons. "Even when an inmate is caught with the contraband, very rarely do they give up how they got it in."

      The Special Prosecution Unit tries criminal cases for roughly two- thirds of the state's more than 100 correctional facilities, said Gina DeBottis, executive director of the unit.

      Of the approximately 280 contraband cases involving cellphones, drugs, tobacco and cash accepted by the unit for prosecution in 2007 and 2008, 33 were against correctional officers.

      "One corrupt employee can really compromise the security of the operation tremendously," Moriarty said. "They can keep bringing and bringing stuff in."

      In prisons, smuggling can be a lucrative business. Getting a cellphone into Death Row can bring in up to $2,200, Moriarty said, with the average rate closer to $500 in a less-secure prison.

      Cellphones are in such high demand, Moriarty said, that the price for smuggling them can often exceed that of sneaking in drugs.

      He recalled a female correctional officer who, in an undercover sting, agreed to smuggle in a phone for $200. When asked to also take in heroin, the officer remarked, "that will be another $50."

      "When I was coming up, it was always dope," Moriarty said. "Of course, cellphones were big, giant shoe phones back in those days."

      Full of regret

      Last year's lockdown was prompted by cellphone calls made by a Death Row inmate to a state senator. Since then, more security measures have been implemented, including pat-down searches of every employee entering a secured facility, said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Still, efforts to get contraband in continue. It's been found lying outside perimeter fences. At a prison in Mineral Wells, a person was spotted trying to toss it over a perimeter fence.

      A recent package of shipped ink cartridges was found to actually contain cellphones and cellphone components, Clark said.

      "We've seen steps taken by individuals to try to circumvent these new policies that have been put in place, but the vast majority of those are not breaching our security," Clark said.

      At Tarrant County's jail facilities, random bag and container searches have been stepped up since Segura's arrest. And policies such as requiring employees to carry their items in clear bags are more strictly enforced, Dennis said.

      "I think everybody, officers included, are just a little bit more aware of what can potentially happen when you do relax your procedures a little bit," Dennis said.

      Segura said he regrets his actions.

      "It wasn't worth the risk," he said. "After all this, I lost my house. I almost lost my son. I lost my girlfriend. It was a big mistake, and I can't take it back. All I can do is apologize."

      Still, Segura said, he knows others will make the same mistake.

      "I know I wasn't one of the first and probably won't be one of the last."

      A closer look

      Found during lockdown

      Contraband found on Texas state prison property during an October lockdown ordered by Gov. Rick Perry

      Cellphones: 128
      Chargers: 117
      Batteries: 13
      SIM cards (a device used to store information in mobile phones): 26
      Money: 44
      Tobacco: 87
      Marijuana: 184

      Found since lockdown

      Contraband found on Texas prison property since the lockdown (through Jan. 15)

      Cellphones: 220
      Chargers: 170
      Batteries: 21
      SIM cards: 44
      Money: 59
      Tobacco: 109
      Marijuana: 86
      Weapons: 316

      Source: TDCJ

      DEANNA BOYD, 817-390-7655

      Banned items find way into Texas prisons


      04/22/2009

      Ex-jail guard admits assaulting inmate

      Former Bexar County Jail guard Brandit Franco admitted Wednesday that he assaulted an inmate in October 2006.

      Franco, 32, who worked at the jail from 2004 to 2007, pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law. He admitted that he entered a holding cell with unruly inmates and struck Francisco Gonzalez, injuring him.

      Prosecutors dropped charges alleging that Franco struck a second inmate, that he falsified reports on the incident and that he tried to intimidate witnesses so they would not testify against him.

      As the FBI investigated, then-Deputy U.S. marshal Ben Bates is alleged to have provided Franco with secret information about grand jury witnesses who were to testify.

      Bates allegedly lied to agents about whether he provided the information to Franco. Bates is scheduled for trial on May 16 before U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez.

      Rodriguez scheduled Franco’s sentencing for July 24.

      Ex-jail guard admits assaulting inmate


      Again the TDCJ is in the news, still over the Cell Phone debacle that has brought down several of it's own. The problem still persists says the Tyler Paper in their news story published on Feb. 26th.

      (See below).
      Tyler Newspaper

      When will the TDCJ learn?

      The number of good CO's I am sure greatly out numbers the bad. But the hiring practices of the TDCJ in the last couple of years has made this situation worse than ever.

      Over crowding, the rush to incarcerate and keep incarcerated offenders in Texas will only serve too further expand this and many other problems facing the TDCJ and it's personnel. Until the State Of Texas (and many others) realize that the system of Justice is broken, and it can no longer continue to function in it's current model, these and other problems will continue to plague us.

      It is a fact that, and a very well known and proven one at that, that the TDCJ can not meet it's minimum staffing levels nor provide the Tax Payers reasonable return of the dollars expended by the Division. At the current rate according to reports I have read in the last few weeks, the cost of keeping a single inmate for 1 day equals that of having the same inmate on Parole or Probation for 17 days in Texas. "Our" elected officials need to go back and take some remedial math classes.

      That coupled with having an alarming 1 in 22 adults either in or under TDCJ/BOPP supervision, and crime still rising should tell the story of just how inept and up to the task the system as a whole is. The CO's are as much victims of this system as the inmates, their resources few, the pay amongst one of the lowest in the country while having the second largest Penal system in the Country, places them at risk not only on the job, but off as stress related illness is sure among many of their complaints.

      The voices of those within the system CO's Administration etc have got to reach Austin, they know best just how bad the system is. In the mean time, they are working with one hand tied behind their backs and now having to keep an eye on their own not just the inmates.

      Until the TDCJ, can first house all it's inmates within it's own units, with the current level of staffing, reduce all of the safety concerns of over crowding and bring the budget to a reasonable and responsible number, we will not see any changes. Building more prisons is not the answer, they can not properly staff what they have and neither can the centers providing rented space. The answers are right in front of them, data from countless sources point to Community programs, education and prevention, rehabilitation and a strong and reliable Parole and Probation system.

      Posted by Friends and Families of Texas Inmates


      Prison contraband smugglers merit no leniency

      By ENTERPRISE OPINIONS
      March, 20, 2009

      If the first job of prison guards is keeping inmates inside the walls, the second is keeping contraband out. Unfortunately, that second goal is proving harder to achieve than the first. Contraband smuggling is a constant problem at prisons in Southeast Texas and across the state.

      The main reason is greed, of course. Another more preventable one is that employees who commit these offenses often get an administrative slap on the wrist instead of being fired or facing charges.

      A study by the Houston Chronicle revealed that between 2003 and 2008, about 200 prison employees were simply reprimanded or given probation for possessing banned items at 20 prison units with the worst contraband problems. The Stiles Unit north of the airport was one of three state prisons with the highest number of these incidents.

      Prison officials have to take a tougher line on this problem. If prison employees think they'll face serious sanctions for smuggling in contraband, they will be less likely to take that risk.

      Prison contraband smugglers merit no leniency


      3 prison workers held in smuggling

      From staff and wire reports
      March 17, 2009

      PECOS — Three employees at a county-owned but privately managed West Texas prison have been indicted on charges that they took bribes to smuggle in contraband, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

      Moises B. Martinez Jr., a prison case manager, and guard Sylvia Castillo Chairez were indicted last week in Midland. Jacob C. Guzman was indicted on Jan. 28, though his Midland lawyer, Dan Wade, believes a second indictment was also issued last week.

      All three defendants worked at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos.

      Martinez and Chairez turned themselves in Tuesday morning.

      Guzman turned himself in earlier.

      3 prison workers held in smuggling


      March 16, 2009

      Few prison guards fired, prosecuted for contraband smuggling

      What happens to Texas prison staff caught smuggling contraband into prisons? For the most part, nothing, says a report by the Houston Chronicle ("Illicit goods keep flowing into prisons," March 15):

      Texas prisons are a virtual bazaar of prohibited and illicit goods smuggled in by guards and correctional employees who have rarely faced harsh punishment when caught, according to a Houston Chronicle review.

      Nearly 300 employees, many lowly paid correctional officers, were reprimanded for possessing prohibited items at 20 prison units with the most pervasive contraband problem between 2003 and 2008, records show.

      Of the 263 employees disciplined solely for contraband, about three-fourths (199) were given probation, where they were placed under special scrutiny for specified periods. Thirty-five were fired; 26 received no punishment at all. One of the 263 was criminally prosecuted for the contraband, but served no prison time.

      This reminds me that 46 guards last fall were caught smuggling cell phones onto Texas prison units during a lockdown aimed at removing contraband. One wonders what punishments they received after implementation of TDCJ's new "zero tolerance" policy?

      It appears contraband cases are not being aggressively prosecuted, the Chron reports:

      Gina DeBottis, head of the prison system’s Special Prosecution Unit, has sought to prosecute 68 prison employees for contraband since 2003, filing more than 90 charges. At least nine cases were dismissed after indictment for various reasons, and grand juries refused charges in three other instances, records show. The rest are pending, she said.

      Unless those cases are mostly from last fall, that seems like a long time for so many prosecutions to languish.

      I've written before that "zero tolerance is not a policy." Declaring "zero tolerance" doesn't tell us if an employee will be reprimanded, fired or prosecuted for smuggling contraband - it's just a media soundbite, and one that seems increasingly meaningless the more we learn about how TDCJ actually deals with staff engaged in contraband smuggling.

      If Texas prisons weren't so understaffed, maybe TDCJ wouldn't feel the need to keep employees caught smuggling contraband on the payroll just to minimally cover its shifts.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at: Few prison guards fired, prosecuted for contraband smuggling

      Labels: contraband, TDCJ


      Illicit goods keep flowing into prisons

      300 employees reprimanded from '03 to '08

      By LISA SANDBERG and MATT STILES
      Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
      March 14, 2009

      AUSTIN — Knives and drugs, cell phones and smokeless tobacco. Even McDonald’s hamburgers.

      Texas prisons were a virtual bazaar of prohibited and illicit goods smuggled in by guards and correctional employees who rarely faced harsh punishment when caught, according to a Houston Chronicle review.

      Nearly 300 employees, many lowly paid correctional officers, were reprimanded for possessing prohibited items at 20 prison units with the most pervasive contraband problem between 2003 and 2008, records show.

      Of the 263 employees disciplined solely for contraband, about 75 percent, were given probation. Thirty five were fired; 26 received no punishment at all. One of the 263 was criminally prosecuted for the contraband, but served no prison time.

      Contraband trafficking, one of the biggest security problems facing the state’s 112-unit prison system, gained national attention last fall when a death row inmate used a smuggled cell phone to threaten a prominent lawmaker.

      The phone was used by fellow death row inmates to place nearly 3,000 other calls.

      John Moriarty, the prison system’s inspector general, called contraband “the biggest security problem the prisons face.”

      Until recently, guards found introducing contraband into the system were more likely to be handed minimal penalties rather than fired and the punishment varied widely, a newspaper review of five years of disciplinary records shows. In 47 cases in which an employee attempted to deliver contraband to an offender, only seven cases resulted in dismissals, according to the analysis.

      Firing not automatic

      Top prison officials have called for zero tolerance in stamping out prison contraband, though it “doesn’t mean someone is terminated,” said the prison system’s spokeswoman, Michelle Lyons.

      “It means it’s addressed and is dealt with accordingly. In some cases, depending on the contraband, the fitting punishment is probation or suspension,” she said. “In more serious cases, where the facts support that the person intended to introduce contraband to an offender, then it’s dealt with possibly by termination.”

      But in 2003 a correctional officer at the Estelle Unit was given 10 months probation and suspended for four days without pay after his backpack turned up an assortment of knives, prescription drugs, a cell phone, two electric razors, a box blade, a lighter, a set of portable radios, cigarettes and cigars.

      Another correctional officer with an otherwise clean record at the Beto Unit got six months probation, simply for walking through a metal detector with an unopened can of chewing tobacco.

      A retired Estelle Unit prison guard said getting cigarettes into the prisons was never a problem. “I used to walk behind the cell blocks every night and would find cigarette ashes out there behind maybe a third of the cell blocks,” said the former guard, who was once placed on probation for being found on prison grounds with a bag containing a paring knife, a spoon, scissors, an alarm clock, a deck of playing cards and an ashtray.

      Not all contraband is intended for inmates. “A lot of it is personal use stuff,” Moriarty said. Officials must try to figure out whether a guard simply forgot to unload his cell phone before entering a prison, or intended to deliver it to an inmate, and pocket as much as $2,000 for one destined for death row, he said.

      Smuggling now harder

      Lyons said changes instituted after the death row cell phone scandal, such as pat-downs of everyond entering the prisons, have made it harder for contraband to get in.

      Still, more than 200 cell phones have been confiscated systemwide since a lockdown for illicit items ended in November, including eight seized from death row.

      While contraband has been a problem for years, the issue received scant attention until Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, received several threatening calls from death row inmate Richard Tabler, a man linked to four murders.

      Low pay called a factor

      Whitmire said last week that few inside the system would acknowledge the problem until he found himself on the line with a death row prisoner. Now, the lawmaker is calling for a no-tolerance policy regarding contraband.

      He said staffing shortages have forced prison administrators to compromise in both discipline and hiring practices, adding, “There are instances where they are hiring people with matters in their background who normally wouldn’t be hired.”

      He said rank-and-file officers’ salaries — their base pay is capped at $34,000 annually — contribute to the problem. “The low pay certainly would make those who are susceptible to being dishonest cross the line.”

      One legislative proposal would give correctional officers as much as a 20-percent raise — at a two-year cost of at least $400 million.

      Pressing prosecutions

      Brian Olsen, executive director of the Texas branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents prison workers, said the contraband problem could persist unless guards receive professional wages.

      Still, he said most officers follow the rules, and others get into trouble for “trafficking” in seemingly harmless items, such as candy and soft drinks. “There are going to be bad officers,” Olsen said. “I don’t think it’s as rampant a problem as everyone says.”

      The newspaper analysis found smokeless tobacco to be the most popular contraband linked to correctional employees, followed by cell phones and alcohol.

      The Stiles Unit in Beaumont, the Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony and the Allred unit in Wichita Falls had the most documented incidents involving workers and contraband.

      At four units, Connally in Kennedy, Hughes in Gatesville, Estelle in Huntsville and Smith in Lamasa, all employees disciplined for contraband received probation, rather than dismissal. Six other units gave probation to their staff for contraband in more than 80 percent of the cases.

      Gina DeBottis, head of the prison system’s Special Prosecution Unit, has sought to prosecute 68 prison employees for contraband since 2003, filing more than 90 charges. At least nine cases were dismissed after indictment for various reasons, and grand juries refused charges in three other instances, records show. The rest are pending, she said.

      The contraband prosecutions include at least 26 cases involving tobacco and another 17 related to mobile telephones. There were also at least seven cases from allegations that inmates bribed prison employees.

      matt.stiles@chron.com
      lsandberg@express-news.net

      Illicit goods keep flowing into prisons


      Correctional officers rally for pay raises

      They want 20%; House and Senate unlikely to approve anything close to that.


      Laura Skelding/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
      On Thursday, correctional officers Mary Jane Cozad and her husband, Ray,
      who both work at the Roach Unit in Childress, honor employees who died
      in the line of duty and try to raise awareness about the need for pay raises.

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      March 13, 2009

      Texas correctional officers rallied at the Capitol on Thursday, remembering fallen comrades and calling for pay raises, which they say are a long time coming.

      "We are waiting and watching," said Brian Olsen, executive director of a prison officers union that rallied 400 correctional officers seeking a 20 percent pay increase — a jump that would move Texas from 48th nationwide in correctional pay to about the middle of the pack.

      In a somber ceremony punctuated by tears and reverent words for the 51 Texas correctional officers who have died in the line of duty, the crowd of gray and blue uniforms made it clear that they think a raise is years overdue.

      "If they can find money for everything else, they can find money for us," said Don McCoy, a 28-year veteran at the 1,100-convict Powledge Unit near Palestine. "We'll be back, again and again, until they approve it."

      Texas' prison system has been chronically short of guards for more than a decade so short that in recent years, officials have been forced to close parts of some prisons because they did not have enough staff to safely operate them. The agency is about 2,300 officers short, down from nearly 4,000 short in September 2007.

      The current starting salary for a correctional officer is $26,016, and the maximum salary is $34,624. For parole officers, starting salary is $32,277, with a maximum of $36,363.

      In their proposed budget, Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials sought 20 percent raises for correctional officers and parole officers, at a cost of $453.4 million.

      Last week, a House work group tentatively approved a 5 percent increase and put the rest on a long "wish list" of state needs.

      A Senate work group recommended the entire 20 percent pay hike, but by Thursday there were reports that only a 10 percent increase might survive.

      "Five percent is just $42-$43 in additional take-home," Olsen said. "That's almost nothing."

      Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, and state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who attended the ceremony, said the officers deserve raises.

      "We know they need it, deserve it," Whitmire said. "We just have to find it."

      mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

      Find this article at:
      Correctional officers rally for pay raises


      TDCJ employees question effectiveness of pat searching themselves

      By: Max Rodriguez,
      The Backgate Website
      03/09/09

      Employees statewide have emailed us and given us their take on the TDCJ rules governing pat searches. Most think it's a long time coming, but are upset that they they are not consistent, not by the book, and sometimes not done at all. "The pat searches are only as effective as the people that are doing them." said one longtime region I employee. And most of the mail we have received echo those same thoughts. "Our weakest links in security are sometimes placed at these search areas, how is that effective?" said a region III employee.

      TDCJ has put out a search video for employees to watch to learn the correct way to pat search an employee or visitor. Most people refer to it as a video to cover TDCJ from any liability. Truth is, TDCJ's current policy on employee/visitor searches is ineffective at best.

      We have had inmate family members email us begging for someone to make a change.

      Stating that they themselves didn't think it was effective and sometimes weren't pat searched at all at some facilities. Thats when it becomes rediculous. Employees are still getting in cell phones, marijuana, cocaine, and as a recent discovery uncovered in region III, a female sex toy.

      Heres the thing, employees don't mind being pat searched, and welcome the intent. But so far, it has been no more than a public relations ploy for the media and state legislators.

      Only when a handgun makes it into a facility, or someone is killed by an outside introduced weapon will anyone sound off or commit to change. Mr. Whitmire, if you are reading this, you may as well expect more cell phone calls in the middle of the night, because TDCJ employees statewide are themselves claiming failure. We are just wondering how long it will take for TDCJ administrators to wake up and make changes this time around.

      Another employee who wanted to be kept anonymous stated how his unit's hand held metal detector had not worked for a week at the front gates entry point.

      The staff members using it had just been waving it back and forth over everyones body as if had been working.

      Turns out the batteries were dead. Others claim that they were not ever trained on the use of a hand held metal detector. And didn't know what to listen for when using it. Scary isn't it? Yes, we thought so too.

      TDCJ employees question effectiveness of pat searching themselves


      March 06, 2009

      How effective are TDCJ shakedowns at finding contraband?

      Reacting to this item from the Department of Criminal Justice's Connections newsletter, Duane Stuart at The Back Gate, a prison guards' blog, says that patdowns for guards and new restrictions on food and other items staff can bring onto TDCJ units are little more than security theater:

      The Back Gate's View: Ok, good PR, but how are the shakedowns effective when you have that unit's correctional officers shaking down friends and co-workers? How good are the searches? Is it the fox guarding the henhouse? We think TDCJ is merely plugging the hole in the dam by using thier pinky finger.

      Just a few months after the the phones turned up on death row, guess how many more have been found statewide after the " stringent searches".

      Your answer.... hundreds.

      So what has been effective? So give us a break TDCJ.

      Come clean and correct the issues before it once again hits home.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: contraband, TDCJ


      Senate backs prison pay hikes

      By Mike Ward
      March 5, 2009

      A Senate Finance Committee work group voted this afternoon to fund the full 20-percent in pay raises for Texas’ correctional officers, a $450 million package that was proposed last summer by prison brass.

      The move came just hours after a House budget work group decided to cut the proposed pay hikes to just 5 percent, and move them to a wish list of items that may be funded if enough money is left over.

      “We think that’s an important initiative that should stay in” the budget, said state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, echoing sentiments from Sens. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

      Added Seliger: “In the best of times, we’re 4,000 officers short. Now, we’re 2,200 short. I think they need a raise.”

      Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

      Senate backs prison pay hikes


      Former McLennan County jail guard pleads guilty to lending cell phone to inmates

      March 03, 2009
      By Tommy Witherspoon
      Tribune-Herald staff writer

      A former guard at the McLennan County Detention Center pleaded guilty Monday to allowing two inmates to use his cell phone in October.

      Michael Ray Hamilton III, 18, pleaded guilty in Waco’s 19th State District Court to providing contraband to prisoners, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

      As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors recommended five years deferred probation and a $300 fine. Judge Ralph Strother ordered a background investigation and scheduled sentencing for Hamilton for April 27.

      Hamilton, known as “Big Mike” to inmates, said after his plea that the two men who used his cell phone were trusties at the privately operated jail on Columbus Avenue. He said they never hesitated to do anything he asked of them, so he agreed to do them a favor and let them use his phone.

      The jail is owned by McLennan County but is leased to Community Education Centers, a private detention company.

      Hamilton, flanked by his attorney, John Hand, said he knew that providing a phone was against jail rules but was unaware that it was against the law. “I knew I could probably get fired for it, but I didn’t think it was something that I could go to jail for,” he said.

      He said he now is working two jobs, at a Waco bar as a “floor manager” and at a maintenance company.

      twitherspoon@wacotrib.com
      757-5737

      Former McLennan County jail guard pleads guilty to lending cell phone to inmates


      Six female guards accused of having sex with inmates at Montague County Jail

      February 28, 2009
      By JASON TRAHAN
      The Dallas Morning News
      jtrahan@dallasnews.com

      Six women who worked as guards at the Montague County Jail were indicted Friday, accused of having sex with male inmates and giving them drugs or other contraband such as cellphones and cigarettes.

      In all, 17 people were indicted in connection with a scandal surrounding former Sheriff Bill Keating and troubling conditions at the jail he used to control. The suspected offenses date to fall 2006.

      In addition to the ex-sheriff, who faces at least one state charge of having sex with an inmate, the others indicted Friday are a former jail supervisor and several others accused of providing or using contraband, including two other women and two men who were jailers, three male inmates and two nonemployees who had dealings with the jail.

      Montague County District Attorney Jack McGaughey said the names of the defendants in the grand jury indictment are sealed until warrants are issued and the suspects are either arrested or surrender.

      Keating, who lost his re-election bid last year after serving a four-year term, did not return a phone message left at his home in Forestburg, about 75 miles northwest of Dallas. His attorney, Mark Daniel, did not comment Friday.

      Keating has pleaded guilty to a separate federal charge of using his power as sheriff to coerce a woman into having sex with him in mid-November in order to avoid jail. He surrendered to federal authorities in late January after he was charged with deprivation of civil rights under color of law.

      U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor could sentence Keating to up to 10 years in prison with a $250,000 fine on May 1.

      Six female guards accused of having sex with inmates at Montague County Jail


      February 28, 2009

      NATIONAL BRIEFING | SOUTHWEST

      Texas: Ex-Sheriff and Jailers Indicted

      By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Seventeen people, including a former sheriff, are accused in a 106- count indictment of sex and drug crimes at a jail in Montague County.

      The former sheriff, Bill Keating, was charged with official oppression and having sex with inmates. Mr. Keating was defeated in a primary election last spring, and has pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation in an unrelated case involving the sexual assault of a woman.

      In the new case, several female jailers were charged with having sex with inmates and bringing them drugs, cellphones and cigarettes, while several male jailers were charged with drug possession and bringing inmates banned items.

      Several inmates were also charged with drug possession. The jail, northwest of Fort Worth, has been closed.

      Texas: Ex-Sheriff and Jailers Indicted


      Standoff at Bartlett State Jail ends peacefully

      By Miguel Liscano
      February 25, 2009

      A woman who briefly took two people hostage at the Bartlett State Jail surrendered peacefully early this morning after a standoff that lasted more than two hours, officials said.

      About 10:50 p.m. Tuesday, a former employee at the jail held a gun on two employees in the parking lot of the jail’s administration building, at 1018 Arnold Drive, and demanded keys to enter the building, according to a media release.

      The employees escaped and called authorities after the woman entered the administration building, the release said.

      Once inside the building’s visitation area, the woman was alone and didn’t have access to any other part of the building, the release said.

      A Williamson County Sheriff’s Office crisis intervention team persuaded the woman to surrender about 1:20 a.m., and she was taken into custody, the release said.

      The release said that no inmates were involved in this situation.

      The name of the woman was not released.

      The 1,049-bed facility is managed by Corrections Corp. of America and houses male inmates.

      Standoff at Bartlett State Jail ends peacefully


      Corrections officer bonds out of jail after being arrested

      By AMY MOORE
      February, 25, 2009

      A prisoner hoping to get a contraband treat from the outside world will have to do without since his connection, a corrections officer, was arrested earlier this week.

      Sara Jo Arrojas, 21, a corrections officer at the Mark Stiles Unit in Beaumont, was arrested Monday after a coworker saw her drop a brown paper bag in a trash can and became suspicious.

      The noise the bag made when it dropped alerted the corrections officer that the bag was not empty, according to John Moriarty, inspector general in charge of the case.

      After pulling the bag from the trash, the officer found two ounces of marijuana and almost three ounces of tobacco inside, said Michelle Lyons, director of public relations for Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Arrojas, who has been a corrections officer since September 2008, was arrested and booked into the Jefferson County Jail on a charge of Prohibited Substance in Correctional Facility.

      She was also booked on a charge of possession of marijuana after a subsequent search of her residence produced additional amounts of marijuana, Moriarty said.

      Arrojas bonded out of jail Tuesday night around 6 p.m., according to the jail.

      If Arrojas is found to have been involved in trafficking contraband into the facility, Moriarty said she could face a third degree felony of bribery. That charge comes with a punishment of two to 10 years in prison, he said.

      Arrojas is on leave from her duties while the incident is investigated. Lyons said what often happens in circumstances like this is the corrections officer uses paid personal or sick time while on leave.

      She has no prior disciplinary actions, Lyons said.

      The inmate to whom Arrojas intended to deliver the contraband is not yet identified, but Moriarty said he believes there is a suspect.

      That inmate also will face disciplinary action, Lyons said.

      With contraband increasingly smuggled into prisons, Moriarty said more attention is being paid to actions inside the walls. He said the officer who pulled the bag from the trash did "good work."

      Lyons said incidents like this happen from time to time.

      "Sometimes officers do it for the money," Lyons said. "Unfortunately, the officers do one 'favor' for an inmate and then the inmate basically owns them."

      The system has no tolerance for it, Lyons added,The Mark Stiles Unit houses male inmates of all levels of custody, from minimum to the highest level of administrative segregation.

      Corrections officer bonds out of jail after being arrested


      Guards threaten strike at San Antonio-area immigrant detention facility

      February 10, 2009
      Associated Press

      SAN ANTONIO – Guards at the largest immigrant detention facility in Texas readied to strike Tuesday in a dispute with the same private contractor running a West Texas prison disrupted by two inmate riots in as many months.

      Unionized workers at the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall say that unless The GEO Group Inc. agrees to better wages and working conditions Tuesday, more than 300 employees could walk off the job as early as this week.

      Negotiations began in August, and union officials said the meeting with GEO in San Antonio was the last chance to hammer out a deal. About 1,400 detainees are being held at the facility because of their immigration status.

      "I'm hoping (GEO) will be serious this time," said Ricardo Luna, 50, a detention officer at the facility and the union president. "But I don't know. It could go either way."

      GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said the company does not comment on ongoing negotiations or employee-related matters as a matter of policy. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which contracted GEO to run the facility, has previously said the agency is "prepared to respond appropriately" no matter the outcome but did not elaborate.

      A strike would be the latest problem in Texas for GEO, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based private contractor that is still sorting out two inmate riots since December at a federal prison the company manages in Reeves County.

      The latest riot began Jan. 31 and ended Thursday in the remote West Texas town of Pecos. The disturbance left buildings heavily damaged, sent smoke billowing from the facility, and SWAT teams driving inside and out.

      Inmates and relatives have told news media the riot was prompted by poor treatment, including medical services. Another riot in December left one housing unit damages and cost the county at least $320,000 in repairs.

      In San Antonio, union workers arrived to the bargaining table prepared with 100 red picketing posters that read, "ON STRIKE AGAINST GEO GROUP INC. – UNFAIR."

      Luna said the safety of detention officers has been compromised by poor equipment and new guards who he says have not received the proper training.

      Located about 60 miles south of San Antonio, the Pearsall detention center is the only unionized GEO facility in the nation, union officials say.

      Workers are seeking increased wages, more affordable health benefits and improved working conditions. The standard wage there is $14.37 an hour, according to union officials. Negotiations last broke off in January.

      Guards threaten strike


      Stiles Guard Busted Trying to Smuggle Pot, Tobacco and Cell Phones

      Second guard runs after seeing check, has not reported to work since News KBMT

      Feb 7, 2009

      KBMT News has learned that a correctional officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Stiles Unit in mid-Jefferson County was arrested earlier this week when he was caught trying to smuggle cell phones, marijuana and tobacco into the prison.

      Department spokesperson Michelle Lyons says 24-year-old Eric J. Talmore was heading into the facility to begin his shift when a container of rice he brought in failed to pass security.

      On-duty guards then opened the rice to find three cell phones and a bag of marijuana buried inside.

      They searched Talmore and found another six packages of tobacco taped to his waste and feet. Lyons said he was arrested on the spot and transported to the Jefferson County Jail.

      Lyons said a second guard who was also reporting to work and witnessed the screening turned and left the premises in his personal vehicle. She said that guard has yet to return back to work.

      KBMT's news partner KXAN in Austin reports that TDCJ has been searching employees more closely after death row inmate Richard Tabler accused an officer of smuggling the cell phone that was discovered in his prison cell in October after he made a threatening call to state Sen. John Whitmire. It was among some 2,800 calls records show were traced to the phone and prompted a lock down of the nation's second-largest corrections system for weeks while officers combed 111 prisons for contraband.

      More than 100 phones, 100 phone chargers and nearly 200 weapons were confiscated in the sweep. Other phones and phone components are still being discovered.

      Stiles Guard Busted Trying to Smuggle Pot, Tobacco and Cell Phones


      EDITORIAL

      Want to be a prison guard in Texas? Anybody?

      The Texas prison system has 32 non-citizens in its ranks of employees, and there's nothing wrong with that - espeically considering the system is short 2,600 guards.

      February 08, 2009

      Short 2,600 guards, the Texas prison system has hired at least 32 people who are not American citizens, but in this country legally, to fill positions. This has triggered some criticism, including from Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

      But we don't see any problem with hiring foreign citizens who are here legally and willing to take on a state job that is singularly thankless, sometimes dangerous and low paid all in one.

      What ought to alarm the Legislature more than the hiring of foreigners in the prison system is the shortage of 2,600 guards.

      That, by the way, is 2,600 guards short of the number of positions authorized by a Legislature hardly known for extravagant funding of prisons, not 2,600 short of some ideal target set by ivory tower experts. (There are currently 23,700 guards.)

      So this is not an example of immigrants, legal or otherwise, taking jobs from Americans or driving down wages. It's an example of foreigners — mostly Mexicans and Nigerians, in this case — willing to do hard, unpleasant work that Americans shun, at least at the pay that Texas lawmakers have been willing to provide.

      "What this shows me is that (the prison system) is so desperate in their hiring that they're taking these folks," Whitmire told the American-Stateman's Mike Ward.

      Desperate is a good word. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice must keep 156,000 convicts in prison and away from the rest of us. So, unable to attract enough Texans willing to start at $26,016 a year to work as guards, it turns to legal immigrants. (Yes, locating prisons in rural areas, away from the larger job markets in the state's cities, probably is a factor, too.)

      As Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said of the guard shortage, "It's a good example of how we're not paying our correctional officers enough."

      The prison system has asked the Legislature for a 20 percent pay increase for prison guards and parole officers over the next two budget years that would cost taxpayers about $453.4 million, spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. Starting pay for a guard would rise to $30,179.

      But lawmakers also face a recession economy and a tightening of tax revenue. They can dip into a rainy day fund, but Gov. Rick Perry and others don't want to dip into it too deeply.

      Still, if Texas lawmakers want only citizens to guard their prisoners, they must first raise their pay, because too many citizens obviously won't take the job — apparently not even in a recession.

      Find this article at:
      Want to be a prison guard in Texas? Anybody?


      PRISONS

      Immigrant workers taking Texas prison guard jobs

      Some lawmakers question the practice, despite chronic staffing shortages.

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN STATESMAN STAFF
      February 05, 2009

      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.

      "Other states' prison systems vary in their requirements. Oklahoma and Louisiana have no rules requiring guards to be U.S. citizens, though a spokesman in Oklahoma could not provide numbers on so-called green card holders.

      New Mexico and Arkansas require their guards to be U.S. citizens, as do many large police agencies in Texas, including Austin, Dallas, Houston and the Department of Public Safety.

      DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said state law requires that the agency's law enforcement and noncommissioned employees be U.S. citizens.

      Of the 156,000 convicts serving sentences in Texas prisons, more than 13,000 are from other countries.

      "Those with work visas work mostly as correctional officers, but also in food service and transportation," Lyons said. "Traditionally, they've mostly worked in the Houston area, but they're now working in Huntsville and Palestine."

      Lyons said all workers are on proper work visas, as legal immigrants. "We track them because we want to make sure they keep current on their visas," she said.

      Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said he received a question from constituents concerning green card workers at prisons in his district and was surprised to find out the reports were true.

      "It's legal," Nichols said. "But it doesn't appear to be a very good policy. ... It concerns some of my constituents. They think there's something wrong when we hire foreign workers like this."

      Citing chronic staffing shortages, he added: "It's a good example of how we're not paying our correctional officers enough."

      Whitmire said he has other issues with the practice. "With all due respect to those people who are legal workers, I don't think we should have foreign nationals guarding our prisoners," he said. "I've been around the prison system for years and years, and this is the first I've ever heard that the state is doing this.

      "It's not what I know about the system that worries me, it's what I don't know — and this is an example of that."

      Immigrant workers taking Texas prison guard jobs


      Death House Warden Suspended For Argument After Execution

      By Stephen Dean
      POSTED: January 30, 2009

      HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- The senior warden who oversees all executions in the nation's busiest death house has been suspended for his comments following an execution, Local 2 Investigates reported Friday.

      Senior Warden C. Thomas O'Reilly, leader of the Huntsville Unit prison, will serve a two-day suspension without pay next week. After that, he will be on probation for three months.

      O'Reilly is being punished for using profanity during an argument with other Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials, including his superiors, after they had all gathered for the execution of Reginald Perkins. Perkins was condemned for the 2000 strangulation of his Fort Worth mother-in-law. He was pronounced dead at 6:24 p.m. on Jan. 22.

      TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said the argument happened six minutes after Perkins was pronounced dead, after the officials had left the death house in the Huntsville Unit.

      One person who was involved in the argument told Local 2 Investigates that the argument had nothing to do with the execution, but he declined to characterize what sparked the harsh words.

      The Huntsville Unit was formerly named the Walls Unit, since it is surrounded by huge brick walls in downtown Huntsville. Prior to their execution, condemned inmates are housed on Texas Death Row, which is miles away in Livingston.

      O'Reilly is responsible for giving the final order to administer lethal drugs as inmates are strapped to the gurney. The inmate is given the chance to issue a final statement and a prison official of lower rank then advises the warden inside the execution chamber. The final words that most inmates hear are, "Warden, you may proceed."

      Death House Warden Suspended For Argument After Execution


      Former downtown Waco jail guard indicted amid allegations he let prisoners use a cell phone

      January 29, 2009
      By Tommy Witherspoon
      Tribune-Herald staff writer

      The state prison system apparently is not alone when it comes to prisoners getting access to cell phones.

      A McLennan County grand jury Wednesday indicted a former guard at the privately operated McLennan County Detention Center on Columbus Avenue on a charge of giving contraband to inmates at a secure facility, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

      Michael Ray Hamilton III, an 18-year-old former jail guard known as “Big Mike” to inmates, was indicted for allowing two prisoners, Morgan Dyer and Chris McWilliams, to use his cell phone to make calls in October, authorities said. The use of cell phones by inmates is prohibited in detention centers, according to records filed in the case.

      Hamilton and both inmates gave written statements to McLennan County Sheriff’s Office investigators about use of the phone, an affidavit to support Hamilton’s arrest said.

      A man who identified himself as a warden at the downtown jail, which is operated by Community Education Centers in a lease agreement with McLennan County, referred questions about Hamilton to the sheriff’s office. He declined to give his name.

      More than 200 cell phones have been confiscated in state prison cell blocks since a systemwide shakedown for contraband ended in November.

      Eight of the phones were seized from death row, where the shakedown started after condemned two-time murderer Richard Lee Tabler called and threatened to kill state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Tabler was sentenced to death for killings in the Killeen area.

      The Associated Press contributed to this story.

      twitherspoon@wacotrib.com
      757-5737

      Former downtown Waco jail guard indicted


      TYC IG quits

      By Mike Ward
      January 27, 2009

      Bruce Toney, the Texas Youth Commission’s first inspector general who established the agency’s independent investigative arm during a sex-abuse scandal, is resigning.

      He has been credited with organizing a credible law enforcement unit at the troubled agency that probed into cases of abuse, neglect and wrongdoing.

      Before the scandal erupted almost two years ago, the agency had no such law enforcement unit — the the creation of an inspector general’s office was a key element of reforms enacted by the Legislature two years ago.

      Toney plans to return to Huntsville to work as a captain for the inspector general’s office at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, sources who had been briefed on the resignation said this afternoon.

      Toney plans to depart in February.

      Toney could not immediately be reached for comment.

      While working as a prison system investigator, Toney was brought to the Youth Commission along with a team of prison investigators in the spring of 2007 to investigate abuse claims. He was then hired as inspector general.

      Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

      TYC IG quits


      Prison agency still pushing guard pay raise

      By Mike Ward
      January 21, 2009

      Texas prison officials said today their request for an additional $453.4 million for pay raises for correctional officers is still on the table.

      “We are definitely going ahead with that request,” said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      On Tuesday, Senate and House versions of the base budget prepared by the Legislative Budget Board listed $22.2 million in pay raises for correctional and parole officers. Lyons said today that was a remaining installment in pay raises given all state employees last session.

      Lest any correctional staff thinking the $22.2 million was all there would be, corrections officials wanted to set the record straight.

      Still undecided: Whether the Legislature will be able to find the $453.4 million the agency wants, in such a tight budget year.

      In what could be a help the LBB, in a separate Effectiveness and Efficiency Report just released, makes the case that Texas prison officers could use a pay raise.

      Prison agency still pushing guard pay raise


      Strengthening the guardhouse that guards the guards

      Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

      In prisons, as in other total institutions like psychiatric hospitals and homes for the elderly, the potential for corruption and mistreatment is ever-present.

      It is too easy to blame a few bad apples. No doubt prisons do attract some staff with authoritarian and dictatorial attitudes or who just like giving orders. But they also attract some of the very best people – both as governor grades and as frontline staff.

      No, it is not about the people. Rather, the potential for wrongdoing is the inevitable consequence of the power-imbalance between prisoners and their guards. This power-imbalance may be legitimate and necessary (one group has the keys, the other does not), just as many of the cruelties of imprisonment are necessary cruelties (restrictions on possessions, restrictions on movement, the reliance on security intelligence) . But any system where the relationship between the parties is so unequal is susceptible to exploitation, malpractice and worse.

      This is the reason why external monitoring and accountability of the prison system is so essential.

      No-one set out to design the prison system in this way.

      Texas needs an independent Monitoring Boards.

      What of the Independent Monitoring Boards? They have very extensive powers, but how many use them to best effect? As someone who reads every annual report, I know there are many boards that are hard- working, diligent and focussed. But there still seem to be some less interested in the welfare of the prisoners than in their own relationship with the governor or Prison HQ.

      A flourishing voluntary sector is another of society's vital signs.

      Prisons are no longer full of short-term petty offenders.

      One well-known activist recently published an article on deaths in custody without mentioning that investigations are now conducted independently, indeed without once mentioning the Ombudsman's role or that of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

      "Investigations, " she wrote, "often attempt to blame and demonise the deceased and their family for the death to deflect attention away from the responsibility and agents of the state."

      As for the media, most of the newspapers only report prisons in terms of stereotypes – escapes and riots (not enough of those these days) or drugs, drink and high jinks in open establishments. Even the serious newspapers have their biases.

      Reporting on success gives credibility to reporting on failure.

      As a consequence, investigations are too frequently delayed and may be over-influenced by what staff say they would have done rather than finding out what they actually did. Furthermore, we have no resource to analyse or disseminate our findings, or to follow up on recommendations.

      Although you could reasonably argue that this country's prisons are as open to scrutiny as any, this remains a critical function.

      Morality and justice are not excluded by questions of contract and competitiveness, but neither are they the first things that come to mind.

      Compared to many prison systems:

      Just look what happens when those things are absent – say in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay.

      The toughening of the public and political mood towards prisoners carries new dangers. As I have discovered from my investigations in immigration removal centres, no staff are immune from the coarsening of the way those in their care are described in the media and on the public stage.

      We need more monitoring of prisons, not less of it.

      And those of them charged with that precious responsibility need to up their game.

      This article is taken from Prison Report 71.


      2008:


      Huntsville prison warden reassigned pending investigation

      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
      Dec. 17, 2008

      The senior warden of Huntsville's Goree state prison has been assigned to other duties pending an investigation of an alleged violation of policies regarding the use of inmate labor, a prison spokeswoman said today.

      Charles Williamson, 39, was assigned to duties in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's regional office on Nov. 10, Michelle Lyons said.

      No further details about the investigation have been disclosed.

      Williamson joined the prison system in July 1990 and became the warden at the Goree Unit on Sept. 1, 2005.

      Goree, a 717-acre prison at Huntsville's southern edge, is home to as many as 1,300 male prisoners. All categories of inmates, from minimum security to administrative segregation, are incarcerated at the prison.

      Huntsville prison warden reassigned


      Guard accused of smuggling cell phone to inmate

      ODESSA, Texas — A former correctional officer at the Ector County Correctional Center faces a federal bribery charge for allegedly supplying an inmate with three bags of marijuana and a cell phone in exchange for about $450, the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday.

      Andrew Allen Zehr, 23, faces up to 15 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine if convicted of the offense alleged to have taken place in late October. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Zehr on Tuesday afternoon. Zehr was released on $10,000 bond Wednesday, said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Klassen. A home phone number for Zehr could not immediately be found.

      The attorney appointed to represent Zehr on Wednesday, David Rogers, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press. Zehr was employed by New Jersey-based CiviGenics, otherwise known as Community Education Centers. The company is contracted by the county to manage the federal holding facility inside the Ector County Courthouse, the Odessa American reported Tuesday for its online edition.

      In response to an inquiry from The Associated Press on Zehr's charge, CiviGenics said in a statement that following an investigation conducted in coordination with the DEA, an employee who was bringing contraband into the facility was fired.

      The company said it takes such incidents seriously and works with law enforcement agencies to monitor and enforce laws.

      Guard accused of smuggling cell phone to inmate


      GEO Val Verde Guard Sentenced in Prisoner Assault Case

      11/25/2008

      A GEO Group guard has been sentenced for repeatedly punching a prisoner in 2006, according to reporting from Karen Gleason at the Del Rio News ("Jail term for former jailer" November 14). The GEO guard, Emmanuel Cassio, who was 18 at the time of the crime, will serve 16 months for the crime.

      According to the article, Cassio was employed as a jailer at the Val Verde Cunty Detention Center, which is operated by The GEO Group, a private company, under a contract with Val Verde County, from late April 2006 until he was fired in late November 2006, Val Verde County Detention Center Warden John Campbell told the Del Rio News-Herald in a previous interview.

      Cassio pleaded guilty to the two charges on April 30, 2008.

      "Cassio admitted that on Oct. 31, 2006, while working as a corrections officer at the Val Verde County Detention Center, he used unreasonable force when he repeatedly punched an inmate without provocation, " the press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office noted.

      "Cassio agreed that his assault violated the inmate's constitutional right to be free of unreasonable force by law enforcement officers.

      Additionally, Cassio admitted that he obstructed justice when he provided false information about the incident to investigators, " the press release read.

      Val Verde County Sheriff's Office investigators, who initiated an investigation of the allegations against Cassio at the request of Campbell and Val Verde County Sheriff A. D'Wayne Jernigan, said Cassio walked into a cell and "struck an inmate with his fist."

      "The inmate then made a remark and the jailer returned and hit him again. This incident was witnessed by another jailer who reported it to jail administration. Warden Campbell immediately notified Sheriff Jernigan and requested an investigation, " said VVSO Lt. Larry Pope, head of the sheriff's office criminal investigations division and who attended Wednesday's sentencing of Cassio in federal court here.

      GEO's Val Verde Detention Center has certainly not been without operational problems. The facility has been under a county monitor since a lawsuit was brought by a civil rights organization on behalf of the family of LeTisha Tapia, a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits. In a separate 2005 suit, an employee reported that his superior displayed a hangman's noose in his office and took pictures in his prison uniform donning KKK garb.

      In 2007, the facility was again rattled after four inmates came down with a mysterious illness. Three of the inmates later died, but a state investigation could find nothing at the prison linking the prison to the illnesses.

      Guard Sentenced in Prisoner Assault


      NOVEMBER 15, 2008

      Back Gate poll finds prison staff fear retaliation for reporting misconduct

      Over at The Back Gate, a prison staff-run website, a reader poll asks this question: "As a TDCJ employee, have you witnessed incidents on your unit that you were afraid to report to your warden(s) due to fears of career suicide and or retaliation? (be honest)"

      The result: 76% (338 out of 445 at the time of this writing).

      Everyone wonders why it's so hard to rid prisons of contraband, but if this poll is an accurate reflection, part of the reason is that non-corrupt guards and other prison employees are afraid to speak up.

      Prison staff fear retaliation


      November 14, 2008

      Dozens of guards caught smuggling contraband during TDCJ lockdown

      Yesterday's Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing began with Chairman John Whitmire questioning Department of Criminal Justice executive director Brad Livingston regarding the recent lockdown targeting cell phones and other contraband.

      Livingston said TDCJ has found 132 cell phones so far on 22 units, including another one on death row, with 46 of those found patting down guards on the front end. TDCJ has also found tobacco 87 times during the lockdown, marijuana 25 times. Seven or eight units, said Livingston, accounted for the bulk of the contraband found.

      Sen. Whitmire said that contraband is contributing to Texas' prison capacity problem because inmates are assigned thousands of extra years as punishment for contraband that's mostly brought in by guards.

      In a debate over why TDCJ hadn't previously patted down guards on their way into prison units, Livingston told Whitmire that, because of the staffing shortage, there had been a concern that it would contribute to an oppressive environment for staff and limit retention.

      You mean if you found officers smuggling in contraband you'd have to fire them and you couldn't afford to lose that many people, asked Whitmire incredulously?

      Livingston backtracked to insist they'd been worried about good staff leaving because they didn't want to be searched, but Whitmire's interpetation is probably closer to the truth.

      After all, just minutes before Livingston told the senator they'd found 46 employees smuggling cell phones AFTER the lockdown was announced! There's no telling how many more they've lost over tobacco and other items.

      Livingston said TDCJ is preparing a package of improvements aimed at reducing contraband smuggling costing about $30 million, including metal detectors and cameras, mostly targeting the top 20 units where contraband has been found.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast


      CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

      Low pay may make prison guards ripe for smugglers

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      Friday, October 24, 2008

      If working conditions on Texas' death row are tough, the pay can be even tougher.

      Correctional officers start at about $26,000 a year to work in a dangerous environment, surrounded every workday by 350 condemned killers with nothing to lose.

      Many correctional officers rent their homes, because they can't afford to own, according to interviews with officers and prison officials. And many are single parents with second jobs to make ends meet. The top of the correctional officer pay scale is about $34,600, after more than seven years on the job.

      With Monday's bust of death row convict Richard Lee Tabler for reportedly possessing a cell phone that logged 2,800 calls in a month — with at least nine other death row inmates possibly making calls — state officials have been scrambling to lock down the system to impose a zero-tolerance policy on smuggled phones and other contraband.

      Several guards reportedly are under investigation as a part of the inquiry.

      "If someone is desperate to make ends meet and someone offers them $2,100 to smuggle in a cell phone, it's a hell of a temptation," said Brian Olsen, executive director of a labor union that represents some Texas correctional officers.

      "If they can sneak something in for some money, a few will do it."

      Corrections Maj. Joe Smith, a 22-year prison veteran who oversees death row, echoed the sentiment, noting that easily concealed cigarettes and other tobacco items can earn a dishonest guard $500 cash per trip.

      "These death row offenders have the money to pay," Smith said. "It scares me every day. Every day we fight this battle."

      Sen. John Whitmire, who called police after Tabler began calling him personally, said that contraband has gone unchecked far too long.

      "I'm angry it's taken this long for the prison administration to deal with what is a very serious breach of security that's been known about for years," said Whitmire, D-Houston. "I don't think there's been any will to stop contraband in the past."

      But Gov. Rick Perry and prison officials say things have changed. In ordering the lockdown, Perry imposed a zero-tolerance policy on all prison contraband — cell phones, narcotics, tobacco and other items.

      Their target: Those prison employees who are smuggling.

      Most prison officials agree the challenge of imposing the policy is formidable in a system that houses 155,000 inmates in 112 prisons and other lockups spread all across Texas. In the past year alone, investigators have seized more than 600 cell phones — 22 so far on death row.

      The prison with the biggest problem, agency records show, is the 2,500-bed Stiles Unit in Beaumont, where 180 smuggled cell phones have been found this year alone. Last year, the haul was 88.

      At Polunsky Unit, where death row is located, the take this year is 104.

      At a privately run pre-parole center on a former airbase in Mineral Wells , which has pay phones for prisoners to use, the number is 123.

      Also, officials said, motorists on the outside have thrown over the fence footballs loaded with phones, sacks filled with cartons of cigarettes, and even shot over arrows with tobacco products taped on them.

      "There's a constant problem with contraband there," said John Moriarty, the prison system's independent inspector general who is responsible for investigating contraband cases.

      "But we're not just working contraband in the system. We also have to work the homicides, the rapes, the assaults, all the other crimes.

      With limited resources, we can only do so much. Like the correctional staff, we're stretched thin."

      Of the approximately 26,000 budgeted positions for correctional officers, the state is currently about 3,000 short, said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      The department has asked the Legislature to fund a 20-percent wage increase to address the gap.

      In recent months, prison officials say, correctional officers across the system have been busted for trying to smuggle in cell phones, narcotics and a variety of other forbidden items. One guard was caught with tobacco-laden pouches taped on his arms and legs as he came to work, they said.

      "It takes a small few to make a big problem," said Warden Tim Simmons, a 26-year prison veteran who is warden at Polunsky. "We've intercepted birthday cards with SIM (cell phone) cards and money" hidden inside the card.

      Many of the cases are not prosecuted, records show. Most often, the officer is fired instead.

      "They haven't been strict on contraband because if they were strict on contraband, they know the number of employees they'd have to sanction would be large," said Bill Habern, a Huntsville attorney who has represented both inmates and unincarcerated Texans on prison contraband charges. "It goes on because it's the easiest way to run the system."

      Echoing the sentiments of others, Olsen and Smith agree that better searches at the prison doors and better pay for correctional officers would help.

      "If you have professional pay levels, you can draw more professional people," Olsen said, applauding the proposed 20-percent wage hike. "The solution is now with the Legislature. No more pass the buck now."

      mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

      Find this article at:
      Low pay may make prison guards ripe for smugglers


      Prison Lockdown Policies Upsetting Employees

      Posted: Oct 22, 2008

      There is no immediate end in sight for one of the largest prison lockdowns Texas has seen in decades. Representatives from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice say the lockdown is expected to last close to 3 weeks. As long as it takes for investigators to search 111 prisons in the state.

      It is not only the prisoners under scrutiny but prison employees as well, the TDCJ is not allowing food or any outside contraband into the prison system. They say they are providing food through the commissary and the Officer's Dinning Hall. They are advising employees to not bring anything to work, just a photo ID.

      With all these rules and regulations being instituted on prison employees, some say the TDCJ is going too far.

      We talked with a prison employee who is putting their job on the line in hopes of making things better for fellow employees during the lockdown. They feel prison worker rights are being violated the longer the lockdown persists. With in 24-hours of Texas Governor Rick Perry's lockdown the Panhandle prison system has changed.

      Every prison employee must go through an extensive search of their property and their body. They say the searching is making employees at least an hour late for work and harder to take breaks. Some employees say if they even receive a lunch break the dinning hall is closed because it is run by inmates and the commissary has limited options if you have dietary needs or medical conditions. These new policy changes are leaving many employees frustrated and ready to take action.

      A prison employee told us that they will not be surprised to see some employees leave. "They'll probably be some that'll quit or even they calling in sick and make a real unsafe place for not just the public and us who work on the inside," they said.

      TDCJ Representative Jason Clark says the changes are necessary to keep employees and the public safe. Employees feel they are paying the price for a mistake that occurred hundreds of miles away. They employees told us, "That has always been theTDCJ way. Whenever one messes up it affects everybody they don't deal with one. Which I know even at our facility we found today a little bit of contraband".

      There are more than 15,000 inmates in the Texas prison system and hundreds of prison employees who are being called in to work overtime during the statewide contraband search.

      Prison Lockdown Policies Upsetting Employees


      Texas prison officials blame influx of cellphones on poor staffing, surveillance

      October 21, 2008

      By EMILY RAMSHAW
      The Dallas Morning News
      eramshaw@dallasnews.com

      AUSTIN – Poor surveillance, inadequate staffing and underpaid, easily corrupted corrections guards have allowed Texas prison inmates to easily obtain phones and other contraband, criminal justice officials acknowledged Tuesday, the day after three cellphones were recovered from death row.

      One of these phones logged 2,800 calls over the last month and was used by a convicted murderer to make threatening calls to state Sen. John Whitmire, who said at an emergency hearing Tuesday that he was "disgusted" with top prison officials.

      States lack authority to jam prison airwaves
      "We're talking about life and death, about a death-row inmate calling me and talking about my daughters," said Mr. Whitmire, D-Houston. "It is more secure at the Harris County Courthouse, in Houston traffic court, than it is" on death row.

      Texas' 156,000 inmates remained on lockdown Tuesday after Monday's revelation that a guard had accepted a bribe to get murderer Richard Tabler a cellphone.

      Mr. Tabler and at least nine other death row inmates, most of them affiliated with violent gangs, made more than 2,800 calls over 30 days. The calls to Mr. Whitmire referenced the names of his daughters, their ages, and where they live in Houston.

      Wardens from Texas' death row testified at the hearing that their surveillance cameras don't record footage, and that metal detectors often don't detect cellphones that are predominantly plastic. Only 22 of the state's 112 units have walk-through metal detectors.

      The wardens said the units are understaffed. And they said guards are so poorly paid that they can be bribed to bring in contraband – everything from cellphones to tobacco and narcotics. Mr. Tabler allegedly paid more than $2,000 to get his cellphone.

      "The same staff bringing the phone in might be allowing offenders to trade it back and forth," said Billy Hirsch, the assistant warden at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, which houses death row. "If we paid them enough money, they might not be liable to take that bribe."

      Sneaking contraband into prisons is not a new phenomenon. Smuggled cellphones have been used in lockups across the country to negotiate drug deals and to order hits on gang rivals.

      So far this year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Office of Inspector General has recovered 700 cellphones, phone chargers or phone data chips across the prison system – 21 on death row alone.

      Mr. Whitmire promised immediate action, from pat-downs to drug dogs to rewards for information and better surveillance. Long term, he said, staffing improvements are a necessity.

      But he expressed outrage Tuesday that prison officials, who were aware of the problem, didn't act before it got out of hand. And he demanded answers for why they hadn't yet asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use cell-signal blockers – which would make the phones all but useless. The blockers require government approval.

      On Monday, a weeks-long investigation by the inspector general ended with Mr. Tabler's arrest – while he was talking on the phone in his prison cell. Authorities also arrested his mother – who is accused of arranging for the phone and paying for the minutes – as she arrived from Georgia at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. She was on her way to visit Mr. Tabler.

      "It's unbelievably difficult to locate those phones, because they move them around so well and hide them so well," Inspector General John Moriarty said.

      Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry ordered a lockdown and sweep of Texas' entire prison system, and all visitations have been suspended. More arrests are expected.

      Mr. Moriarty said Texas' cellphone problem is worse than most because the state is the only one in the nation that doesn't have a land-line phone system for inmates. The phone system has been approved but not yet installed.

      Poor Staffing


      October 21, 2008

      Pay hike for guards needed to reduce contraband smuggling

      At a Senate committee meeting today Texas legislators were told that understaffing and low guard pay were primary causes of the flood of contraband in Texas prisons, combined with a lack of phone access for inmates to keep in touch with their families. Improved phone access is already coming, but boosting pay will require legislative action. As Texas heads into the 81st legislative session, TDCJ officials have requested an eye-popping 20% pay hike for prison employees to stem its chronic understaffing problems.

      In that context, I was interested to see PacoVilla's Corrections Blog recently lamenting possible pay cuts for California prison guards because of that state's budget crisis (coupled with looming federal court judgments). California guards are the highest paid in the nation, and interestingly, the main argument Paco offers in favor of high pay is reduced contraband smuggling by guards:

      Notwithstanding the utter scorn the media has for California CPO's, even our harshest critics must acknowledge the effect high wages have had on staff involved contraband trafficking. Consider the FACT that Texas CO's rank 47th in the pay scale and HIGHEST in the illicit tobacco trade.

      IN ANY CASE, whether pay enhances professionalism, security, retention rates or anything else, the handwriting is on the wall: CPO's have pretty much hit the ceiling. The days of wine and roses are long gone, friends.

      Welcome the era of whine and poses.

      If higher pay appreciably boosted professionalism and reduced smuggling among Golden State guards, that's the opposite trend from what we've seen in Texas. In fact, we learn from one of Paco's links that California's penalties are actually much more lenient toward contraband smugglers:

      Prison employees can lose their jobs but there's almost no chance of a criminal prosecution. Unlike states such as Texas — where providing tobacco to prisoners is a felony — the California statute considers it a misdemeanor and doesn't lay out specific punishments.

      That indicates to me that, contrary to the conversation at the Senate committee today, there's little relationship between harsher punishments for smuggling and reducing its frequency in prisons.

      Besides, Inspector General John Moriarty told the committee that Texas juries are unlikely to convict guards of smuggling offenses even when prosecutors decide to pursue charges.

      As our friends at the Back Gate have frequently reported, at some Texas prison units the smuggling problem is epidemic, despite our guards facing much harsher criminal penalties than their counterparts on the West Coast. Perhaps, then, it's more effective to pay guards a decent salary on the front end and hire enough people to do the job. California prison guards make double what they're paid in Texas, though their cost of living is higher.

      Better staffing appears to be a key part of the solution: there's a one guard per 5.28 inmate ratio in California versus a one guard per 7.03 inmate ratio in Texas. That plus higher pay, better screening for job applicants, and stricter oversight procedures (including pat downs for guards as they enter the gates) are all more effective ways to keep contraband out.

      Twenty percent is a lot for TDCJ to ask for increasing prison staff pay all at once, but the best argument for giving them so big a boost is just what Paco said - it "enhances professionalism, security, [and] retention rates," plus it's probably the only way to dig TDCJ out of its staffing hole and fill those 3,000 empty guard slots.

      RELATED: See initial MSM coverage of yesterday's hearing:

      Pay hike for guards needed to reduce contraband smuggling


      TDCJ favors pay hike for prison officers

      By Kristin Edwards
      Staff Reporter
      August 15, 2008

      — The Texas Department of Criminal Justice 2010-11 Legislative Appropriations Request, which included significant correctional officer pay increases, was approved by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice Thursday.

      The nine-member board, which oversees all TDCJ operations, approved not only a base budget request for the 2010-2011 biennium, but also included approval for the use of $453.4 million to be used for correctional officer and parole officer pay raises.

      The LAR submission begins a two-year budget cycle process which will be reviewed and analyzed during the 81st Legislative Session, convening in January 2009.

      "This request represents a comprehensive pay package which will fundamentally address the officer career ladder for the long haul," said Brad Livingston, TDCJ executive director. "We have made significant progress in reducing the correctional officer shortage in recent months.

      "We are hopeful that the pay package presented will not only help us continue that positive momentum, but also will allow us to reward our employees for their dedication to providing public safety."

      The additional funding will provide for a 20 percent average pay increase for correctional officer positions, bringing the starting salaries of a correctional officer from $26,016 to $30,179. Maximum salaries will be increased from $34,624 to $42,242, and the pay increase will also apply to correctional laundry and food service managers and ranking correctional staff.

      Parole officers will also see a 20 percent average pay increase, bringing their starting salary from $32,277 to $37,441, with the maximum salary increasing from $36,363 to $43,636. The pay increase will also apply to ranking parole officers.

      "We look forward to working with the state's leaders to give our officers a well-deserved pay raise," Livingston said.

      The LAR submission also included funding requests for additional security equipment, including video surveillance and contraband screening technology.

      Additionally, the submission outlined an expansion of TDCJ's in- prison therapeutic community substance abuse treatment program and enhanced re-entry services for offenders.

      Finally, it included a request for additional funding for probation supervision and substance abuse and mental health treatment for probationers.

      "We feel confident the proposed package will substantially address TDCJ's staffing challenges," said Oliver Bell, Texas Board of Criminal Justice chairman. "This pay package would help us retain our current staff, recruit new officers and overall, would send a positive message to our employees that we value their dedication to protecting the safety of the citizens of Texas."

      TDCJ favors pay hike

      Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.


      Texas prison guards may get 20% pay hike - TDCJ requests 10.5% overall budget increase

      August 14, 2008

      Texas prison guards would get a 20% pay hike if TDCJ officials have their way, reports the Austin American Statesman ("Big raises sought for prison workers," Aug. 14):

      Brad Livingston, the prison system's executive director, said the proposal would raise starting pay for correctional officers from $26,016 to $30,179 and the maximum salaries from $34,624 to $42,242. Livingston said the increase would cover staff from correctional officers through wardens.

      For parole officers, starting pay would increase from $32,277 to $37,441, and the maximum salary would go from $36,363 to $43,636.

      Saying the proposal "will fundamentally address the officer career ladder for the long haul," Livingston said the goal is to continue to reduce the agency's critically high vacancy rate and "reward our employees for their dedication to providing public safety."

      Texas prisons have been short of guards for several years, so short that officials within the past year have had to close parts of some prisons. Without proper staffing, convicts have to be kept confined to their cells more than they should be, programs have to be suspended, and conditions inside prisons generally become more undesirable — for guards and convicts.

      The shortage of correctional officers reached a crisis point 11 months ago, when the agency had 3,978 vacancies. Livingston said that through July, the shortage had been reduced to 3,040, thanks to a beefed-up recruitment program and incentive pay.

      Board Chairman Oliver Bell predicted that the pay increase will help reduce the vacancy rate even more. It will help "retain our current staff, recruit new officers and overall would send a positive message to our employees that we value their dedication to protecting the safety of the citizens of Texas."

      Although legislative leaders greeted the proposal warmly, they said it will have to be considered with all the other demands that will face state budget writers come January.

      The grand total for proposed raises - $453 million and change. And that's not the only proposed increase stemming from Texas' jam-packed, understaffed prison system:

      In addition to the raises, the agency's $6.6 billion, two-year legislative appropriation request also includes an additional $181.1 million for convict health care, $30 million to buy additional video surveillance and contraband screening gear and metal detectors to beef up security, $22 million to make a former Veterans Affairs hospital in Marlin usable for convict health care and more than $10 million to expand treatment programs.

      The proposal includes no money for new prisons.

      That amounts to nearly $700 million in new expenditures for the prison system, or a growth rate of 10.5% over the last budget. What's more, that assumes a de minimus expansion for treatment programs, but more will be needed to reverse long-term incarceration trends that made the prisons so full in the first place.

      It's hard to tell whether even this large a pay hike will resolve TDCJ's 3,000 guard shortfall. Most prison units are in rural areas where the labor market remains limited, and no amount of pay changes the fact that Texas prisons are un-air conditioned in the summer and a distasteful work environment year round. But we already know Texas can't adequately staff prisons at current pay rates, so Livingston deserves kudos for proposing a radical solution.

      One factor not mentioned in the press coverage: Last year the Legislature linked Youth Commission employees pay to guards at TDCJ to stop the drain of staff from that agency, so if TDCJers get this raise there will probably be an added expense from bringing TYC up to par.

      There will be those who chafe at spending so much on prisoner health care, one suspects, at a time when a quarter or more Texans don't have health insurance. But considering the size of Texas' prison system, we'll probably still be underspending after the increase. If one day the feds step in and force the state to fully live up to its constitutional obligations on inmate healthcare, those costs could balloon very quickly like they have in California.

      Texas has long enjoyed an artificially low overall cost per inmate compared to other states and these proposed increases are just beginning to address those historic deficiencies. It's not so much that base costs have increased, but Texas must also pay the piper for obligations the Legislature shortchanged for many years.

      The other options, of course, for those who dislike the expense, would be to criminalize less stuff and incarcerate fewer people.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
      Labels: TDCJ


      Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories:

      From Drug War Chronicle Issue #545
      08/1/08

      Texas prison guard arrested for cocaine

      In Lake Charles, Louisiana, a Texas prison guard was arrested Monday night after Louisiana state troopers found 1.2 pounds of cocaine in her vehicle during a drug dog search after a traffic stop.

      LaQuatta Felder of Houston works at the Darrington Penitentiary in Rosharon, Texas, and was traveling with a former Darrington prisoner, Joseph Harris.

      Both were booked into the the Jefferson Davis Parish Jail for possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

      Texas prison guard arrested for cocaine


      July Sergeants Academy in Huntsville sets records with attendance of 81


      Region 1 TDCJ Honor Guard

      By: Marcus Williams
      Backgate Website
      7-21-08

      A July class of newly promoted Sergeants with TDCJ set an all time record for attendance at the widely praised program. 81 new supervisors from all over Texas descended on the city of Huntsville to learn personnel training, interpersonal skills and other topics they will be sure to use as new supervisors.

      The program, which became a reality some years back when the agency saw a need to supply it's newly promoted supervisors with crucial information to help them in thier daily tasks, has been well received by staff that who have attended. One recent graduate stated " the camaraderie displayed was just awesome" about being involved in the class that broke the record with 81.

      Supervisors in that record breaking July class emailed us and would like to publicly thank thier instructors at he Sergeants academy for thier experience.

      Many claim that they will never forget the experience. Kudos to you guys up there helping to make the agency a better place to work.


      July 11, 2008

      Two Harris County Jail officers fired over prisoner death
      Sergeant, jailer falsified statements, officials say

      By DALE LEZON
      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      Two officers in the Harris County Jail have been fired for their actions stemming from an incident that led to the death of a prisoner in January, a sheriff's official said this morning.

      Detention Officer Nathan Hartfield and Sgt. Joyce Harris were fired last night, said Maj. Don McWilliams.

      No charges have been filed, McWilliams said. Once the Sheriff's Office has completed its investigation of the New Year's Day incident, the findings will be turned over to the District Attorney's Office, he said.

      Details were not yet available this morning, but sheriff's officials said Hartfield was the officer who used a choke hold to subdue Freeman and Harris was the supervisor on duty at the time of the incident.

      Freeman, 42, died on Jan. 10 after being taken off life support at a Houston hospital.

      The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that he died from respiratory failure after compression of his neck. Doctors found that Freeman had developed a blood clot.

      The incident that led to his death occurred Jan. 1 when Freeman, while in a general population cell block, demanded a second tray of food, sheriff's officials said earlier this year.

      Family members said they wre told he was promised the extra food for working an extra shift.

      When the detention officer refused, Freeman became confrontational and asked to file a grievance, said sheriff's Lt. John Denholm. The officer, with a sergeant's permission, then tried to move Freeman to an isolation cell so the inmate could file his grievance.

      During the walk to the other cell, Freeman became more confrontational, Denholm said. When the officer told him to get up against a wall, Freeman refused and moments later struck the officer in the face with an elbow, Denholm said. The officer then forced Freeman to the ground.

      That led to a struggle in an area outside the isolation cell lasting less than a minute, during which Freeman was handcuffed.

      The only witness, another detention officer, rounded the corner and saw both men on the ground. He helped the other officer handcuff Freeman while the inmate was on his stomach, Denholm said, and then both helped him to his feet and escorted him to the jail's medical clinic, where he complained he was having trouble breathing, records show.

      Freeman was able to write a statement giving his version of events. The clinic staff recommended Freeman be taken to a hospital, but sheriff's Lt. John Legg did not know why.

      At LBJ Hospital, Freeman's medical condition deteriorated, prompting doctors to move him to an intensive care unit, according to a custodial death report filed by the Sheriff's Office with the Texas Attorney General's Office.

      Freeman went into respiratory distress and developed a blood clot. On Jan. 9, doctors declared him to be brain-dead.

      The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday launched what was expected to be a five-day inspection of the downtown County Jail facilities as part of a federal probe to determine whether the jail is operating under lawful conditions.

      While federal authorities have declined to say what specifically prompted their investigation, the County Jail has come under scrutiny in recent months for inmate deaths.

      The facility also has been criticized for overcrowding, poor sanitation and questionable access to medical treatment and prescription drugs.

      Although the state inspects the jail each April, this is the first time federal authorities have toured the facilities, said Chief Deputy Mike Smith, who supervises detention operations for the Sheriff's Office.

      The inspection team, consisting of about nine people, told the Sheriff's Office they would be on site through Saturday, Smith said.

      They will inspect all facets of detention operations, including the jails at 1200 Baker, 1307 Baker, 701 San Jacinto, 711 San Jacinto, and the booking-processing center at 1201 Commerce.

      Smith said he also expects the federal authorities will speak with some inmates.

      Nearly 11,000 inmates are housed at the various Harris County Jail facilities.

      If the investigation finds violations, federal officials will suggest ways to improve conditions. If those recommendations are not met, federal law allows the attorney general to sue the county.

      Two days after Freeman's death, another inmate, Margarita Saavedra, 44, died from sepsis due to a bacterial infection in her left knee, an autopsy shows.

      Saavedra had hurt her knee in the jail two weeks earlier and complained to her family that medical staff was not caring for her injury, said her son, Jose Saavedra.

      Reporters Peggy O'Hare and Leslie Casimir contributed to this report.

      dale.lezon@chron.com

      Jail officers fired over prisoner death


      Letter: Ex-correction officer's letter brings 'outrage' to reader

      Opinion
      Publication Date: 07/07/08

      I read the letter June 23 by Rusty Lamar, a former corrections officer, and I was outraged and appalled at his attitude toward the well-being of inmates.

      He stated that not only should we not care what inmates eat, but we should also lock them in cages and leave them there with no basic privileges for as long as they are incarcerated.

      I hope and pray that he never ends up on the other side of those bars and neither do any of his loved ones. Then his position might change.

      Inmates have been judged and sentenced. Do you really think that one cable TV in the day room will make up for the fact that they see their family for a maximum of eight hours a month and that they have to watch their children grow up in pictures and read about what they miss daily?

      They are locked up while they hear of family members dying and the world moving on while they seem to stand still.

      That is punishment enough.

      Sam Powell
      Stephenville

      Click HERE to return to story:
      © The Amarillo Globe-News Online


      Former TDCJ Prison Guard speaks out

      Below is info on the former Texas prison guard.

      He now works with youth and is a motivational speaker.

      BOOK: "HOLDING MY OWN"
      BY; TIM HAMPTON

      A former Texas prison guard has released a book that is creating controversy within the Texas Prison system.

      His book is entitled "HOLDING MY OWN."

      Hampton has traveled to many cities across the United States promoting his self-published book, which most readers call "a must read."

      Top prison officials in states such as Kentucky and Virginia praise Hampton's literature and agree that every inmate and corrections officer across the nation should read it.

      The State of Texas prison system, however, has barred inmates from obtaining the book.


      Who cares how well jail inmates eat?

      Opinion/Letter
      Publication Date: 06/23/08

      I worked as a correctional officer for TDCJ/ID for six years, and for two sheriff's departments.

      I also worked at a private prison, so I have some knowledge about the day-to-day of prison life. A comment was made in a recent letter stating that serving inmates peanut butter and jelly would cause a riot. Since when should we care what inmates like?

      I witnessed inmates being able to play volleyball, handball, basketball, lift weights, do woodworking, go to school on our dime, take computer classes, etc.

      I witnessed special religious diets being afforded to Muslims.

      They have cable television, access to a commissary, access to church services - and the list goes on. And people wonder why inmates don't fear prison.

      I have the perfect solution. Take away everything!

      Implement a policy that says the only thing they are allowed out of their cells for is to do backbreaking work. If they don't want to work, they sit in their cell all day, every day. No more newspapers or magazines. No more phone calls, and if they act up, no visitation.

      If they riot, that is what pepper foggers and other forms of gas delivery systems are for.

      If they are all locked up, they can't riot in the first place.

      By: Rusty Lamar
      Amarillo, Texas

      Click Here to return to story:

      © The Amarillo Globe-News Online

      TPNS MEMBERS' COMMENTS:

      What is this? Maybe I'm not reading this correctly. "Should we care what inmates like?" on a grand scale I think the answer is no. I agree that all inmates are in prison to be punished. I feel they should be punished for the crimes they committed, they all made mistakes to different degrees. There is no denying that. With that being said I do not feel that we should throw away the key and not treat them as humans. What is the problem with inmates being allowed to exercise and further their education? Is the point of our prison system not supposed to be to rehabilitate offenders and reiterate them into society? My fiancé has had a hard time because his unit has spent a considerable amount of time on lockdown and has not been allowed to do much. I don't think many if any of the inmates consider their prison terms as a vacation. My fiancé spends much of his time working out. I am glad he does so. Not only is exercise good for the body but also it is good for the mind. Exercise helps the body naturally fight depression. My fiancé and many others are going to school, and yes I guess it is on "our dime." But I am proud to say if my money helps one inmate get out of prison find a decent job to provide for his/her family then that was a dime well spent. I think more focus needs to be spent on rehabilitating prisoners, that's the problem with the prison system.

      I understand that when a person is arrested and sentenced to prison they lose their rights. But are not still entitled to the certain constitutional rights such as freedom of religion? Why is the writer of this letter upset about inmates being served special diets because they are Muslim? I don't think we should cater to individual likes and dislikes but I do feel that special diets should be allowed for medical or religious reasons. Why should they not be allowed church services as mentioned in this letter? I think it is awesome that church services are provided. I feel this is a lifesaver to inmates on a variety of levels. As a Christian I know God wants his word provided to those incarcerated. He died for their sins as well as mine. Why should inmates not have access to commissary? Tax dollars are not paying for that. I send money to my fiancé so that he can buy extra things. That is my right as a law-abiding citizen to do that. That is one of those things I can do to make his day a little better. The writer of this letter feels that the perfect solution would be to just "take away everything." What for? Let's not rehabilitate, lets just lock them up and throw away the key. Seriously??? Yes, my fiancé committed a crime but he wants to make it right. I am a law-abiding citizen but the writer of this letter seems to think that visitation is something that a prisoner doesn't need. What? Visitation is good for my inmate but it is good for me too. Visitation is a lifeline to me. Visitation is what I live for these days. Visitation is the only time our daughter gets to hug and kiss her daddy. She looks forward to visitation like most children look forward to Christmas. I feel that visitation is integral part of rehabilitating the inmate and keeping families involved.

      I tool great offense to this letter and I feel that others may as well. One, last thing, on the issue of magazines. I paid for the few magazine subscription my finance has. I chose to pay for those and I hope he has the opportunity to read them.

      TPNS Member, LR

      I agree with everything you wrote. They are sent money to their accounts so they can buy food, clothes, shoes, whatever they need that isn't standard issue (this includes writing supplies and stamps so they can correspond). We can't even send them books, we have to go through the Publisher to send those. And most of the time, those of us on the outside buy them subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, etc. If I'm not mistaken, if they want to take college courses, the inmates have to pay for them, which means their families/loved ones pay for them. And so what, they get to go on the rec yard for part of the day? It's like recess in school!

      As far as cable TV, they don't get any movie channels, mainly CNN, TNT, channels like that.

      I also agree that they need to be rehabilitated, which means they need to learn how to support themselves and/or families the RIGHT way and not go back to what they were doing to get them there in the first place.

      Most inmates will one day be back out and will need how to function in society.

      This guy that wrote this letter is an idiot. But, after working for TDCJ, it's understandable! Maybe he needs to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal and see how he likes it.

      TPNS Member, MP


      State closes part of W. Texas prison because of guard shortage
      Closure a sign that pay raises aren't working

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      June 05, 2008

      Amid warnings that Texas' chronic shortage of prison guards is compromising security and public safety, officials said Wednesday that they are closing part of a remote West Texas prison because they don't have enough guards to properly staff it.

      It was the third such move in recent months and signals that the guard shortage is not improving significantly, despite recent pay incentives for new hires that have reduced the guard vacancy rate slightly.

      "It's the greatest challenge we currently face," Brad Livingston, executive director of the Department of Criminal Justice, told a joint Senate-House hearing Wednesday.

      At the hearing, prison officials said they are closing a 334-bed wing of the 1,375-bed Lynaugh Unit in Fort Stockton that has been operating nearly 40 percent short of staff.

      Testimony during the hearing indicated that large amounts of contraband cell phones, illegal drugs and tobacco are being brought into state prisons by guards who are being bribed by convicts. A cell phone can bring $400.

      "For seasoned correctional officers who take home just $1,900 a month, who are being overworked in an increasingly dangerous environment and having trouble making ends meet, the temptation is great," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "We don't have enough correctional officers to properly search the staff coming on to the units and, if we did, I'm told we might lose as much as 10 percent of our staffing."

      The problem runs much deeper, he said, because the agency is hiring guards with questionable qualifications.

      "We'll take almost anyone who signs up," he said.

      Add to that the remote location of many state prisons, the lack of housing and the low pay, "and you see the dangerous situation we're in," said Whitmire, who has led the oversight committee for well over a decade. "The lack of staff means more inmates are locked in their cells more often, without programs, without recreation, without treatment."

      House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said he was concerned about reaching a critical point.

      "When does shutting down beds at some units no longer ... fix this problem?" he asked.

      Both the Lynaugh Unit and the nearby 606-bed Fort Stockton Unit have been operating short of staff for months because of a housing shortage in Fort Stockton, where the high price of oil has spawned many jobs that pay much more.

      Last fall, the agency closed a 300-bed dorm at the Dalhart Unit because of a staffing shortage. Later, it "re-purposed" parts of the huge Beto Unit in Northeast Texas from administrative segregation to general population status, which takes far fewer guards. All those units are critically short-staffed, April reports show.

      State closes part of W. Texas prison because of guard shortage


      Prison Captain Faces Termination After Investigation

      UPDATED: May 28, 2008

      HOUSTON -- Local 2 Investigates has learned the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has formally taken action to fire a top prison captain.

      Vonda Rafter is the latest prison leader ousted after Local 2 Investigates exposed serious charges of corruption and cover-up at the C.T. Terrell prison unit in Brazoria County.

      Whistleblowers working inside the prison had reported serious crimes committed by Rafter last year, but both prison leaders and TDCJ officials took no action until now.

      Rafter spent more than 17 years working inside the Terrell prison.

      She's facing termination after she was dismissed for the same sort of wrongdoing Local 2 Investigates exposed earlier this month.

      "Right away, they started telling me about the captain being involved with offenders and how organized it was, the staff that was involved, who was bringing it what," said a corrections officer on the condition of anonymity.

      Corrections officers inside Terrell blew the whistle. They sent Terrell prison leaders written reports outlining specific, serious claims of wrongdoing by Rafter back in 2007.

      Those reports outlined claims of drug trafficking, ignoring inappropriate relationships with inmates, and giving gang members key jobs inside the prison.

      "When I started looking in their (inmates) files and looking at what jobs they had and what areas they lived in, there was a lot of questionable things going on," said the corrections officer.

      A written report by a confidential informant, an inmate who is a gang member inside Terrell, claimed Rafter "ran the unit" and provided inmates "protection from shakedowns or major cases or any type of heat."

      "There are so many officers that are connected, including the rank from the Captain on down," said the corrections officer. "It's a large number of people that are watching each other's back."

      The officers' written reports made it all the way to Region III prison headquarters.

      However, the officers said no action was taken against Rafter. Instead, the officers claim they were ordered to work immediately under Rafter's supervision. She ended up filing disciplinary actions against them.

      "Within reporting it, all we received back was basically harassment and retaliation," said another corrections officer, also on condition of anonymity.

      After Local 2 Investigates aired the officers' story, and almost a year after the officers told leaders at Terrell and prison system headquarters, similar allegations have now lead to Rafter's dismissal.

      TDCJ leaders recommended firing Rafter after a disciplinary hearing ruled she had assigned a known gang-member to work a certain job at Terrell that was against prison policy.

      After KPRC Local 2 Investigates began investigating the story, Rafter was transferred to another prison, then dismissed. Rafter is appealing that dismissal. The station tried reaching her by phone several times, but no one answered.

      TDCJ leaders are expected to be questioned about all of this at a joint legislative hearing on June 4 in Austin.

      Previous Local 2 Investigates Stories:
      May 15, 2008: Prison Leaders Vow Investigation After Roadside Clash With News Crew
      May 15, 2008: Texas Senate Calls Hearings Over Prison Corruption
      May 7, 2008: Prison On Lockdown After Local 2 Investigation
      May 6, 2008: Prison Warden Removed Following Local 2 Investigation
      May 3, 2008: Local 2 Investigates Charges Of Prison Corruption
      May 2, 2008: Have Corrupt Officers Taken Over Local Prison?

      If you have a news tip or question for KPRC Local 2 Investigates, drop them an e-mail or call their tipline at (713) 223-TIPS (8477).

      Copyright 2008 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved.

      Prison Captain Faces Termination


      May 29, 2008

      Brazoria prison captain faces possible dismissal

      By RICHARD STEWART
      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      A captain at the Terrell prison unit in Brazoria County is asking for mediation after Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials recommended that she be fired.

      Vonda Rafter was accused of assigning a confirmed gang member to a janitorial job and mistreating an offender by confiscating his personal property as a disciplinary action, said TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. Both are administrative violations, Lyons said.

      Rafter remains employed, but is not reporting for work, Lyons said.

      She instead is using accrued sick, holiday and vacation time.

      Although she was recommended for dismissal May 14, her mediation will probably not be until mid June, Lyons said.

      Former Terrell senior warden Anthony Collins announced earlier this month that he will retire May 31 after being reassigned from that unit. He was replaced by former Hightower Unit warden James Jones following complaints of conflicts with Terrell Unit officers, Lyons said.

      In March former Terrell Unit corrections officer Derrick Rice was charged with bribing several families of inmates at the unit to bring prohibited tobacco products to the inmates.

      The Terrell Unit, near Rosharon, has more than 1,500 inmates.

      At least two other officers have also been reassigned from the unit, Lyons said.

      richard.stewart@chron.com

      Prison captain faces possible dismissal


      May 27, 2008

      Will expanded immigration detention exacerbate Texas' prison guard shortages?

      Regular readers know that Texas prisons and county jails face a severe understaffing crisis caused by low pay and the rural location of facilities, and that in federal facilities the problem may be even more pronounced.

      Meanwhile, my prediction that immigration detention would drive prison expansion in the near term has come true, adding another category of detention facilities that require more guards when no one can find any. It's hard to see how these long-term trends can co-exist viably. Where does it all end?

      At the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Jay Root had this story Sunday ("Border patrol employs zero tolerance approach in Del Rio," May 25 ) detailing outcomes from ending the so-called "catch and release" policy that allowed undocumented immigrants out of detention while awaiting a detention hearing. The result has been:

      An almost insatiable demand for jail space.

      Eight years ago, the Val Verde County Jail had 180 beds. This year, after a second 600-bed expansion, the maximum-security jail has room for 1,425 prisoners, an increase of almost 700 percent. While the state prisoner population in Val Verde has remained about 70 to 80 a day on average, the number serving time for federal immigration and drug offenses has skyrocketed, officials say.

      "If it wasn't for federal prisoners, we wouldn't need any of this. It just wouldn't be necessary," Jernigan said while giving a tour of the huge facility he oversees in Del Rio. "This is a federal court city, and there's a need to house federal prisoners here."

      Two prisons specializing in federal detainees are going up along the Texas-Mexico border southeast of here -- a 654-bed unit in Eagle Pass and a 1,500-bed jail nearing completion in Laredo. Like the Val Verde lockup, these facilities are run by the Geo Group, formerly known as Wackenhut, which last year posted its best financial results ever, the company said.

      Even the largest jail for illegal immigrants, the Willacy County Jail, is too small to accommodate federal demands. Located in Raymondville -- nicknamed "Prisonville" -- it is expanding capacity from 2,000 to 3,000 beds this year, officials say.

      The detention boom hasn't been done on the cheap.

      According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it costs $88 a day to house a prisoner in privately run jails.

      By comparison, the state of Texas spends about $40 per day to house state prisoners, and in many county jails the cost is less than that. So the expansion of immigration detention facilities puts tremendous financial pressure on counties and the state to increase guard pay to keep enough warm bodies in C.O. slots. For the most part, they're not in a position to do that.

      Meanwhile, I swear I see a different set of arguments and logic used every time somebody tries to claim that border enforcement is "working." Here's Root's effort:

      In 2007, 22,920 people were caught in the Del Rio sector, many of whom passed through the Val Verde jail. In 1974, the earliest year-end figures available, almost twice that many -- 44,806 --were caught.

      Authorities believe that fewer captures mean fewer illegal crossings.

      Of course, those data don't tell us there were "fewer illegal crossings." They only mean that for all the extra spending, there were fewer detentions. It could be true that the number of crossings overall went down - in fact that's almost certainly the case since the housing market in Texas and elsewhere crashed overnight last year and many jobs drawing immigrants were in construction.

      (Root also reports that overall arrests last year were down all along the border, though not as much as in the Del Rio sector.)

      However, simply using the metric of how many ICE caught to tell if they're succeeding amounts to a self fulfilling prophecy. There's little hard evidence I can see that expanded enforcement is responsible for the decline. Indeed, if the number of detentions had increased, I'm pretty sure that would have also been spun as a success.

      In any event, my question for the moment isn't whether the policy works, but is it sustainable?

      Will overcrowded county jails be forced to send local inmates out of county to make room for increased immigration holds? Harris County already must send hundreds of inmates to a private prison in Louisiana, yet their Sheriff is plowing forward to expand detention of immigrant in the jail.

      Further, will high per-inmate rates for immigration prisoners indirectly raise costs for locals by putting pressure on guard pay or causing guards to leave public employ to work for rapidly expanding private facilities?

      Some counties are even proposing speculative jail building hoping to lease bed space to ICE, apparently banking on the idea that immigrant detention will remain high for the next 20 years or so while they pay off public bonds. With all remaining presidential candidates favoring comprehensive immigration reform, that's probably a bad assumption.

      Talk about sowing the seeds of your own destruction!

      Texas prisons and largest jails already can't hire enough guards to function safely at full capacity. If immigration detention continues to expand at double digit rates, we may soon reach a tipping point regarding cost and safety, if we haven't already, that forces prison builders to put on the brakes.

      RELATED: From the Austin Statesman, "More illegal immigrants are being charged criminally in Austin," May 28.


      May 21, 2008

      Former prison sergeant convicted in 2002 incident

      By CINDY GEORGE
      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      A former state prison sergeant accused of brutally assaulting an inmate was convicted on a lesser charge Wednesday in Houston federal court while another supervisor accused of helping him orchestrate a cover-up was acquitted of all charges against him.

      While the jurors found Eugene Morris Jr. guilty of making a false entry in a use-of-force report about the incident, they decided he did not kick and injure inmate Robert Tanzini in November 2002.

      The two scuffled while Morris was moving Tanzini to another cell at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Ferguson Unit in Midway, about 100 miles north of Houston.

      Jurors also found Morris not guilty of obstruction of justice.

      His former colleague, Tracy Jewett, 36, of Huffman, was completely acquitted. He had been charged with making a false entry and obstruction of justice.

      As both "not guilty" verdicts were read, Jewett's body jerked. He clenched his teeth, squeezed his eyes tightly shut and turned red.

      "Mr. Jewett, you are free to leave," U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas told him.

      "It's just joy," he said moments later, his face wet with tears. "When you put a totally innocent man on trial and to have him put through this is unheard of. For the system to actually work and to come back with an acquittal — it's simply a blessing from the Lord himself."

      The jury of seven women and five men deliberated 18 hours over three days. During that time, jurors asked to see a video of Tanzini's first moments of medical treatment as he moaned in pain on a stretcher. They also requested photos of his fractured skull, reviewed expert testimony about those injuries and asked the judge about the importance of the word "kick."

      Federal prosecutors from Houston and the Justice Department's civil rights division in Washington pursued charges against Morris and Jewett after Tanzini filed a federal prisoner civil rights lawsuit in 2003. In that handwritten claim, Tanzini described a merciless assault by Morris and said several officers, including Jewett, witnessed the beating but failed to intervene.

      A five-count indictment handed down last year charged Morris with depriving an inmate of his civil right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. Prosecutors tried to prove that Morris maliciously kicked or stomped on Tanzini's head and was assisted by Jewett in concealing the beating. Defense lawyers contended that Tanzini was injured as Morris "controlled him to the ground" and insisted that neither man had lied about what happened.

      Tanzini testified that he could not remember the alleged assault.

      "We respect the jury's decision," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez said after the verdict, adding that he was little disappointed, but elated about winning one conviction.

      Jewett's lawyer, James Alston, called his client's acquittal "totally justified."

      "I didn't think from the beginning there was any evidence that my client was guilty of anything," Alston said. "Now, he can get on with his job and his life and not worry about his freedom."

      Morris and his lawyers, Harry Johnson and Thomas Glenn, declined to comment.

      Morris, 39, of Huntsville, is scheduled for sentencing in August. The false entry charge carries up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

      The government's investigation of this case lasted more than five years, beginning with an internal probe by prison officials.

      In early 2003, both former correctional sergeants were disciplined for the alleged beating and cover-up. Morris was fired when TDCJ officials determined he provided false testimony about the assault.

      Higher-ups recommended Jewett's dismissal for providing an inaccurate report and false testimony about the alleged beating, but he resigned.

      Tanzini's allegations were among hundreds of prisoner claims of mistreatment by Texas prison personnel filed each year in the state's federal courts. The case was dismissed in 2004 because Tanzini, who was representing himself, failed to file required court documents.

      In January 2007, federal prosecutors asked a Houston federal judge to unseal court records in Tanzini's civil rights complaint to allow the allegations to be shared with a Houston grand jury. Morris and Jewett were indicted in October.

      Prosecutors declined to specify what factors about Tanzini's allegations or the incident rose to the level of a criminal indictment.

      "When anyone has information that rules of law are not being followed in the prison system, we have a duty to go forward and we did," Perez said.

      Undercurrents of race coursed through the criminal case. Tanzini was an alleged member of the Aryan Brotherhood who called Morris, who is black, by a racial slur and spit on him before their encounter. Tanzini also made a racial remark to a black female guard. Jewett is white.

      Jewett said he bears no ill-will against law enforcement, but doesn't intend to join its ranks again. The father of two now works as an oil field lease operator.

      cindy.george@chron.com

      Former Prison Sergeant convicted


      Prison Leaders Vow Investigation After Roadside Clash With News Crew

      By Stephen Dean
      POSTED: May 20, 2008

      ROSHARON, Texas -- The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has launched a new investigation after a dangerous roadway clash between prison managers and crews from Local 2 Investigates.

      The ordeal was captured on videotape and two young children were caught in the middle, suddenly thrust into a county roadway before some vehicles had come to a stop.

      "It was a bad decision," said TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. "That is being dealt with."

      The ordeal unfolded on FM 655 more than one mile away from the Terrell Prison Unit near Rosharon in Brazoria County, where Local 2 Investigates has been exposing allegations of corruption behind bars for the past month.

      Prison system headquarters in Huntsville had been alerted that news crews would be arriving to report on the latest chapter in this developing scandal.

      Local 2 Investigates was preparing a broadcast on the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee scheduling hearings in Austin for June 4 in response to the growing allegations of prison employees working in concert with inmates, sometimes accepting cash to make sure rules could continue to be broken.

      As two trucks from KPRC Local 2 approached after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, the videotape shows no action at a guard shack that is typically manned by armed guards during a lockdown or escape.

      There were none of the stop signs, flashing lights or cones that are usually present when that shack is staffed and all traffic is stopped as it enters or leaves the area.

      Two men in plainclothes were seen standing near that booth, but the tape shows neither man motioning or moving toward the news crew.

      The news trucks passed through, along with other motorists who were driving on FM 655.

      Moments later, a private car raced past the news trucks at speeds the Local 2 Investigates team estimated at more than 80 mph. The car swerved and then activated its hazard warning lights, before pulling across both lanes of the public roadway.

      The cameras rolled as the driver grabbed two children and hurried them out of the car before other traffic had come to a stop.

      The children, appearing to be a girl around 5 years old and a boy appearing to be around 9 years old, rushed over to stand on the right shoulder of the road as the news trucks and other traffic halted for the sudden roadblock.

      A man from a second vehicle then emerged and declared over and over, "I'm the warden here. I'm the warden" as he told the news crews they could not travel on the public roadway.

      Both men refused to provide any identification or state their names when asked by the Local 2 Investigates team.

      TDCJ now identifies the second man as Kenneth Negbenebor, the warden of Ramsey I Prison unit, which is located near the Terrell unit.

      On the tape, Negbenebor painted a different picture than the videotape demonstrates from his standing at the guard shack.

      "I was trying to stop you there but you almost ran over me," the warden said.

      KPRC Local 2 investigative reporter Stephen Dean countered, "No we didn't. We were recording that. You guys were just standing there on your cell phones. Nobody waved at us."

      Negbenebor answered, "Yes I was."

      Local 2 Investigates has learned that prison prosecutors from the Brazoria County District Attorney's office are now reviewing tapes of the broadcast to see if the prison employee with children in the car may have committed the crime of endangering children.

      The prison system did not identify him, saying he is a lieutenant over corrections officers.

      TDCJ Spokeswoman Michelle Lyons issued a written statement, which reads in its entirety:

      "Our goal was to set up a staging area where Mr. Dean could safely conduct his report -- it was never the intention that an officer would use his vehicle to block the road to the facility. This was not agency-sanctioned behavior, nor was it requested -- this officer was acting on his own, albeit believing he was helping a unit warden. As an agency, we obviously have as much concern for the welfare of an officer's children as does the general public. This matter has been referred to the Office of Inspector General, the independent internal affairs division which investigates allegations of criminal activity and serious policy violations within the prison system."

      State Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee said he called for the hearings after seeing Local 2 Investigates report on wide-ranging corruption at the Terrell Unit.

      He said it raised issues about whether similar crimes are being committed at Texas' other lockups.

      Whitmire said, "I don't want to be having this conversation when we have a blow up somewhere."

      Previous Local 2 Investigates Stories:
      * May 15, 2008: Texas Senate Calls Hearings Over Prison Corruption
      * May 7, 2008: Prison On Lockdown After Local 2 Investigation
      * May 6, 2008: Prison Warden Removed Following Local 2 Investigation
      * May 3, 2008: Local 2 Investigates Charges Of Prison Corruption
      * May 2, 2008: Have Corrupt Officers Taken Over Local Prison?

      Prison Leaders Vow Investigation

      Copyright 2008 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved.


      TEXAS CORRECTIONS OFFICER CONTEMPLATES MURDERING INMATES BOLD UNDERLINED TYPE INDICATES CODY BASHAM'S QUOTES ON UBER.COM

      May 17th, 2008
      Drue Myers

      23 year old Cody Basham is a correctional officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Cody says, in his blog entry on uber.com, "all I think about is taking the first chance I get to blast an inmates face off with a shotgun."

      Basham's comment is among several disturbing comments made during an April blog entry that has since been removed from the site.

      With Texas prisons short-staffed to the tune of 4,000 corrections officers, it appears the lone star state is scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to hire anyone it can to fill the open positions.

      Basham seems to enjoy being a power player in the prison as he describes it, "in prison I force my will upon the unwilling without so much as a thought for their desires.

      In prison a guard is the guy that everyone hates but everyone needs.

      Much like the government.

      Inmates may hate me but they will still obey, because failure to comply results in "assisting them to the ground" or "applying chemical agents" to gain their compliance."

      Basham not only feels that inmates are worthy of death, he describes his supervisors as "retarded" and seems to hate his job ...heres more... "being a guard is the lowest position within a prison.

      Most of the people above you are retarded and have unrealistic expectations of your work.

      Example; we have doors which partition parts of the hallway called crash gates. These are to keep a riot or disturbance isolated in an emergency and allow greater control.

      But where I work we moved the keys to those gates away from the people that need them, and into the hands of people much further away. Crash gates are always closed and locked unless inmates or officers need to go through, you open them then lock them back after you let someone through.

      Now however the people who are responsible for opening the gate are no where near the gate. Thats just one of many examples of the mild retardation in my supervisors."

      "Unrealistic expectations which I mentioned earlier here is a few examples. Pat search 200 inmates a day (you are supposed to do this in a 2 hour window of your day) while maintaining surveillance and security.

      First off, while you are bent over with your face in some guys ass who just ate greasy chilly mac, the last thing you are worried about is some people talking 30 yards from you.

      Second 200 people in 2 hours is over 1 person a minute during that window, its PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE. pat searches take 40-seconds for the search time alone which does not include time for picking the inmate out of a line or checking for a safe zone to put yourself in (proximics)."

      What is clear, upon reading this trash, is that this correctional officer poses a direct and immediate threat to the safety and security of ANY inmate in ANY institution.

      It would seem incumbent of the State of Texas to immediately remove this asshole from his job and FIRE him with extreme prejudice.

      Unfortunately, this blog entry is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

      How many Cody Basham's are there? With the hiring practices going on in TDCJ, probably quite a few.

      TEXAS CORRECTIONS OFFICER CONTEMPLATES MURDERING INMATES


      Staff Shortages at Lynaugh and Fort Stockton Units

      05/16/2008
      By Camaron Abundes
      NewsWest 9

      FORT STOCKTON- Last month the Texas Department of Criminal Justice started offering $1,500 dollar incentives for new correctional officers heading to work at under staffed prisons like the Lynaugh and Fort Stockton Units in Pecos County. Despite the extra incentive, housing shortages and fuel costs are making it tough to recruit.

      "I am just concerned about my staff, because like I say they're working tired and they get compensated but sometimes that's not enough," Warden W.E. Walker, said.

      Warden Walker says they've already had to cut community service programs and other activities usually offered to inmates, even though he would much rather see the prisoners staying active.

      "I've had to cancel church services," he said, "There's been days that I've had to suspend total activity and give the prisoners sack lunches, because I don't have enough staff to safely pull them out."

      Warden Walker says it's not safe for the inmates either when they're aren't enough guards on the block. The Units aren't alone around the State, Warden Walker says at least a handful of facilities face critical shortages.

      In the Permian Basin, benefit packages and retirement plans, can't lure workers away from the oilfield. Warden Walker says the energy sector is able to pay better, but he's hopeful the TDCJ can not only offer incentives but work toward raising the pay for correctional officers.

      Currently the ratio of inmates to guards is 12:1, but the Warden says it should be 5:1, one reason the State is in the process of transferring more than three hundred inmates from the Lynaugh unit to other facilities. It will bring the number of inmates to 1,000.

      "They put in a lot of hours, and then they work on they're days off," Warden Walker said of his staff, many of whom come in from as far as El Paso to help ease the staff shortage.

      "When we have ample staff it's a good job, when it gets down and people are doing the job of four to five people, it gets to be tough on everybody," Sgt. Larry Humphries said.

      Top it all off with high fuel costs, the Warden says some staff members who commute have missed days because they can't afford the drive, that's why he is hopeful a 40 bed housing unit called a bachelor officer's quarter will help alleviate the housing issue.

      "The City and the County and the economic development committee are working closely to get me a bachelor's officers quarters to get those officers to live in," he said.

      Doug May, Economic Development Director for the city of Fort Stockton says the decision to build will come down from the City Council within the next couple months.

      Staff Shortages


      May 8, 2008

      Brazoria County prison locked down; warden removed

      By RICHARD STEWART
      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      The Terrell state prison unit in Brazoria County remains on lockdown following an administrative shake-up.

      Prisoners are not being allowed to leave their dormitories while officers search the prison for cell phones, drugs, weapons and other illegal items, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.

      The lockdown began Wednesday after the prison's senior warden since 2004, Anthony Collins, was reassigned. Four other officers at the unit were also reassigned, Lyons said.

      Collins and the other officers were reassigned due to conflicts within the staff of the unit, Lyons said.

      Lockdowns are not rare when wardens are changed, she said.

      Anonymous complaints from several correctional officers that illegal items had been smuggled into the unit was also part of the reason for the lockdown, Lyons said.

      In March, correctional officer Derrick Rice was charged with seven counts of bribery for taking money from inmate families to take tobacco to the inmates. Tobacco is forbidden in Texas prisons.

      He was released from the Brazoria County Jail on $35,000 bail.

      John Moriarty, inspector general for the prison system, said Thursday that he has an investigative task force at the unit. No charges had been filed, he said.

      Collins has not yet been given another assignment, Lyons said.

      He was replaced at Terrell by James Jones, who had been senior warden at the Hightower Unit near Dayton.

      The lockdown may continue for several days, Lyons said, but will not affect visitation over the weekend.

      As of Thursday no illegal items had been found, she said. Some "nuisance contraband" including home-made alcohol was found, she said.

      Correctional officers' cars are also being searched, she said. A drug dog alerted to one officer's car, but no drugs were found, Lyons said.

      The Terrell Unit currently has 1,526 inmates. It shares 16,362 acres with the Ramsey and Stringfellow units.

      richard.stewart@chron.com

      Locked down; warden removed


      POLICE NEWS: Prison guard attacked

      May 08, 2008
      By Emily Ingram
      Tribune-Herald staff writer

      A Central Texas prison guard was attacked and slashed Wednesday after an inmate grabbed her from behind, officials said.

      The 47-year-old guard at the Gatesville Unit for women was making her rounds through the Sycamore Dorm about 12:45 a.m. when an inmate attacked her, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.

      The inmate slashed the guard across the chin and on both forearms but missed cutting her throat, Clark said. The guard was taken to Coryell Memorial Hospital, where she was treated and released. Clark said the woman had been working at the prison for seven months.

      Investigators with the Texas Office of the Inspector General are investigating the attack to determine which inmate was responsible, Clark said. Sycamore Dorm remained on lockdown Wednesday afternoon.

      Clark would not identify the guard injured in the incident.

      Prison guard attacked


      TDCJ to honor staff and fallen officers

      The Huntsville Item

      May 05 2008

      The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will hold a special memorial service Monday to honor its correctional staff and remember all those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

      The formal, military-style memorial ceremony, which will bring TDCJ officials, employees, dignitaries, guests and the general public to the Texas Prison Museum on state Highway 75 North, will begin at 11:30 a.m.

      Held in conjunction with National Correctional Officers Week, the service will include a special tribute to Wynne Unit Officer Susan Canfield, who was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 24, 2007.

      According to Michelle Lyons, TDCJ public information director, all TDCJ facilities will host an employee appreciation day culminating in a memorial service held at their individual units.

      Traditionally, the memorial services honor those TDCJ officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty in units across the nation. This year's ceremony will honor Canfield and eight other correctional employees who died in the line of duty in California, Utah, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama in 2007.

      Highlights of the ceremony will include a 21-gun salute and playing of "Taps," as well as a special presentation of a riderless horse, symbolizing the loss of a fallen comrade.

      Additionally, a memorial wreath will be placed at the center of the museum's Sesquicentennial Plaza, and attendees will be invited to view the formal "Missing Officer Table," which follows a formal protocol of placement of symbolic items on a specially prepared table meant to honor those who died while serving in the interest of public safety.

      During the ceremony, a tree will be planted in Canfield's honor in the museum's living memorial display surrounding the plaza.

      Lyons said the 49 TDCJ correctional officers and staff members who have died in the line of duty since 1882 will also be recognized.

      Since 1984, the U.S. Congress has designated a week in May as National Correctional Officers Week.

      Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

      DCJ to honor staff and fallen officers


      May 3, 2008

      Collins coming back from VitaPro
      Former prison chief looks at life after acquittal one day at a time

      By CLAY ROBISON
      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

      AUSTIN — Now that a federal judge has given him back his life, Texas' former criminal justice chief soon will decide what to do with it.

      But, first, he has to get used to the fact that the very real possibility of a prison sentence — which hung over his head for more than a decade — is gone.

      "It's one day at a time," James "Andy" Collins said last week, after his recent acquittal of federal charges stemming from a long-ago prison food supply scandal.

      "I'm not sure that it's really sunk in yet," he said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "When you've lived with something for 12 years that has devastated you personally, professionally and financially."

      He paused, then added, "I lost everything. It just flew out the window."

      A former prison guard and career state employee, Collins rose quickly through the ranks to become executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in time to help preside over a huge expansion of the Texas prison system in the mid-1990s.

      After retiring in December 1995, he became the target of an investigation over plans, canceled by Collins' successor, for the state to purchase millions of dollars worth of VitaPro, a soy-based meat substitute, from a Canadian manufacturer to serve in prison dining rooms.

      Indicted in 1998, Collins and co-defendant Yank Barry, the former president of VitaPro Foods, were tried two times on federal charges of bribery, money laundering and conspiracy.

      A jury in Houston found them guilty in 2001 after determining that Barry had paid two $10,000 bribes to Collins to win agency approval of a no-bid, $33 million VitaPro contract while Collins was still director. Collins became a paid consultant for Barry's company after leaving the state.

      On the other side

      U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston, who said the government's key witness couldn't be believed, threw out that verdict in 2005.

      After the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a retrial, Hughes, without a jury, finally ended the case by acquitting both men again of all charges on April 22.

      Now 57, Collins has been living on his state pension and some jobs, although none approaching the $125,000 salary he made as criminal justice director.

      He estimated his legal expenses at $200,000 or more. His second marriage also ended in divorce.

      "My wife literally had her life on hold for several years, and it finally took its toll. She had every right to be able to move on," he said.

      Collins, who now lives in Addison in Dallas County, said he planned to explore potential opportunities with businessman Charles Terrell, a former chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice who has remained friendly.

      "When you go through something like this, you really find out who your friends are and how few you really have," Collins said. He didn't rule out the possibility of getting involved in the private prison business.

      "Obviously, that's what I know the best — prison management and construction," he said. "But I would never go back into a government job."

      Collins also may have developed a different perspective from being on the opposite side of the criminal justice system.

      "After seeing the process from this (defendant's) side, at times I wonder how many of those people I executed weren't fortunate enough to have a judge who understood fairness and equity," he said.

      Questions and doubt

      Collins estimated that, as a top criminal justice administrator, he presided over 45 to 50 executions. Back then, he didn't doubt the condemned inmates' guilt.

      "Now, I don't know," he said, noting the release last week of yet another wrongfully convicted prisoner in Dallas.

      James Lee Woodard was freed after DNA tests helped prove that he didn't commit the rape and murder for which he was imprisoned more than 27 years ago.

      He is the 17th inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence in Dallas County alone since 2001.

      Prison officials, however, are "powerless" to correct mistakes made by judges and prosecutors, Collins said.

      And although he helped award hundreds of millions of dollars in prison construction and supply contracts as the Texas system became one of the world's largest, he questions some of the hard-line, anti- crime laws that, combined with a federal court order for prison reform, made the new prison space necessary.

      "I don't think that was good public policy," he said of legislative decisions to impose longer minimum sentences for some crimes. He said judges needed more flexibility in sentencing.

      Collins said he is considering a damage lawsuit over his ordeal.

      He declined to discuss details or potential defendants but renewed allegations that some members of the cattle industry — unhappy over competition from the VitaPro contract — may have exerted influence over the administration of then-Gov. George W. Bush.

      Former Bush aides have denied that allegation in the past.

      Two-hour retrial

      The government's key witness against Collins and Barry in the 2001 trial was Patrick H. Graham, an informant.

      In throwing out the jury verdict in 2005 — after a four-year delay plagued by errors in preparing a trial transcript — Hughes said he found Graham "totally unbelievable."

      "He is a felon, a thief, a cheat and a liar. He perjured himself throughout his testimony," the judge wrote.

      Hughes said Graham had served time in state prison for first-degree theft, had a $35 million civil fraud judgment against him over a failed private prison deal and had failed to pay more than $1 million in federal taxes and penalties.

      He said Graham was eager to talk to government investigators — and tell them what they wanted to hear — "to improve his (legal) position."

      Hughes found plausible Collins' and Barry's explanation that the businessman had paid Collins for work he performed as a consultant for Barry's company after leaving his state job.

      But the government appealed, and the Fifth Circuit ordered a retrial last August.

      The defendants and the government then agreed to a second trial before Hughes, without a jury or witnesses and with no further appeals. The trial lasted about two hours.

      U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle said prosecutors were disappointed with the verdict but added, "We respect the decision of the court."

      Mike Ramsey and Kent Schaffer, attorneys for Barry, who now lives in the Bahamas, said the expedited second trial may have been a little unusual.

      But Schaffer added, "The government can spend the next six months finding all the witnesses, and at the end of the day they would have the same result."

      clay.robison@chron.com

      Collins coming back from VitaPro


      Prisons go begging for guards

      Web Posted: 04/30/2008
      Lisa Sandberg
      Express-News

      AUSTIN — The Neal prison in Amarillo has so few guards working these days that Dorothy Barfoot, a correctional officer, often finds herself working alone in a dorm with 80 to 100 male felons.

      Sometimes, she gets so scared that her knees shake.

      "Usually, there should be two (additional correctional officers), at least," the 13-year veteran said.

      But the prison can't find enough people to do the job of guarding inmates — in Amarillo or virtually anywhere else.

      The Texas prison system is short more than 4,300 guards; with 17 percent of its full-time security positions unfilled. Nearly one in five of the state's 106 prisons operates with less than 75 percent of its correctional guards.

      Currently, 16 of Texas' 106 state prisons operate with at least one in four correctional jobs unfilled. Systemwide, the shortage is about one in six.

      Far-flung Fort Stockton, the worst-staffed unit, operates with 59 percent of its correctional officers. Barfoot's lockup in Amarillo operates with 76 percent of its allotted guard positions.

      The prison system has 34 percent fewer guards today than when seven Texas inmates pulled off a brazen escape at the Connally Uni t in South Texas in 2000 — when everyone acknowledged the system was in crisis — even though its inmate population has grown 5 percent since then, to 153,000.

      Testifying before a legislative hearing last month, Texas Prison Board Chairman Brad Livingston called the guard shortage critical.

      To deal with the shortage, the prison board March 27 approved a 10 percent emergency raise for all new employees — bringing starting salaries to $25,000 a year — and $1,500 signing bonuses for those taking jobs at the hardest-to-staff units.

      The raises were an attempt to address the fact that Texas prison guards earned the second-lowest guard salaries in the nation, according to the union that represents many state correctional officers, AFSCME-CEC7. The yearly turnover rate for first-year correctional staff is 43 percent.

      The signing bonuses were a recognition that staffing shortages are as much about geography as about pay. Texas prisons were built in some of the most out-of-the-way areas of the state.

      Thirteen of the 15 prisons with the most severe guard shortages are in towns with fewer than 15,000 people. Nine of those places have lost, not gained, residents since 2000, according to population figures.

      Consider the Dalhart Unit, a 1,300-bed facility that operates with 31 percent of its correctional staff unfilled, and is located in a remote Panhandle town of the same name with 7,000 residents.

      Marty Turner, a field representative with the union AFSCME-CEC7 in the region that includes Dalhart, said the prison always is short- staffed because it has a tiny work force to draw from.

      "There's no help," he said.

      Skyrocketing gas prices have made it difficult to lure people to commute from distant towns, he said. A shortage of affordable housing keeps them away.

      "Things are absolutely the worst I've seen 'em, and I've been (working in and around the prisons) since 1990," Turner said.

      Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who heads the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, said he blamed the staffing problems squarely on decisions made during the massive prison building boom of the 1990s to put most of the units in far-flung locations.

      "The state built most of its prisons in all the wrong places," he said. "They used prisons for economic development. The rural counties would give you the land and throw in other incentives. It might have looked like a bargain but we're paying a huge price for it."

      Allan Polunsky served on the prison board between 1987 and 2000, when the prison population jumped from 49,000 inmates to 147,000. In an interview last month, Polunsky said he generally was opposed to building prisons in rural areas — but his board colleagues, and the rural lawmakers who wielded power back then, favored it.

      "There certainly was political persuasion that came into place," Polunsky said.

      He noted rural communities often lobbied as hard to bring prisons into their communities as metropolitan areas lobbied to keep them out.

      The state built most of its correctional facilities for youths in remote places, too, and now faces chronic staffing shortages at many of those units. Whitmire champions closing the Texas Youth Commission altogether and moving its 2,800 juvenile offenders back to the mostly urban communities from which they come.

      Whitmire said he has heard no talk of relocating the 106 prisons that house 153,000 adult inmates across the state.

      "We have no choice," he said of those facilities. "We're stuck with them."

      Union leaders say the recent raises for newly hired guards may do nothing to ease the shortage because the fix largely ignores seasoned officers.

      "They've created a big problem with the veterans. They're raising cane. They've been the backbone of this agency," said Brian Olsen, who heads the correctional officers union.

      Meanwhile, officials in the most understaffed units have resorted to confining inmates in their pods for long stretches at a time, depriving them of work assignments and outdoor recreation.

      Last fall, because of the staffing shortage, officials at the Dalhart Unit closed an entire 300-bed dorm. Michelle Lyons, a prison spokeswoman, said there were no plans to reopen it.

      ----------

      Begging for guards


      April 19, 2008

      State prison guard shortage 'critical'
      Most understaffed units at remote sites, where it's hard to lure employees

      By LISA SANDBERG

      AUSTIN — The Neal prison in Amarillo has so few guards working these days that Dorothy Barfoot, a correctional officer, often finds herself working alone in a dorm with 80 to 100 male felons.

      Sometimes she gets so scared her knees shake.

      "Usually there should be two (correctional officers with me), at least," said the 13-year veteran.

      But the prison can't find enough people to do the job of guarding inmates in Amarillo or anywhere else.

      The Texas prison system is short more than 4,300 guards, with 17 percent of its full-time security positions unfilled. Nearly one in five of the state's 106 prisons operates with fewer than 75 percent of its correctional guards.

      Far-flung Fort Stockton, the worst-staffed unit, operates with 59 percent of its correctional officers.

      Barfoot's lockup in Amarillo operates with 76 percent of its alloted guard positions.

      The prison system has 34 percent fewer guards today than when seven Texas inmates pulled off an escape at the Connally Unit in South Texas in 2000, even though its inmate population has grown 5 percent since then, to 153,000.

      Testifying before a legislative hearing last month, Texas Prison Board Chairman Brad Livingston called the guard shortage "critical."

      To deal with the shortage, the prison board recently approved a 10 percent emergency raise for new employees, bringing starting salaries to $25,000 a year and $1,500 signing bonuses for those taking jobs at the hardest-to-staff units.

      The raises were an attempt to address the fact that Texas guards earned the second-lowest salaries in the nation, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

      The turnover rate for first-year correctional staff is 43 percent.

      The signing bonuses were a recognition that staffing shortages are as much about geography as about pay.

      Texas prisons were built in some of the most out-of-the-way areas of the state.

      Thirteen of the 15 prisons with the most severe guard shortages are in towns with fewer than 15,000 people.

      Nine of those places have lost, not gained, residents since 2000.

      Dalhart Unit hard to staff Consider the Dalhart Unit, a 1,300-bed facility that operates with 31 percent of its correctional staff positions unfilled and is located in a remote Panhandle town of the same name with 7,000 residents.

      Marty Turner, a field representative with the union in the region that includes Dalhart, said the prison is always short-staffed because it has a tiny work force to draw from.

      "There's no help," he said. Skyrocketing gas prices have made it difficult to lure people to commute from distant towns, he said.

      A shortage of affordable housing keeps them away.

      State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, said he blamed the staffing problems squarely on decisions made during the massive prison building boom of the 1990s to put most of the units in far-flung locations.

      "The state built most of its prisons in all the wrong places," he said. "They used prisons for economic development. The rural counties would give you the land and throw in other incentives. It might have looked like a bargain, but we're paying a huge price for it."

      Allan Polunsky served on the prison board between 1987 and 2000, when the prison population jumped from 49,000 inmates to 147,000. In an interview last month, Polunsky said he was generally opposed to building prisons in rural areas. But his board colleagues, and the rural lawmakers who wielded power back then, favored it.

      The state built most of its correctional facilities for youth in remote places, too, and now faces chronic staffing shortages at many of those units. Whitmire champions closing the Texas Youth Commission altogether and moving its 2,800 juvenile offenders back to the mostly urban communities from which they come.

      Raises create resentment
      Union leaders say the recent raises for newly hired guards may do nothing to ease the shortage because the fix largely ignores seasoned officers.

      "They've created a big problem with the veterans. They're raising Cain. They've been the backbone of this agency," said Brian Olsen, who heads the correctional officers union.

      lsandberg@express-news.net

      State prison guard shortage

      Support - A Bill to Revive the System of Parole for Federal Prisoners.
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      04/06/2008

      Texas has second most prisoners, but its corrections officers are among the lowest paid

      By: FRED DAVIS
      The Enterprise

      Texas has a troubling dichotomy in its prison system.

      It has the second largest number of inmates in the country, yet it has a correctional officer shortage traced in large part to some of the lowest salaries paid in the country.



      PRISON PAY:
      Correctional officer salaries,
      annual mean wage-

      Top Nine:
      1. California, $61,000
      2. New Jersey, $56,960
      3. Massachusetts, $53,090
      4. Nevada, $50,120
      5. New York, $46,760
      6. New Mexico, $30,400
      7. Texas, $30,100
      8. Louisiana, $26,940
      9. Mississippi, $23,470
      U.S. Department of Labor



      "It's a serious problem," state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, Criminal Justice Committee chairman, said of the correctional officer shortage.

      "It's not just a prison problem, it's a community problem, and we need to talk real seriously about it."

      Texas, with 155,900 inmates as of April 3, employs 22,175 full- and part-time correctional officers.

      California, with 170,371 inmates as of March 26, employs 32,252 correctional officers.

      That breaks down to a one guard per 5.28 inmate ratio in California versus a one guard per 7.03 inmate ratio in Texas.

      Whitmire said problems with the shortage include patrolling prison areas with one guard versus two, as well as keeping inmates on lockdown for long periods and depriving them of recreation time.

      The staffing problem has yet another facet in places like the Dalhart Unit in faraway northwest Texas.

      Because of its remote location, Whitmire said correctional officers are reluctant to relocate and the dearth of housing makes the location less desirable.

      In fact, the Dalhart Unit, less than 70 percent staffed as of Feb. 28, had to close a dorm because of staffing, according to Michelle Lyons, Texas Department of Criminal Justice director of public relations.

      At Beaumont's state prisons as of Feb. 28, the Gist Unit was 88 percent staffed, the LeBlanc Unit was 94 percent staffed and the Stiles Unit was 83 percent staffed.

      Lyons said the state agency recently approved a $1,500 sign-on bonus for new hires designated to work in understaffed prisons. That policy took effect April 1.

      Lyons added that despite the shortage, state facilities have adapted in a number of ways, including cutting down on inmate community services and agricultural programs.

      However, Lyons stressed that security and safety have not been compromised.

      "We make sure critical security positions are staffed first," Lyons said.

      Low pay, high turnover

      One glaring problem for Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officers is that they're the 47th on the nationwide list when it comes to what they're paid, according to a 2006 Correctional Officer Payscale Study.

      Texas entry-level correctional officer's salaries are $23,046 annually.

      Entry-level California correctional officers start at $45,288 annually after completing peace officer academy training.

      And state officials say it's because of that low pay that Texas' first-year correctional officer turnover was 43 percent for fiscal year 2007, when the overall officer turnover rate was 24 percent.

      "Pay is a big reason," Lyons said, citing what departing officers point out as reasons for leaving.

      That's why on March 27, the state prison agency proposed a 10 percent pay raise and an expedited career ladder for newly hired correctional officers.

      The proposal raises entry-level base pay to $25,416 for the first two months.

      The next raise jumps to $26,940, as opposed to the $24,900 new hires receive after two months under the current pay schedule.

      This way, a state prison correctional officer will be promoted to a CO Grade III and receive the $28,546 base salary that goes with it six months faster under the new career ladder that goes into effect May 1.

      The state agency released a statement saying the focus behind the move "is to impact both the recruitment and retention during those critical early months of employment."

      The new pay raise will not affect veteran correctional officers.

      However, in its last session, the Texas Legislature passed a 2 percent pay raise each year for the next two for all correctional officers.

      Whitmire isn't sure the latest pay raise to new hires will make enough of a difference.

      "Getting a 10 percent raise is almost too little, too late," he said, adding that a comprehensive assessment of the correctional officer profession in Texas is gravely needed.

      "We need to look at the long-term and the short-term," Whitmire said. "By raising the qualifications and standards for correctional officers, that can make it a profession somebody wants to do long-term."

      Whitmire said while he's proud of Texas correctional officers' hard work, given the environment they work in, he's concerned that standards have been lowered to recruit correctional officers.

      "They're hiring 18-year-olds two months out of high school," he said of the relative inexperience that goes along with youth. "We've got officers who are 70 years old, senior citizens. That's a security risk."

      He also pointed out that physical fitness standards have been lowered, with overweight, out-of-shape correctional officers in the system.

      Whitmire said he wants to meet with state criminal justice administrative officials and discuss the severity of the officer shortage.

      "It's worse than they're acknowledging, " Whitmire said.

      For Brian Olsen, executive director of AFSCME/CEC 7, a union that represents Texas correctional officers and staff, the pay raise for newcomers is good, but it doesn't help veteran correctional officers.

      "They're furious," Olsen said of the veterans. "They're the backbone."

      Olsen, a former Texas correctional officer who's represented correctional officers the past 17 years, said he's "cautiously optimistic" about any changes or improvements to the state system's wages and treatment of officers during this year's legislative session. He'd also like improved dialogue between his union and state agency officials.

      In the interim, he'll continue to fight for Texas correctional officers.

      "The state should be embarrassed, " Olsen said of how correctional officers have been treated.

      "Enough's enough."

      The lowest paid


      Published: March 28, 2008

      Two indicted in death of TDCJ officer

      By Jay Ermis
      Managing Editor

      Two inmates who escaped from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Wynne Unit and then killed a correctional officer in September 2007 could now face the death penalty.

      Jerry Duane Martin and John Ray Falk Jr. were indicted Tuesday and charged with the capital murder of officer Susan Canfield on Sept. 24 at the unit on Farm-to-Market Road 2821.

      The two men were among 19 people indicted during the Walker County Grand Jury’s March meeting.

      Martin and Falk were also indicted on six other charges stemming from their escape that included a three-hour manhunt in and around Huntsville.

      David Weeks, Walker County criminal district attorney, said Texas law provides that a murder becomes a capital offense if it occurs while escaping or attempting to escape from a penal institution.

      Weeks said Thursday that he intends to prosecute Martin and Falk simultaneously and provide a jury with the option of imposing the death penalty for each defendant in the murder of Canfield.

      The cases will be assigned to either the 12th or 278th Judicial District Courts.

      A trial date has not been set. Weeks said he does not expect a trial to take place until the fall at the earliest.

      “All of the indictments results from an accumulation of evidence gathered from a long and de-tailed investigation led by the Texas Rangers, who were assisted by the Hunts-ville Police Department and the Texas De-partment of Criminal Justice’s Office of the Inspector General,” Weeks said.

      “In addition, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime laboratories and accident reconstruction team have provided special expertise to assist the investigation,” Weeks said.

      The other offenses included two counts of attempted capital murder (first degree felonies) for shooting at police officers who were in pursuit of the offenders during the escape.

      Martin and Falk also hijacked a truck and its occupant — Madilene Loosier — during the pursuit, leading to charges of aggravated kidnapping (a first degree felony), aggravated robbery (a first degree felony) and aggravated assault (a second degree felony).

      Weeks said the final charge of Interference with Police Service Animal (a third degree felony) relates to the death of the TDCJ horse ridden by Canfield.

      Also indicted Tuesday were:

      Genaro Flores, Huntsville, aggravated assault with deadly weapon.

      Tyrone Cunningham, Huntsville, aggravated robbery.

      Travissance Smith, Madisonville, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, burglary of a habitation.

      Travissance Smith, burglary of a habitation.

      Christopher Johnson, Huntsville, theft of property, $1,500, two more previously.

      Christopher Johnson, theft of property, $1,500, two more previously; theft of property $1,500, two more previously.

      Mikerel Bookman, Huntsville, unlawful possession of firearm by felon.

      Jerrondrick Booker, Huntsville, deadly conduct.

      Christopher McGowen, New Waverly, injury to a child.

      Matthew Shoemaker, Riverside, robbery.

      Cheryl Wooley, Houston, injury to a child, three charges of abandonment/endangering a child; and possession C/S PG1.

      Atina Minor, Huntsville, two charges of abandonment/endangering child.

      Atina Minor, theft of service.

      Shannon Straps, Huntsville, unauthorized use of motor vehicle.

      Carmine Salvitelli, Trinity, intoxicated assault.

      Melvin Gamble, Huntsville, assault of public servant.

      Brian Winfree, Huntsville, aggravated assault.

      Death of TDCJ officer


      State approves prison guard pay hike

      By Mike Ward
      March 27, 2008

      Starting pay for Texas' correctional officers will get a 10 percent boost in May.

      The Texas Board of Criminal Justice this morning unanimously approved raising the starting pay for guards from $23,046 to $25,416, and jumping up the pay about as much for those who stay on the job for 16 months.

      Officials said the pay hike will affect about 8,000 correctional officers.

      In addition, the board also approved giving new hires a $1,500 bonus to sign up at prisons that are the most understaffed. Twenty-two state prisons are have less than 80 percent of the guards they should have.

      State prisons have been critically short of guards for months and months. The turnover rate for new officers within their first year on the job is 43 percent, compared to 24 percent overall.

      Brad Livingston, executive director of the prison system, said the pay increase — the largest in years — is designed to avoid even more critical staffing shortages during the late spring and summer, the times of the year when vacancies are highest.

      "We hope this makes a difference," he said. "Our (correctional officer) staffing is the most critical issue we face."

      When prisons are short of guards, convicts cannot always be supervised as closely as they should be, and some prisons have been forced to keep inmates confined to their cells to avoid trouble.

      Livingston said his agency is about 3,500 guards short.

      Cost of the pay hike? Almost $20 million, including $15 million for the higher pay and $4.5 million for the signing bonuses, according to Livingston.

      Pay Raise


      Prison Director says no more cuts planned due to guard shortage

      KRIS-TV Corpus Christi
      23 Jan 2008

      AUSTIN -- The executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Wednesday he anticipated no need to immediately close more areas of prisons or adjust inmate populations to address the continued shortage of corrections officers.

      "We have no planned moves at this time," Brad Livingston said. "Obviously, we have an ongoing process."

      A 300-inmate wing of the 1,300-bed Dalhart Unit was closed in October because of a shortage of guards.

      Also in October, prison officials transferred 282 high-security inmates from the Beto Unit near Palestine to other prisons. They were replaced with inmates who require the supervision of fewer guards.

      At a Texas Board of Criminal Justice meeting Wednesday, Livingston said the agency had 3,750 officer vacancies, or about 15 percent of the force, and that the vacancy rate had "worsened slightly."

      "There's no single factor or reason for the continuing staffing challenge," he told the board.

      He said a strong Texas economy made other jobs more attractive, that the remoteness of some prisons combined with high gasoline prices made commuting costs high, and that a concentration of numerous prisons in some areas like Huntsville and Gatesville had "saturated the workforce."

      "Certainly salary issues come into play," he said.

      Livingston said recruitment efforts were continuing and availability of training academy classes were accelerated. He also said changes to the career salary ladder had been made to attract people with college degrees, those with honorable discharges from the military and former agency employees who might want to return.

      "We have a senior executive working group continuing to brainstorm to manage working through this," he said.

      Starting base pay for correctional officers in Texas is about $23,000 a year. After eight years, it tops out at about $34,000.

      An employee union has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry urging him to ease the shortage by approving an emergency 10 percent pay raise for corrections officers and urging legislative passage next year of another 10 percent boost.

      "If the state fails to deal with it, the consequences could be catastrophic _ for correctional officers and the general public," said Brian Olsen, executive director of the Correctional Employees Countil 7 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

      Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


      Unit garden harvest benefits from being buzzed by bees

      TDCJ employees inspect a beehive at the Scott Unit near Angleton.


      Although a soggy spring and early summer shrank what otherwise might have been a bumper crop, state prison unit gardens managed by TDCJ’s Agribusiness, Land & Minerals department still seemed to have benefited from being buzzed by honeybees this year.

      At the Scott Unit near Angleton, for example, the harvest of yellow squash bound for the agency’s cannery more than doubled from a year ago, up from about 2,000 pounds per acre in 2006 to approximately 5,800 pounds per acre this year. Cucumbers and zucchini squash also did extremely well at Scott.

      Roger Shed, an edible crop specialist for TDCJ, attributes the increased harvest partly to the placement of honeybees at the unit prior to the start of the spring growing season.

      “At Scott, we have a very visual increase,” said Shed. “People are making comments about the amount of squash coming out of that garden.”

      After a long hiatus, honeybees were reintroduced to TDCJ this past spring in an effort to boost pollination, and thereby vegetable production, in unit gardens managed by the agency’s agriculture department. TDCJ has since established bee colonies at seven units, while two others -- Darrington and Pack -- have turned to private keepers to bring in hives of perhaps the most proficient pollinators in the world.

      Encouraged by the success at Scott, Shed said TDCJ plans to increase its beehives twofold next year and rotate them to different parts of the units each year thereafter. He said the hives would ideally be placed within a square mile of a unit garden but away from offenders working in the larger agricultural fields.

      “We’re optimistic about what the bees have done this year,” Shed said. “What we’re trying to do is build up populations in areas where the bees will come in and work our crops and not be as visible.”

      One unexpected treat to come from this year’s growing season was the more than 200 pounds of honey harvested from hives that normally don’t produce it so soon. All of the collected honey was bottled and delivered to unit kitchens.

      “We’re not even supposed to have honey the first year,” Shed said. “We actually had a 40 to 50 percent honey return off of bees we weren’t even supposed to have honey off of this year. So that’s sweet.”



      NEWS ARTICLE THE NEW WEAPON THAT TDCJ-CID GUARDS WILL USE ON TEXAS PRISONERS:

      New weapon touted to TDCJ


      Crisis or not, prison guards need more help, better pay

      By The Editorial Board
      January 12, 2008

      Gov. Rick Perry, through a spokeswoman, acknowledges that a shortage of prison guards is a problem, but he sees no crisis.

      Maybe not, but when the state has 10 prison units coming up at least 30 percent short of the proper number of guards, and one 300-bed wing of a prison has been shut down since October because of too few guards, well, we wonder how the governor defines crisis.

      The chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee disagrees. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said, “It would be accurate to label this a crisis.”

      It’s not hard to see why there is a problem, or crisis. Texas prison guards are not paid a lot - they start at $23,000 a year and top out after eight years at $34,000.

      Also, many Texas prisons are located near the state’s smaller cities and in rural areas, where there may not be many good blue-collar jobs available other than at the prisons. But the recent surge in the oil industry has given many workers a better-paying option to spending their days cooped up with felons.

      Whatever the reasons, the prison system reports it was short 3,749 guards at the end of November. That’s a shortage of authorized, budgeted officers, not a shortage against some impossible ideal of a guards-to-prisoners ratio.

      The prison system acknowledges the shortage and that pay is a problem. But there’s not a lot it can do about pay set by the Legislature.

      However, the Legislature likely won’t meet again until next January. The Legislative Budget Board, led by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, might be able to approve some short-term relief by letting the prison system know it’s OK to raise some pay - if money could be found for it.

      Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, see another source for some relief: Free up to 11,000 convicts (out of about 157,000) eligible for parole. Thousands of inmates eligible for release are not out because of paperwork delays or a lack of treatment programs, which are supposed to be expanded.

      Short-term fixes, including careful prisoner releases, can lessen the current shortage of guards. It would be tragic if proof of a crisis arrived in the form of a prison riot that overran, and perhaps murdered, guards.

      Prison Guards


      2007


      Dec. 23, 2007

      Guard indicted in inmate's beating death

      Associated Press

      PLAINVIEW — A prison guard has been indicted on a murder charge in the death of an inmate.

      Jose Rodriguez, 28, a corrections officer for the Wheeler unit in Plainview, was awaiting arraignment and remained free. He was indicted by a Hale County grand jury on Thursday in the death of Paul Ray Judia, 52.

      Judia died days after his head was slammed into a cell wall, the indictment said.

      The Nov. 12 incident happened "during a major use of force" after the inmate allegedly kicked Rodriguez, Warden David Cole said.

      Judia died Nov. 15 at University Medical Center in Lubbock. He was a transfer inmate from Eastland County who was serving a 10-year sentence for burglary.

      Rodriguez was hired in March 2005.

      Guard indicted in inmate's beating death


      Powerless in Prison: Sexual Abuse Against Incarcerated Women

      By; Nicole Summer
      RH Reality Check
      December 11, 2007

      "I am 7 months pregnant [and] I got pregnant here during a sexual assault. I have been sexually assaulted here numerous times! The jailers here are the ones doing it!"

      -- excerpt from a letter from an inmate in a jail in Alabama to Stop Prisoner Rape.

      Surviving a sexual assault and then navigating the health care system to receive adequate counseling and reproductive medical attention is daunting enough for those who walk freely on the outside. For women in prison, these hurdles can seem insurmountable. Unfortunately, sexual assault, particularly guard-on-prisoner sexual assault, is a fact of life for many incarcerated women, and the ensuing implications for their reproductive health are many. The power dynamics in prison severely disadvantage the prisoner, who is at the absolute mercy of her guards and correctional officers, relying on them for necessities such as food and for the small privileges and luxuries such as cigarettes. Guards have unlimited access to prisoners and their living environment, including where they sleep and where they bathe. With such an imbalance of power, the likelihood of sexual assault increases. Sexual abuse in prison can range from forcible rape to the trading of sex for certain privileges. While the latter may seem consensual to some, the drastic power disparity makes the idea of "consent" almost laughable. In fact, all 50 states have laws that make any sexual contact between inmates and correctional officers illegal, "consensual" or not. "It's always unacceptable and illegal," says Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape.

      While guard-on-prisoner sexual assault is common, putting a number on the instances is difficult because so many assaults are unreported. As with sexual assault on the outside, many survivors in prison are ashamed and embarrassed to come forward, fear that their claim will be hard to prove or fear that their attackers will retaliate. In prison the fear of retaliation is heightened, as the prisoner continues to live with her attacker controlling her daily life. And inmates who report a sexual assault are frequently put in segregated isolation, ostensibly to protect them from retaliation, but this isolation can be emotionally and physically draining, and well, terribly isolating. And many women in prison have been sexually abused in the past, before they were incarcerated, or are accustomed to using sex to get what they want, on the inside or the outside. "A lot of women don't view it as abuse," says Deborah Golden, staff attorney at the D.C. Prisoners' Project of the Washington Lawers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. About 80 percent of women inmates have already experienced some kind of sexual or physical abuse before prison, says Sarah From, director of public policy and communications at the Women's Prison Association.

      Despite the widespread underreporting, some statistics exist. First, there are about 200,000 women incarcerated in the U.S. (in federal, state, local and immigration detention settings), a number that is growing exponentially and that makes up about 10 percent of the total prison population. Amnesty International reports that in 2004, a total of 2,298 allegations of staff sexual misconduct against both male and female inmates were made, and more than half of these cases involved women as victims, a much higher percentage than the 10 percent that women comprise of the total prison population. It can vary from institution to institution, but in the worst prison facilities, one in four female inmates are sexually abused in prison, says Stannow.

      The risk of pregnancy as the result of a sexual assault is, of course, a concern for many survivors, incarcerated or not. But obtaining emergency contraception or an abortion, if one is desired, may be more difficult for women on the inside. Because many inmates do not report the sexual assault immediately (if at all), using emergency contraception is usually not possible, if it is even available. While prisoners' rights and reproductive rights organizations report hearing few complaints about emergency contraception being inaccessible to women in prison, they are unconvinced that it is widely available. Golden believes emergency contraception should be made readily available and should be on the prison's prescription formulary.

      Unlike access to emergency contraception, access to abortion by inmates has seen its way through the courts. Crucially, women do not lose their right to decide to have an abortion just because they are in prison; rather, the issue is how the prison accommodates (or refuses to accommodate) her decision. "There are constitutional minimums," says Diana Kasdan, staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. Although the details can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, prisons must provide access to an abortion if one is desired. "Providing access" can range from providing transportation to an off-site medical facility, to allowing for a furlough or to providing abortions on-site, although Kasdan says she has not heard of the latter. A court in Arizona recently ruled that a court order to obtain transportation for an abortion cannot be required, and a federal court in Missouri ruled last year that a prison cannot refuse to pay for the transportation of inmates to receive abortions.

      Paying for the abortion itself is yet another issue for women inmates, and it is a patchwork quilt of inconsistency throughout the states. Some state prison systems fund abortions, some states refuse to pay for what they consider "elective" abortions and some states simply have no official written policy, research by Rachel Roth has shown. Only two states specifically mention sexual assault in their prison abortion policies; both Minnesota and Wisconsin allow for government-subsidiz ed abortions when the pregnancy results from a sexual assault. The federal Bureau of Prisons also pays for the abortion in the case of sexual assault.

      In prison, the possibility of a coerced abortion can hang over an inmate who discovers she is pregnant as the result of a sexual assault by a guard. In a letter to Stop Prisoner Rape, one inmate writes:

      A rumor had spread through the facility that I was pregnant. I'm not sure how the rumor got started, but medical staff came to my cell and forced me to provide a urine sample that they could use to test for pregnancy. They did not ask me any questions, offer me any support, or seem at all concerned for my well-being. That same night, three guards, two female and one male, came into my cell, sprayed me in the face with mace, handcuffed me behind my back, threw me down on the ground, and said, "We hear you are pregnant by one of ours and we're gonna make sure you abort." The two female guards began to kick me as the male guard stood watch. The beating lasted about a minute, but it felt like ten or more. Afterwards, the male officer uncuffed me and they left.

      The prisoner's rights as a mother, if she becomes pregnant and chooses not to terminate the pregnancy, are complicated, to say the least. Few jurisdictions allow women to keep their children in prison with them once they are born.

      Frequently, if there is no family member on the outside to take the child, the child will enter the foster care system, and the state will move to terminate the parental rights of the mother because she is absent. The parental rights of mothers in prison is a fraught and complicated issue, one that goes well beyond the particular problem of sexual assault by guards.

      Access to counseling after a sexual assault in prison is virtually nonexistent. An inmate cannot simply call a hotline, since all calls are monitored and she has no privacy. When one inmate sought mental health care from prison services after a sexual assault, she was offered sleeping pills, says Golden. "There's no capacity in prisons for talk therapy," she says. And any counseling inside the prison is not confidential. Some community therapists will come in on visiting days to counsel an inmate, but usually only at the behest of a lawyer, says Golden.

      Despite the overwhelming power imbalance, guard-on-prisoner sexual assault is preventable, insists Stannow. Efforts such as making sure the staff is well trained, educating the prisoners about their rights, eliminating impunity for guards and following up on reports of sexual abuse would go a long way toward prevention, she says. Congress had similar goals in mind when it unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003. PREA aims to establish zero-tolerance standards of sexual assaults, to increase data and information on the occurrence of prison sexual assault and to develop and implement national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction and punishment of prison sexual assault. "PREA has been enormously important in ending sexual violence in detention," said Stannow. "Congress made clear that it's a problem that must be addressed." Perhaps most excitingly, PREA created a federal commission to generate binding national standards regarding sexual violence in detention. But "the existence of the law doesn't mean the problem is gone," Stannow continues. "Now we need to make sure that we build on the momentum of the law to make every corrections system in the country acknowledge that sexual violence in detention is a major problem, and does everything it can to end it."

      One of the largest obstacles to eliminating prison sexual assault is the "social invisibility" of prisons. The general public neither knows nor cares about the plight of the incarcerated, and thus cannot demand that its government properly protect prisoners' bodily integrity and rights. Perhaps PREA is the beginning of the end of this social invisibility.

      Powerless in Prison


      Ex-TYC guard indicted in alleged assault of female inmate

      PARIS, Texas -- A former Texas Youth Commission guard has been indicted for allegedly sexually molesting a white inmate who civil rights activists had complained got off easier than a black teenager sentenced by the same judge.

      The mother of the white teenager, now 16, said she hopes the indictment will cause state officials to re-examine her daughter's case and release her.

      "I feel now they ought to send my daughter home," the woman told The Paris News. The newspaper did not identify the woman.

      Jaime Segura, 30, faces two felony counts of indecency with a child and two counts of official oppression, said Allyson Mitchell of the Texas Special Prosecution Unit.

      Segura was arrested Friday and has posted bail, according to the Brown County Jail. He is also facing four earlier indictments involving youths at the same facility, Mitchell said.

      A phone listing for Segura could not be found, and it was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

      Shaquanda Cotton, the black teenager, won her freedom from the Brownwood youth prison earlier this year following an outpouring of racially charged protests. Her story was first reported by The Chicago Tribune.

      Cotton was convicted of shoving a hall monitor at Paris High School in March 2006. She had no prior criminal history, and the hall monitor wasn't seriously injured.

      Three months earlier, the judge who sentenced Cotton gave the white teenager probation for burning down her family's house. Cotton's supporters said the outcome of the two cases were evidence of racial injustice.

      The white teenager was later sent to the youth prison after violating her probation. Her sentence was due to end Dec. 15.

      Her mother has previously said her daughter attempted suicide in the spring by swallowing a handful of pills, only to have another six months added to her sentence when she knocked down a guard who rushed to rescue her

      Ex-TYC guard indicted in alleged assault of female inmate


      Nov. 29, 2007

      Texas prison guard fashion breaks out of the 1960s

      By KELLEY SHANNON Associated Press Writer
      © 2007 The Associated Press

      AUSTIN — It's makeover time for Texas prison guards.

      A new uniform featuring a short-sleeve, more casual navy blue shirt will soon be a wardrobe option for guards, in addition to traditional long-sleeve gray shirt uniforms.

      The reason: Additional flexibility and comfort for guards who wear stab-resistent protective vests under their clothing.

      "When you wear your (protective) vest, it's a more manageable and cooler uniform to wear," said Nathaniel Quarterman, correctional institutions division director for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      As Quarterman described the new apparel, three corrections officers modeled the old and new styles Thursday. Members of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice looked on, offering a little lighthearted commentary about the nattiness of the new look.

      The fashion-show-like presentation was a break in routine for the normally staid board meetings, where computer purchases, substance abuse treatment programs and land transactions are also taken up.

      Lighter and more durable than the old long-sleeve button-down uniform shirts, the new style resembles uniforms worn by some police departments and prison guard uniforms in other states, Quarterman said.

      Guards will be allowed to choose whether to wear the old or new uniforms, he said.

      Officers use protective vests beneath their clothes depending on the violence level of the inmates in their prison unit and where in the unit their jobs are located, said agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.

      Even guards who aren't required to use a vest can purchase and wear one, she said.

      Throughout the Texas prison system there were 67 serious assaults on staff members in the most recent fiscal year, up slightly from 62 a year earlier, according to Lyons. A "serious" assault is defined as one requiring medical treatment beyond first aid.

      There are approximately 25,000 corrections officers in the Texas prison system, which had 155,711 inmates as of this week.

      The new uniforms, which include two gray pants options with the navy blue shirts, are being manufactured within the prison system from cotton grown on prison land.

      Production will begin in January, and the new uniform option will be phased in over the next two years for guards around the state.

      "It's completely up to the officer which uniform they wear," Lyons said. "Some people prefer the classic style, some prefer the newer look."

      Variations on the current gray Texas guard uniform have been in use since the 1960s. The last update was about 10 years ago, when seniority slashes representing an officer's years of service were added to the sleeves, Quarterman said.

      The new polo-style shirts won't have the slashes, which may discourage veteran guards from wearing them, said Brian Olsen, executive director of the guards' union. Inmates often show more respect for guards wearing more experience on their sleeves, he said.

      But Olsen, noting that guards served on the committee that selected the new uniforms, said the change is "a good thing. It gives them options."

      The old uniforms were harder to wear with the protective vests, and the long sleeves were difficult "if an inmate chunks on you," he said.

      ___

      On the Net:
      Texas Department of Criminal Justice at http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us

      Uniforms


      Officer's are sleeping with inmates...Prison based violence is up statewide...Drugs muled in by employees.

      Guess where TDCJ OIG will be this holiday season. If you guessed passing out car theft prevention information to the public at businesses, you guessed right!

      BY: Doug Glass, Backgate Website

      The stats from Huntsville reveal a growing problem with violence by offenders towards staff statewide. The stats also report that more employee disciplinary, and criminal investigations have popped up over the past two years on Texas Dept. Of Criminal Justice units statewide. And even though many regions are shown via TDCJ's own stats that the Office of Inspector General officers in their regions are overloaded with criminal cases, and short of staff, the OIG has found a new way to impede pending investigations against offenders and staff. They have began a new anti car theft campaign for the holidays.

      Thats right, as reported by the Huntsville Item Newspaper, "The group will be on hand at the West Hill Mall today beginning at 11:30 a.m. distributing pamphlets, key chains, car air fresheners, magnets and information to the first 300 hundred visitors."

      So whats wrong with this picture? District attorney's offices in at least two highly populated prison counties have expressed concerns over the poorly investigated offender and employee criminal cases that have been submitted for processing by the OIG. "Out of the hundreds of employee staff sexual relations cases and civil rights abuse cases that have been submitted to OIG statewide for processing by the units, maybe a third result in criminal prosecution by OIG staff", said one previous OIG investigator that spoke to the Backgate on the condition of anonymity. That employee, who was employed by TDCJ's Office Of Inspector General for nearly ten years left state employment for another law enforcement agency when it seemed some issues were tucked under the rug.

      The source went on to say that "It was frustrating to know that crimes were being committed on a unit by a staff member, maybe dope, maybe an offender staff relationship , but your hands were basically tied because there were just so many cases working at once, and your only one person, maybe responsible for several units."

      OIG suffered a reduction in force (RIF) many years back, and that left some positions on units open for months. OIG has once again started over the past year or so aggressively seeking to fill those lost positions, but have suffered from low interest by outside applicants.

      OIG pay is not equivalent to that of their outside law enforcement counter parts. And as many municipal agencies offer sign on bonuses of thousands of dollars, OIG still must fill the jobs the old fashioned way. With all of this being said, that brings us back to our main point of this story. With all of this happening statewide, below par CO's being hired to watch Texas's worst inmates, and OIG finds time to worry about outside law enforcement business?

      How about those staff members wasting time doing that go help out on a unit with tins of cases pending? Or maybe conduct stings on units for dirty staff? Maybe we could finally prosecute these employees making the agency look bad by sleeping with the inmates? I can think of several better manpower deployment options other than occupying staff pulling up reports on car thefts for stats, or hanging out at malls passing out free key chains. How about we do what we created the law enforcement arm of the TDCJ for. Prosecute staff and offender crimes.

      There doesn't seem to be a shortage of that these days.


      Stringfellow Unit Food Service Manager arrested after having sex with inmate

      By: Duane Stuart, Backgate, Website
      Region 3, Rosharon, Texas

      Regina Karlsson, 34, of El Campo was arrested Friday on the state- jail felony charge of violating the civil rights of a person in custody and was released from the Brazoria county jail after posting $10,000 bond.

      Karlsson and a male inmate were discovered in a walk-in cooler at the trusty camp at about 7 a.m. Thursday. The prisoner and Karlsson both were interviewed by investigators and both admitted to having consensual sex. Although both admitted it was consentual, the law still applies. Karlsson could face up to 2 years in prison and a hefty fine. Kudos to TDCJ. Bout time we started prosecuting them.

      Keep it up!


      Clemens Unit Assistant Warden "transfered" after alleged incident with female Officer

      BY: Daniel Ross, Backgate Website

      Clemens unit assistant warden Will Churchill was allegedly administratively moved to another unit after he became embroiled in a unit level soap opera of sorts. Churchill, who came up through the ranks as a Darrington unit sergeant, to training major in the Beeville area prior to becoming assistant warden on region 3's Clemens unit in Brazoria was allegedly reassigned after an internal investigation revealed that he may have been involved in a relationship with a correctional officer on the unit.

      Although that in itself is against policy, the correctional officer he was linked too may have been proven to have been romantically associated with an offender on the unit.

      The female CO, who has not been identifed officially has left employment on the unit. Under what circumstances is unknown at this point. The Clemens unit has been under fire in recent months as it has shown to have had an exceptional number of employee complaints and staffing issues. Calls to the TDCJ media services dept. went unanswered late Friday afternoon, but the Backgate Website has an official request for information logged on the situation.

      Why just relocate a problem?

      This relocation of a TDCJ administrator after having fallen victim to policy and or criminal violations is not uncommon for region 3. Just months ago, former Darrington Assistant warden Herman Weston was even promoted to a higher paying position within the TDCJ even after being put under suspicion for a federal cival rights violation while he was assigned to the Darrington unit. All of which TDCJ was fully aware of. Weston is now awaiting indictment by the Brazoria County DA's office on that charge which was listed as official oppression.

      TDCJ hiding out sub-par administrators?

      Over the past few years, the Backgate has reported on way to many incidents where the offending party, usually an upper administrator, has been pardoned after a potentially criminal or administrative blunder has happened on a unit. What this seems to do is undermine the policies and procedures administered by the agency itself.

      How can lower level staff be held accountable for problems that the upper administration create and the run from? Why are lower level staff held more accountable than the upper level staff? Why not write your local legislator and ask that question?

      As Warden Churchill leaves the region, another well known administrator will fill his shoes. Asst. warden frank Rodriguez will take over in the next few weeks says our source in Huntsville. Warden Rodriguez, a former Darrington Major promoted in another region now returning is sure to make big changes on the Clemens Unit.

      For the good, or bad is still yet to be seen. As the official statement comes in, we will post and update this story.

      Stay tuned!


      Published: November 08, 2007

      TDCJ confirms sharp increase in employee infractions

      By Robbie Byrd
      News Editor

      Statistics from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported nearly 8,000 disciplinary actions against employees of the system over a 12-month period, mostly for failing to perform their duties and unexcused absences.

      Of the 7,786 recorded disciplinary actions taken by the agency, at least 1,574 of those were for substandard performance. The agency also reprimanded 1,719 employees for unexcused absence of an hour or more.

      Michelle Lyons, a spokesperson for TDCJ, said the most common infractions included "unexcused absenteeism, substandard duty performance and failure to obey a proper order from an authority."

      The statistics, obtained by The Back Gate, a TDCJ watchdog group, claims the numbers are on the rise.

      "The fact is this, for this fiscal year within TDCJ, there was a sharp increase in these types of numbers," said Marcus Williams, a writer for the group. "Whatever the reason, it's alarming."

      Lyons confirmed the numbers as accurate.

      Of the infractions recorded against staff, 729 were dismissed and 221 infractations were overturned or modified.

      But 538 staff members were fired over their disciplinary actions, while 51 were demoted, 7 received a reduction in pay and 911 were suspended for an indefinite amount of time without pay.

      Most employees who were disciplined — 4,902 of them — were placed on probation.

      As part of the dismissal process, employees are allowed to participate in their dismissal through a mediation process, according to Williams.

      Of the 368 mediation sessions, 103 resigned during the process.

      Another 221 of those were overturned or modified and two resigned before their official dismissal. Just over 200 were approved for dismissal and fired.

      Other cited infractions included 780 violations of statutory authority, 494 for failure to obey a proper order from authority, 249 for tardiness, 240 for leaving their post, 228 for sleeping on duty, 227 for conviction of misdemeanor charges, 205 for falsification of state documents, and 181 for having verbal/physical confrontations with other staff members.

      Employee Infractions


      Two former guards accused of misdeeds

      11/02/07
      Wire Report

      Two former guards at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Ferguson Unit in Madison County were arrested by FBI agents Wednesday following a series of federal indictments.

      Huntsville resident Eugene Morris, 39, is accused of beating an inmate at the facility five years ago - depriving him of his right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

      He and Huffman resident Tracy Jewett, 35, then falsified a report and persuaded other TDCJ employees to lie about the incident in an effort to hinder an investigation, according to federal prosecutors.

      The two, who both were sergeants, were indicted by a federal grand jury Monday, but the indictment was sealed until after their arrests Wednesday morning, prosecutors said.

      An indictment is not a finding of guilt. Rather, it indicates a grand jury believes enough evidence exists to warrant a trial.

      Morris and Jewett could face up to 10 years in a federal prison and fines of up to $250,000 if found guilty of obstruction of justice or falsifying documents. Morris could face a similar punishment if found guilty of the civil rights violation.


      Texas prison guards indicted

      Texas prison guards indicted in inmate's assault
      By CINDY GEORGE

      Two former state correctional officers have been indicted on federal charges of assaulting an inmate, covering up the beating and obstructing justice.

      Eugene Morris Jr., 39, of Huntsville and Tracy Dean Jewett, 35, of Huffman are named in a five-count indictment charging Morris with depriving an inmate of his civil right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. The indictment also accuses the pair of corruptly persuading other Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees to make false statements about the circumstances surrounding Morris' alleged use of force.

      Morris and Jewett made their first court appearances today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Calvin Botley, who set each man's bail at $50,000.

      Morris is accused of kicking and injuring inmate Robert Tanzini in November 2002. Both defendants are charged with making a false entry into a corrections "use of force" report with the intent of obstructing justice. At the time, both were sergeants assigned to TDCJ's Ferguson Unit in Midway, about 100 miles north of Houston.

      If convicted, each charge carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

      One federal prosecutor handling the criminal case comes from Houston's U.S. Attorney's Office and the other works for the Justice Department's civil rights division.

      The charges stem from allegations that initially made their way to Houston's federal courthouse in a 2003 prisoner civil rights suit filed by Tanzini.

      In that case, Tanzini described a brutal assault by Morris that was witnessed by several other sergeants and correctional officers, including Jewett. The case was dismissed in 2004 because Tanzini, who was representing himself, failed to file required court documents.

      In January, federal prosecutors asked a Houston federal judge to unseal court records in Tanzini's civil rights complaint. An order written by U.S. District Judge David Hittner released those records and allowed Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez and Justice Department Trial Attorney Edward Caspar to "share those pleadings with any grand jury investigating incidents related to this case." A grand jury returned indictments against Morris and Jewett this week.

      Perez declined to specifically identify what about this case, one of hundreds of prisoner civil rights claims filed in Houston federal court, caught the attention of federal prosecutors.

      "I think once the facts are disclosed, you will see why we went forward," he said today. "When we investigate these cases and we find violations, we prosecute."

      In his handwritten civil claim, Tanzini said the beating was preceded by a racial statement he made to a black female officer who told Morris, who also is black.

      "When Sgt. Morris appeared at Tanzini's cell, he started blurting out threats of what he was going to do physically assaulting to Tanzini.

      Sgt. Morris handcuffed Tanzini behind his back and removed him from his cell," the inmate writes, adding that he was assaulted in an administration area.

      Tanzini, who is white, accuses Morris of excessive use of force and Jewett, also a white man, of watching the assault but failing to intervene.

      The prisoner's complaint also says he remained in critical condition for a week at a nearby hospital recovering from skull fractures and other injuries.

      Tanzini, 43, who has been released, could not be reached for comment today.

      Jewett has faced similar prisoner civil rights allegations in Houston federal court. He was the lead defendant in a 2001 lawsuit, but was dropped from the case in 2003. And he was among 40 defendants in a 2002 case dismissed against all parties in 2004.

      Guards Indicted


      Oct. 31, 2007

      Pair accused of covering up inmate assault

      By CINDY GEORGE
      Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

      Two former state correctional officers have been indicted on charges of assaulting a former inmate, covering up the assault and obstructing justice, U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced today.

      Eugene Morris, 39, of Huntsville and Tracy Jewett, 35, of Huffman were named in a five-count federal indictment returned Monday. Morris is accused of kicking and injuring the inmate in November 2002 and both are charged with making a false report with the intent of obstructing justice.

      The indictment was unsealed today following their arrests by FBI agents. The pair is scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge this afternoon.

      Morris and Jewett, both former sergeants assigned to the Ferguson Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, are charged with depriving an inmate of his civil rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. The indictment also accuses the pair of persuading other TDCJ employees to make false statements about the circumstances surrounding Morris' alleged use of force.

      If convicted, each of the three charges — deprivation of civil rights, making a false report and obstruction of justice — carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

      The case will be prosecuted by a Houston assistant U.S. attorney and a trial attorney from the Justice Department's civil rights division.

      cindy.george@chron.com

      Pair Accused


      Assaults on Texas prison guards increase

      Increase in attacks, record turnover fuel problems for state prisons

      October 29, 2007
      By DEREK KRAVITZ
      The Dallas Morning News

      RIVERSIDE, Texas – Strike with your palms. Hit the chin, chest and lower abdomen. Kick if you have to.

      It could save your life, the 22-year-old training sergeant tells a group of about 75 out-of-breath and generally unfit cadets at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Minnie Houston Training Center just north of Huntsville.

      "This is going to buy you time for staff to reach you after you've been hit," says Sgt. Richard Rodenbeck.

      Assaults on prison guards and staffers have doubled in the last five years, according to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News. And turnover at the second-largest prison system in the country is at a record level with one in four employees leaving the department last year. The TDCJ workforce was down 3,935 employees at the end of August.

      Corrections department officials and prison experts blame the increase on everything from widespread staff shortages and low pay to a new breed of tougher criminals and prison overcrowding. There is one corrections officer for every 6.8 prisoners at TDJC facilities, where the inmate population is roughly 152,000, spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

      The News' analysis of assaults at Texas prisons found inmate-on-guard attacks have gone up considerably in the last few years. More than three dozen staff assaults with weapons have been reported so far this year, up from just 18 in all of 2003.

      And those don't include the higher number of offender-on- offender assaults that guards have to break up and police. More than 900 cases of inmates attacking inmates have also been reported this year, up more than 30 percent from 2002.

      The death of 59-year-old corrections officer Susan Canfield in September highlighted long-echoed fears about prison guard safety. She was killed outside the Wynne Unit prison, just north of Huntsville.

      Two inmates in prison for murder and attempted murder hijacked a truck and ran down Ms. Canfield, who was on horseback, killing her. Those two inmates, John Ray Falk, 40, and Jerry Martin, 37, were recaptured within hours of the escape.

      At the time of Ms. Canfield's death, the Wynne Unit was at 78 percent of its desired staffing.

      Ms. Lyons said that staffing levels at Wynne do not appear to have been a factor in the escape. Seven officers were supervising the inmates as they performed work duty on a 1,400-acre vegetable field. Other vulnerable areas of the facility were adequately staffed, she said.

      But prison guard shortages and low pay are helping to create a full- scale "prison crisis," experts warn, that extends beyond whether a post is being manned.

      Low salaries

      Full-time salaries for Texas prison guards start at $23,040 a year and max out at $33,948 – near the bottom of the scale nationally, prison guard unions and industry experts say. That drives away employees – and drives up stress and overtime, they say.

      "These staff shortages, and the pay, they're part of a larger problem," said Brian Olsen, deputy director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 4,000 workers. "This is a dangerous environment and, if you don't have the right resources, it creates obvious, possibly fatal, problems."

      Maj. Troy Selman, who oversees the agency's training center near Huntsville, said budget cuts and exhausted applicant pools play a big part in the prison system's staff shortage.

      "You have a high national rate of unemployment and, just like any other business, our applicant pool is small," Maj. Selman said.

      In the 1980s, for example, the correctional officer ranks were filled with former oilfield workers, Maj. Selman said. Now, you're more likely to see baby-faced teenagers looking for a first job or mid- career hires filing in for prison guard training.

      Many of the cadets enrolled in TDCJ's six-week training course are young 20-somethings looking for a first paycheck, training officers say.

      Emmett Baugh, a 23-year-old training cadet from Donie, Texas, said he applied for the job to help pay for college tuition as he starts his sophomore year at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.

      Despite the on-the-job risks, Mr. Baugh said, he's looking forward to his new job.

      "It's not a long-term thing," Mr. Baugh said as he began a training exercise. "This is a well-paying job with good benefits. But I don't see myself doing this for more than a year."

      Maj. Selman said that's a common refrain among new recruits.

      The new breed of correctional officers just aren't willing to stick around long enough to learn the ins and outs of prison life, he said.

      And the decades-long "brain drain" is becoming a problem.

      "It's definitely a different group of folks coming through the door," Maj. Selman said. "But we're preparing them better than we ever have before. With the changes, come adjustments."

      Ms. Lyons said that to help offset staff shortages, the prison system suspends noncritical programs, such as community service projects and volunteer programs, and asks officers for voluntary overtime.

      She said that the agency is "focused" on recruiting. And salary increases and bumps in hazardous duty pay this year should help attract new corrections officers.

      Dr. J. Keith Price, a former correctional officer and warden of the Clements Unit in Amarillo and now a professor of history and criminology at West Texas A&M University, said those adjustments could spell trouble for overworked and underpaid guards.

      "Even though you can say staffing is up to par, you're forgetting the relief factor," he said. "What happens is you begin taking shortcuts, abandoning less critical duty posts. That's when you wind up seeing mistakes happen."

      Inherent dangers

      A snapshot of a typical month in Texas prisons – last March, for example – provides a look at the dangers inherent in the job:

      •The Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas, went on lockdown in March after 62 inmates – some using broken brooms, socks filled with dominoes and commissary hair gel and dented trash cans as weapons – were found fighting in a dayroom at the facility. Corrections officers used blast dispersion and rubber ball grenades to quell the fight. Four inmates were injured.

      •Two weeks later, at the Beto Unit in Tennessee Colony, Texas, 17 inmates fought near their cells, resulting in two guard injuries. Nearly six ounces of Top Cop, a type of pepper spray foam, was used.

      •And in March at the Beto facility, a 19-year-old female guard was punched in the face by an inmate who had a nail hidden in his fist.

      The guard suffered a gash on the left side of her face. The inmate – 49-year-old T.J. Jones, who is serving a five-year sentence for burglary – was transferred to another unit.

      The all-male prison, which houses more than 3,300 inmates, has nearly 500 security guards, only a fraction of what the unit says it needs.

      Since the spring incidents, the Beto unit has gone on periodic lockdown, which limits visitation and movement within the facility and restricts inmates to their cells for 23 hours a day.

      "Essentially they're trying to be proactive," said Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman in Austin. "They've had some issues."

      Assaults


      Huntsville prison guard killed during escape; both inmates recaptured
      Officials say one suspect had recently been disciplined.

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      September 25, 2007

      Two Huntsville convicts, one of whom had been recently disciplined for misbehavior but was still allowed to work outside prison fences, escaped briefly Monday in a bullet-studded breakout that left a guard dead.

      Officials said Jerry Duane Martin, 37, who is serving 50 years on two charges of attempted capital murder from Collin County, north of Dallas, had been cited in August for having an improper relationship with a prison nurse.

      Officials said Jerry Duane Martin, who is serving 50 years in prison for attempted capital murder, had recently been disciplined for a relationship with a nurse at the Polunsky Unit near Livingston. But that incident didn't keep him from working in a field crew at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville.

      TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
      John Ray Falk Jr. is serving a life sentence for murder.

      Susan Canfield tried to block the men's escape route with her horse when she was struck down, officials say.

      Rex Maynor
      THE HUNTSVILLE ITEM

      Huntsville law enforcement officials set up a perimeter during Monday's pursuit of two escapees. One was apprehended soon after the escape, but another led police on a manhunt before his capture a few hours later.

      Officer Susan Canfield, 59, a seven-year veteran who was helping supervise a field crew when the escape occurred, died from injuries she received when the escapees rammed her horse and ran her over as they fled the Wynne Unit crop fields in a stolen truck, prison officials said.

      She became the 40th Texas correctional officer to die in the line of duty since May 1882, when a guard was struck by a train.

      Martin and John Ray Falk Jr., 40, who was serving a life sentence for murder from Matagorda County, were being held without bail late Monday on pending charges ranging from murder to kidnapping to escape.

      Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville, said Martin was transferred to the Wynne Unit in August after being disciplined for the relationship with the nurse at the Polunsky Unit near Livingston. Martin lost good time credits on his sentence and had his security status heightened, she said.

      Officials initially said that both convicts had clean disciplinary records; they later said Martin's disciplinary history did not prevent him from working on a "hoe squad" in a garden outside the prison fences.

      "It was nothing that affected his standing to work in the fields, because the inmates on hoe squads are under the supervision of armed officers," Lyons said. "They were not trusties."

      Investigators said the deadly escape began just after 10 a.m., when Martin and Falk, who were among 76 convicts working in the garden, overpowered Canfield and another guard and took their weapons: a rifle and a revolver.

      The revolver was found abandoned in the field where the inmates were working, police said.

      After exchanging gunfire with the four other officers supervising the inmates, Martin and Falk ran to a Huntsville city garage adjacent to the field and stole a large flatbed truck, officials said.

      When Canfield, who was on horseback, attempted to block their escape route, the men struck the horse, knocking Canfield to the ground, Lyons said. The men ran over Canfield, who died a short time later, she said. The horse survived and suffered only scratches, officials said.

      Late Monday, officials were trying to verify who was driving the truck at the time of the escape.

      Prison officials said the escapees raced west to Interstate 45 in the stolen truck, with prison guards in pursuit. When the men reached Texas 30, authorities said, they abandoned the truck at a closed chicken restaurant.

      Brandishing the rifle, the convicts ran to a nearby bank, where they overpowered a woman who was waiting to complete her drive-through transaction and took her red Dodge pickup, with the woman still inside, officials said. They exchanged gunfire with Huntsville police while driving south on an I-45 service road, officials said.

      "Local law enforcement officers fired at the vehicle and disabled it south of Highway 30, near the Wal-Mart, and the inmates fled on foot," Lyons said.

      Falk was apprehended about 11 a.m. without offering resistance, she said, while Martin ran into some nearby woods.

      The woman in the pickup was shaken but unhurt, police said.

      A heavily wooded 2-square-mile area was quickly cordoned off by a small army of law enforcement personnel, halting traffic in the area.

      Tracking dogs and prison guards on horseback eventually cornered an unarmed Martin in a tree about a half-mile west of I-45.

      He surrendered without incident about 1:40 p.m., police said. The guard's rifle was found a short distance away, Lyons said.

      Lyons said Martin had been imprisoned since August 1997 and Falk since June 1986.

      The incident marked the first death of a Texas correctional officer in the line of duty since John Murphy Bennett died near Huntsville in a July 2003 car wreck, officials said. Murphy and another officer were transporting a convict back to death row.

      The last corrections officer murdered in the line of duty was Stanley Wiley, who died in January 2003 after an inmate slit his throat in the shoe factory at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, officials said. The inmate was convicted of murder and is now on death row.

      In recent years, Texas' prison system has been plagued by a shortage of guards that has left some prisons understaffed. But prison officials said Monday's work crew was fully staffed, per prison policy.

      "When something like this happens, it's always a very sad reminder of the officers who put their lives on the line every day in the interest of public safety," Lyons said.

      Guard Killed


      Inmate shocked by cattle prod wins appeal of case against guard

      Sept. 12, 2007

      © 2007 The Associated Press

      AUSTIN — A federal appeals court has reinstated a former inmate's lawsuit against a southeast Texas corrections officer over abuse he claims was racially motivated.

      Dale Payne, who was paroled six months ago, says he was shocked with a cattle prod and threatened with a knife while doing time for robbery at the Estelle Unit in Huntsville.

      "I was tired of the racism," Payne said. "It went on for months and months."

      In a decision issued Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has reinstated Payne's lawsuit against the corrections officer, Jimmy Parnell.

      Payne served as his own attorney.

      "I just had enough, so I studied books and took my time," said Payne, who filed his lawsuit four years ago, handwritten on notebook paper.

      "They don't like people filing suits, but I decided I had to do it for me and everybody else who is being beaten and tortured and called racist names."

      Prison officials declined to comment on the ruling, saying they do not talk about pending litigation. But Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said wrongdoing like that alleged in the suit is not tolerated.

      "That is not the way this agency does business," she said.

      Parnell was suspended without pay for two days and placed on 90 days of probation over the 2002 incident. He has since been promoted to sergeant and is working at another prison, officials said.

      In its decision, the 5th Circuit summarized the cattle prod incident:

      "In October of 2002, Payne was working at his prison job at the back gate. ... A horticulture truck had just entered ... and Payne raised the truck's hood to allow it to be searched by a guard," the ruling states. "While Payne was in this position Parnell approached him from the rear and, without provocation, shocked him in the back with a cattle prod that he had found in the truck's cab."

      The painful shock caused Payne to "jump and holler, and left a mark on Payne's back. Parnell then chased Payne around a nearby office building in an attempt to shock him again. Payne sought refuge in a bathroom, at which point Parnell attempted to shock him through the door of the bathroom by using the door handle to transmit electricity."

      In his filings, Payne also said Parnell threatened him with a knife on another occasion.

      Parnell initially denied the incident, the court decision states. But after Payne and another convict passed a polygraph test and were bolstered by another guard who saw the events, Parnell admitted what happened but insisted that he did it "in a joking manner and did not know it would shock (Payne)."

      The 5th Circuit judges said they were not convinced by the "horseplay" argument, which a Houston federal judge had relied on to dismiss the case.

      Payne went to prison in August 1991 on a 28-year sentence for aggravated robbery. Officials said he had a good disciplinary record.

      ___

      Information from the Austin American-Statesman:
      http://www.statesman.com

      Shocked by cattle prod


      Wayne Scott Unit STG Sergeant investigated after drugs found

      Posted on July 19, 2007
      By: Max Ross, Backgate Website

      The Backgate Website has confirmed that a gang investigations Sergeant at the Wayne Scott unit in Angleton, Brazoria county has been implicated in possessing illegal drugs on prison grounds.

      STG Sergeant Geraldo, who was recently promoted to the position after long time STG Sgt. L. Villareal retired, was being investigated by TDCJ OIG as of today for being found in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in her vehicle on TDCJ property.

      The incident, which began almost a week ago is said to be under investigation, and as of press time, the Brazoria county sheriffs dept. had no record of any arrest on the suspect listed.

      The regional drug dogs where doing a routine search of the unit's parking lot when the dogs alerted to drugs in the sergeant's vehicle sources say. A search of the vehicle with the owner present later revealed the drugs.

      Why county law enforcement officers where not notified was still unclear said one official. Almost a month ago, another staff member on another region 3 unit was discovered to be in possession of drugs in their vehicle, and that employee was not detained either. Some are beginning to question the actions of OIG in these matters.

      Under Texas law, OIG investigators are considered Texas peace officers, and possess full powers of arrest. Yet records show that arrest are seldom made in these cases. A call to the Brazoria district attorney's office, and TDCJ public relations offices were not returned as of press time today.

      As we reviewed the duties of the STG sergeant, we found it to be amusing. They are charged with investigating TDCJ based gangs, monitoring extortion activities, and believe it or not, being members of the unit's drug task force.


      TDCJ officer on ride-along shoots suspect after deputy shot, dragged behind vehicle

      Posted on July 18, 2007

      Residents of a San Jacinto County neighborhood watched in horror as a sheriff's deputy and a man he stopped for driving without headlights struggled on a dark road and began shooting at each other early today.

      Deputy Sean Barnes suffered a bullet wound in the hand and a broken leg after Dustin Klander, 24, got back in his SUV, backed over Barnes and dragged the deputy more than 50 feet down the road as he fled, Sheriff Lacy Rogers said. Before Klander fled, Lee Ann Abernathy, 22, a former San Jacinto County jailer who was riding with Barnes, fired the deputy's shotgun at Klander, Rogers said. "She probably saved his life," Rogers said of Abernathy.

      Klander was later found dead in his SUV just a few blocks away on Woodman Street, where he lived, Rogers said. It was unclear whose shots caused Klander's death, Rogers said.

      The shootout took place outside the home of Kimberly Bell, whose sons, 11 and 12, were asleep on a livingroom couch.

      Bell said her barking dogs awoke her and she looked out her door to see Barnes trying to handcuff Klander. Klander balked and the two struggled.

      "The officer pulled his hands to cuff him and the struggle started," Bell said. "It went downhill from there."

      Bell and neighbor Gilbert Wilmot, 49, said Klander was bigger than Barnes and he managed to knock the deputy to the ground twice in just a few seconds as the shooting broke out.

      Bell said he called 911 but was unable to give good directions to the dispatcher because he has lived in the neighborhood only a short time.

      Texas Rangers took over the investigation today, Rogers said.

      The sheriff said he did not know why Klander resisted arrest but investigators later found a small amount of marijuana in his vehicle.

      Rogers said Abernathy now is a corrections officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and she was on an authorized "ride-along" with Barnes during his night shift, which ran from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

      Abernathy used the patrol car radio to report that Barnes and Klander were struggling when shooting broke out, Rogers said.

      Abernathy, who was trained to use weapons when she went to work for the sheriff's department, pulled the shotgun out of the patrol car and began firing, Rogers said.

      "She's very distraught," Rogers said of Abernathy, who lives in Coldspring, the county seat.

      Barnes was listed in good condition at Houston's Memorial Herman Hospital this morning but Rogers said Barnes could lose a finger as a result of the shot to his hand. Barnes was taken to the hospital by a Coast Guard helicopter.

      Neighbors said Klander had lived on Woodman for about two or three months. A woman at his home this morning refused comment.

      According to Harris County court records, Klander was convicted in 2001 of assault causing bodily injury and possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. He was placed on probation for a year and fined $200 on the marijuana charge. He was sentenced to two years in jail on the assault charge but given deferred adjudication, which would have allowed the conviction to be removed from his record if he had completed probation successfully.

      In May 2003, Klander was sentenced to nine months in jail after violating the probation, records show.

      Details of the assault and the probation violation were not immediately available today.

      Neighbor Matthew Escobar, 33, a heavy equipment operator, said Klander never caused trouble in the area.

      "He pulled me out of a ditch one time," Escobar said. "He was real neighborly. He was never a problem."

      Abernathy's employment dates with the sheriff's department were not immediately available.


      Warden Moves On The Way?

      Posted July 14, 2007

      As more stories of Misconduct and Bad judgement come in, could it all be tied in?

      By: Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

      After months of uproar, and ongoing issues on some region 3 units, there may finally be some relief in sight. The Backgate Website is trying to confirm what some sources are saying has already been set in motion. If the information is true, Darrington, and a couple of other region 3 units will see a change in leadership.

      As we open yet another story investigation on why Darrington senior warden Thomas Merchant failed to tell anyone that his niece is married to Darrington unit asst. warden O'Hare, and information that Galveston senior warden Humphrey may have some "inside" information on a case that put a subordinate in prison for 5 yrs. , may all have been the straw that broke the camel's back as they say. We will continue to investigate those stories.

      You guys at Darrington shouldn't start the party as of yet however, like i said, it still has to be confirmed via Huntsville. It is also been stated that Hospital Galveston senior warden Humphrey will be moving out for another position in Austin. Other regions will also face leadership changes as well. The official list will be forthcoming , and we will post it asap.

      Maybe Huntsville is finally growing tired of our embarrassing stories of misconduct, poor management, and bad judgement by these people in leadership positions. Maybe they have grown tired of our readers emailing legislators, board members, and media outlets regarding these issues.

      What ever the reason, it can only improve a bad situation on some of these units. The only bad part is that Huntsville won't likely fire, or demote these leaders, as TDCJ has always done in the past, they will most certainly promote, or re-assign them to be someone else's problem. Stay tuned!


      House Corrections considers possible salary ladders for COs and parole officers

      Posted on April 12, 2007

      From our friends at the Grits For Breakfast Blog:

      House Corrections considers possible salary ladders for COs and parole officers More from tomorrow's jam packed House Corrections agenda, this time on pay for corrections workers.

      Regular readers have seen me suggest that poor pay and training is a big problem across Texas correctional agencies, and several bills in tomorrow's House Corrections committee meeting address the topic. For starters, HB 1018 by Alonzo would create a career ladder for parole officers, including a short term bump and scheduled annual pay hikes.

      After suggesting yesterday that Yvonne Gonzalez Tourreilles had offered up a candidate for dumbest bill of the session, I should pause to point out that she's proposed several good bills to improve employee pay. With Rep. Kolkhorst, she sponsored HB 2497 which would let COs at TDCJ convert unused comp time to cash each year if they have a good conduct record.

      The pair have also teamed up to propose HB 2499 which would establish a new, six-tiered salary ladder for COs that especially rewards officers with at least 10 years of experience.. A third bill by Gonzallez-Toureilles, HB 2498, appeals to me less - it would create a modest hazard pay stipend for COs, but I feel like if you're going to do that we should just increase CO salaries.

      It's hazardous work any way you look at it, and hazardous duty pay seems to me a designation without a difference, and a small amount of money to boot.

      Still, I'm glad she's coming up with ideas to improve pay for guards.

      Anyway, COs and parole officers may want to know they've got stakes in the legislation before the Corrections Committee tomorrow, directly so in their paychecks with the above-described bills.


      Brothers keep up with each other throughout TDCJ careers

      Posted on April 10, 2007

      Photo by David Nunnelee

      Not long after Mark Jones enlisted as a correctional officer at the Eastham Unit in October 1984, he had company. His older brother, James, followed right behind him, joining the security staff at the Ellis Unit just two months later. And every time Mark won a promotion over the next 22 years, James seemed to follow right behind him in winning one of his own. Like brother, like brother, you might say.

      “We’ve always been competitive,” said Mark. “I guess from childhood, playing baseball in the back yard or playing a card game, we always wanted to win. So I guess that’s where it started.”

      Today, the Jones brothers are still keeping up with one another. Each now serves as a senior warden, the only two siblings working in that capacity for TDCJ. Mark, 40, has served as senior warden at the Hamilton Pre-Release Therapeutic Community facility in Bryan since May 2005. James, 42, took over as senior warden of the Goodman Transfer Facility in Jasper in September 2006.

      In recent years, just two other brothers – Jim and Bruce Zeller - served as senior wardens simultaneously for TDCJ.

      James and Mark Jones are the second and third of five boys raised by David and Helen Jones in Madisonville, where the two brothers starred for the high school football team. James was an all-state and all-district running back for the Mustangs while Mark earned all-district honors as a defensive back.

      Younger brother Jeffrey drove a TDCJ offender transportation bus for 10 years before leaving to drive a van for a parcel delivery service. The oldest and youngest brothers in the family operate a pallet business together.

      The family patriarch, David, worked for TDCJ for more than 20 years, starting a correctional officer at the Ferguson Unit near Midway and ending his career with what is now the Facilities Division at the Ellis Unit. Mark and James said their father’s career no doubt influenced their own career paths.

      “My dad, that’s what he did, and you think about what your dad did,” Mark said. “I remember when, as kids, he used to take us down to the Ferguson Unit to get a haircut. But I never thought I’d be working at the prison.”

      Mark, though, joined TDCJ right out of high school. At that time, James was wrapping up his studies at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, where he had been awarded a football scholarship and was also looking for work.

      Although Mark likes to playfully point out that he has more time with TDCJ than his older brother, they both applied for jobs with the agency practically in tandem.

      “Actually, we were supposed to start (the training academy) on the same day,” James said. “We got our letters to start at the same time, but I was up at school and couldn’t make that class.”

      Both brothers were promoted to sergeant at the units where they got their start. Mark also earned a promotion to lieutenant at Eastham before moving to the Boyd Unit near Teague as a captain in 1994.

      He rose to the rank of major at the Huntsville Unit in 1997 and then to assistant warden at the Ellis Unit two years later. Mark was named senior warden at the Havins State Jail in Brownwood in August 2004, nine months before his move to Hamilton.

      James and Mark each worked at the Ellis, Boyd, and Huntsville units during their careers, though at different times and in different capacities. James was promoted to lieutenant at Boyd in 1991 and moved two years later to the Holliday Transfer Facility in Huntsville, where he was promoted to captain. He rose to the rank of major at what is now named the Polunsky Unit in 1997, the same year his brother attained the same rank at the Huntsville Unit.

      In 2000, James moved to the CID Region I Office in Huntsville as an assistant regional director. The following year, he was promoted to assistant warden at the Lewis Unit in Woodville. He held the same position at the Polunsky and Huntsville units prior to his promotion to senior warden at Goodman.

      Mark and James have many other things in common besides work. They were both born on the eleventh day of the month. They are both soft-spoken family men of deep faith who often repeat each other sentences and agree with other’s assessments without argument. Both of their wives work for TDCJ. Each has two girls. And, of course, they share a brotherly bond.

      “I would say that he’s probably my best friend,” James said of Mark.

      “He’s more than just a brother, he’s a close friend,” Mark responded. “I can sit down and talk to him about anything. And he’ll come talk to me the same way.”

      The brothers talk two or three times a week by phone but don’t ask each other for advice on how to run their units.

      “We never have to call each other for advice on how to deal with a particular situation,” Mark said. “We do share ideas with each other.”

      Because they look and sound somewhat alike, Mark and James, who is the quieter of the two, have often been confused for each other over the years.

      “I remember one time down south we were both going up for a position, and the first thing they asked me was, ‘Didn’t you just leave out of here?’” Mark said. “They had us back to back,” James said with a laugh.

      The brothers say they achieved their original career goals when they reached the rank of captain. Now that they are senior wardens, neither has specifically set a new goal. Both say they are happy where they are.

      “It’s always been security, dealing with the offender population, working with people. It’s what I love doing,” Mark said.

      “But you never know,” James said. “We might get to the point where we say, ‘Hey, let’s try this, too.’”


      2006

      Former Cop To Sell Video
      Posted by CN Staff on December 21, 2006
      By Kenneth Dean and Roy Maynard, Staff Writers
      Source: Tyler Morning Telegraph

      Tyler, Texas -- "Never get busted again."
      Law enforcement officers around East Texas were startled to find one of their former brothers of the badge is scheduled to begin selling a video describing how to avoid getting caught when stopped by police looking for illegal substances.

      The Tyler Morning Telegraph has learned that Barry Cooper, a former Gladewater and Big Sandy police officer, is scheduled to begin selling his video titled "Never Get Busted Again" Tuesday with the launch of a Web site and a full page advertisement in a national publication targeted toward those interested in illicit drugs.

      Smith County Deputy Constable Mark Waters, a drug interdiction officer, said he was appalled at the idea of a former officer selling such a video.

      "It's an embarrassment to all law enforcement officers across the United States, who put their life on the line everyday," he said. "This is a slap in the face to all that we do to uphold the laws and keep the public safe."

      Cooper, once "the best" drug officer in West Texas, according to his former superiors, told the newspaper during an interview Wednesday night, he believes marijuana should be legalized and that the imprisonment of those caught with the drug destroys their families and fills up jails and prisons across the country with non-violent offenders.

      He added that methamphetamines, cocaine and crack should be eradicated from the earth, because they are dangerous drugs. But he says marijuana is not a dangerous drug.

      "I know I won't be accepted by my peers here in East Texas, but in other areas of the country I will be celebrated," he said sitting in an office in Tyler. "When I was raiding houses and destroying families my conscience was telling me it was wrong, but my need for power, fame and peer acceptance overshadowed my good conscience."

      A three-minute promotion of the video shows Cooper in West Texas when he was assigned to the Permian Basin Drug Task Force being interviewed by media on large busts he made.

      The promotion has Cooper saying he is going to show people through actual footage of his busts how to not get caught, how to "conceal their stash (do coffee grounds really work?)," "avoid narcotics profiling" and how to "fool canines every time."

      Cooper, who has no disciplinary actions in his law enforcement record, left law enforcement to pursue the ministry and a successful business. He said he also felt pressure from other law enforcement agencies, that were jealous of busts he made, and political pressures associated with arresting a mayor's son and a city council member on drug charges.

      Cooper argues that people are being sentenced to long prison terms for drugs when murderers, child molesters and rapists are getting shorter sentences.

      "The trillions of dollars we're spending in the War on Drugs should be used to protect our children," he said. "Our children are being molested every day and everyone knows we have lost the War on Drugs."

      Cooper believes marijuana should be legalized and regulated by the government which he says will cause the crime rate to drop. He points to Prohibition, America's failed experiment in outlawing alcoholic beverages. Prohibition merely empowered the criminals, he says, and that's just what's happening now with prohibited drugs.

      "We have cops and other people getting killed and I believe we could end all of that," he said.

      He said the video would only show footage of how certain things interfered with a search and would not go into details, but the promotion says he will show the viewer how to beat the system.

      Cooper said he does not condone illegal activity - and does not use drugs himself - but if someone misuses his product, he can't be held responsible.

      "I have attorneys telling me that what I am doing is not illegal," he said. "I'm just selling a product."

      Local attorney Bobby Mims agrees.

      "I have seen the video, and a lot of people aren't going to like it, but it's my opinion everything he says is protected," Mims said. "And in my experience, the information he's presenting is truthful, as well."

      When asked what he would have thought about a similar video being released when he was a peace officer, he replied, "At that time I believed what I was taught by our government about marijuana and I would have disagreed with it (the video) until I interviewed the maker of the video."

      Lawmen Respond
      Cooper's former commander with the Permian Basin Drug Task Force said he was "completely shocked."

      Tom Finley, now a private investigator in Midland, said he was Cooper's boss in the 1990s and said Cooper was the best drug interdiction officer he had ever known.

      "He was even better than he says he was," he said. "He had a knack for finding drugs and made more arrests, more seizures than all of the other agents combined. He was probably the best narcotics officer in the state and maybe the country during his time with the task force."

      However, Finley said he was distraught to learn the video plans of his former "Top Cop."

      "I'm definitely not in agreement with what he is doing here and I am all for getting the drug offenders off the streets and putting them behind bars," he said.

      Cooper claims to have made more than 800 drug arrests, seized more than 50 vehicles and more than $500,000 in cash and assets.

      Richard Sanders, Tyler Drug Enforcement Agency bureau agent in charge, was aggravated by the soon-to-be-released video.

      "It outrages me personally as I'm sure it does any officer that has sworn an oath to uphold the laws of this state, and nation," he said. "It is clear that his whole deal is to make money and he has found some sort of scheme, but for him to go to the dark side and do this is infuriating."

      Sanders said there is no formal investigation currently, but that might change.

      "I'm sure we will make time to look into this as quickly as possible and there could be an investigation." he said.

      Big Sandy Chief of Police Tim Scott said he could not believe anyone with former experience in the War on Drugs would give any help to criminals.

      "He's going to tell all the ones we have been fighting how to get away with it and that makes me mad," he said.

      Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics Service Capt. Mark Milanovich said he was going to wait and see what the video showed, but added he has serious problems with the idea.

      "I think this guy needs to take a look at himself morally," he said.

      Scare Tactics
      Cooper, who raised his voice and became animated, said the government tells children that marijuana is a gateway to other illegal narcotics, but that's false.

      "It's a scare tactic and it's untrue," he said.

      Cooper said the public has been educated to believe that people who smoke marijuana are responsible for crimes.

      "Marijuana makes you happy, then intoxicated then sleepy," he said. "It doesn't make you crazy."

      The "gateway drug" label is a fallacy, he said.

      "If there was a gateway drug it would be alcohol," he said.

      Cooper said he does not agree with the current laws and hopes they change through legislation and sees this as a way to truly combat the nation's drug problems.

      "My main motivation in all of this is to teach Americans their civil liberties and what drives me in this is injustice and unfairness in our system," he said. "I'm just teaching them how to not ruin their lives by being put in a cage. I'm not creating the problem; it is already there."

      Cooper said he knows there will be backlash by some while others will agree with him.

      "I challenge anyone who doesn't agree with me to a public debate to hear what I have to say and I bet some people will change their minds," he said. "But I'm sure some will think of me as the Devil."

      Roy Maynard covers county government and politics. He can be reached at 903.596.6291. e-mail: roymaynardtmt@gmail.com

      Kenneth Dean covers police, fire, public safety organizations. He can be reached at 903.596.6353. e-mail: news@tylerpaper.com

      Complete Title: Former Cop To Sell Video Showing Drug Users How To Avoid Police Detection

      Source: Tyler Morning Telegraph (TX)
      Author: Kenneth Dean and Roy Maynard, Staff Writers
      Published: December 21, 2006
      Copyright: 2006 Tyler Morning Telegraph
      Contact: opinion@tylerpaper.com
      Website: http://www.tylerpaper.com/

      Related Article:
      Ex-Cop Plans 'Don't Get Busted' Video


      Bad guards on myspace.com

      Under my space there is a corrections officer who has posted several different blogs on the topic of her job and how she likes to harm inmates at the Livingston prison in Texas.

      She says how she would like 24 hours with no cameras, no rules, and no laws, etc., so she can teach these inmates a thing or two.

      Well you can all go to the site for yourselves.

      Several people committed and she removed our commits now, only here friends on her page can respond or comment.

      Is this the kind of person we want working on the Polunsky unit or in any prison facility in Texas or the U.S.?

      For that fact, I say no!

      Check it out, her name is Jessica and the other female on her site is Tammy, I believe her name was.

      They are both guards at Livingston.

      It is sad.

      They can't get better people to work there?

      Last Updated:
      Dec 11, 2006
      Gender: Female
      Status: Single
      Age: 21
      Sign: Libra
      City: LIVINGSTON
      State: TEXAS
      Country: US
      Who Gives Kudos:
      Jewelrhee4me (2)
      My Subscriptions
      your only a whore if you try to date married men.
      Hauntingly_Compassionate
      Wednesday, November 29, 2006

      WELCOME TO HELL..
      has any one seen my mace?
      Current mood: bitchy

      4:05 and getting ready for work. Got the hideous grey uniform laid out across the bed, a pair of extremely over due for a shinning combat boots, two black socks (mandatory, if they wanted to inspect) a black shirt to wear underneath (truly think its for our protection incase a button pops, no flashing the inmates please) and to finish it off a sexy smock (used for the sheer fact it shields your ass from their view). Oh how I look forward to bossing around 144 to 334 grown men, depending on my location to day. I truly think they should all be in diapers, and sucking on pacifiers. Neither the less I would have to change them urgh... But that's were my evil deviant plan comes into play… You see I'll make sure they all get an evil ass diaper rash!! Muwhaha. Oh who am I kidding, they'd probably sue me and win, damn state and there fucking "Hug a Thug" programs. I swear, you'd be surprised what theses murders, baby rappers and wife beaters get away with. Crying all the damn time about petty shit, if they only new what would happen to them if the state would give us a free day. 24 fucking glorious hours of no rules, no laws, and no cameras, I'm pretty sure the dirty boss would love that too, but we'll take care of them as well during this 24 hour process. I'm telling you they'd mind the next day, that's for damn sure. HEHEHE those who live through it, only by the sheer fact we ran out of time. Well enough of my bitching I need to get dressed, take my son to the sitters and have a few laughs with my friends before I enter the gates of hell.


      TDCJ CO charged in child porn case

      www.itemonline.com

      Area men charged in separate child porn cases

      Kelly Prew
      News Editor

      — Walker County Sheriff's detectives arrested two area men last week for possession of child pornography in separate cases. Lonnie Odom, 54, of New Waverly, and David Edward Walker Jr., 37, of Huntsville, were taken into custody after detectives received information from outside informants in both cases.

      Search warrants were enacted at each man's residence, and officers catalogued computers, hardware and similar items that do, or could possibly, contain explicit images of children.

      Odom was at home, on Jones Road, on Friday when WCSO deputies discovered and seized three computers, one laptop and numerous other items, according to Detective Daniel Barrett.

      "Patrol deputies took a report from an individual that Mr. Odom possibly had child porn in his possession and provided us with a disk from his computer," Barrett said. "We have viewed some of the material (seized), and it was explicit.

      "I do not believe it was abnormal for a person with his job to have that much stuff, like computer parts and hardware. He also fixed computers and things like that in his home."

      Barrett said each item will be sent to a lab for analysis. At the time of his arrest, Odom was employed with the New Waverly Independent School District as an assistant information technology manager. Barrett said the WCSO could not comment as to Odom's current employment status, and calls to NWISD were not returned Thursday.

      "Most of it appeared to have been downloaded from the Internet and included images of boys and girls, probably in an age range from 2 to 14 years old," Barrett said. "We didn't see anything that led us to believe these kids were local at this time."

      Odom is a single man and does not have custody of children. He has been charged with possession of child pornography, a third-degree felony, and could face between two and 10 years in prison if convicted.

      He was released from the Walker County Jail the day following his arrest on a bond of $5,000.

      Walker, a correctional officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at the time of his arrest, remained in jail Thursday with a $52,000 bond for three charges; possession of child pornography, third-degree felony, indecency with a child, also a third-degree felony, and the intent to sell, distribute or display harmful material to a minor, a Class A misdemeanor.

      Calls to TDCJ officials regarding Walker's job status were not returned Thursday.

      WCSO detectives received consent July 15 to search Walker's home, on Jacobs Street, where he lives with his wife and school-age children.

      "Mr. Walker voluntarily came in and spoke to us and confessed to those three charges (later that day)," said WCSO Lt. Les Metzler. "The evidence we viewed was of boys and girls, probably in the age ranges of 3 to 15 or so. We have seized the computers in the home, CDs and other stuff to that effect."

      Whether or not any of the juvenile victims, in reference to any of the three charges, were Walker County residents was not available from the WCSO late Thursday. The number of victims is also unknown.

      Copyright © 1999-2006 cnhi, inc.


      July 19, 2006, 5:29PM

      Former Pearland jailer put behind bars

      By RICHARD STEWART
      Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

      PEARLAND A former Pearland jailer was in jail himself today, charged with the sexual assault of a female inmate.

      Matthew Hartman, 27, is charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of violation of the civil rights of a person in custody.

      The victim, who had been jailed on a public intoxication charge, told police Monday that she had been raped twice in the jail laundry room. She made the allegation while being treated at Southeast Memorial Hospital, police said. Hartman was the only jailer on duty during the Sunday to Monday, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift when the woman said she was assaulted.

      Based on what police called "substantial evidence," Hartman was arrested on Tuesday. On Wednesday he was being held at the Brazoria County Detention Center in lieu of bail of $5,000 on the civil rights charge and $10,000 on each of the sexual assault charge.

      He had been a city jailer for five months and had a good record, police said. He was fired when he was charged.

      If convicted, he faces two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each of the sexual assault charges and six months to two years in state jail and up to a $10,000 fine on the civil rights charge.

      "It is tragic when a public servant violates the trust placed in them by the community, especially when it involves actions of the magnitude," said Police Chief J.C. Doyle. "The Pearland Police Department can not and will not tolerate this type of action by its employees. We will always move swiftly and appropriately to protect and maintain our community's trust and faith."

      richard.stewart@chron.com


      What do jailed prison officials tell their peers?

      By MARK WOODS, The Times-Union

      Mark my words …

      I've never been in prison. But if television and movies have taught me anything, it's that a new inmate inevitably gets asked one question: "So, what are you in for?"

      I'm trying to image how James Crosby, Allen Clark and a growing list of former Department of Corrections officials will answer that one?

      The culmination of the DOC saga brings to mind one of those Twilight Zone episodes where justice involves a dramatic and karmic twist. In this case, it's prison officials going to prison, ending up on the other side of the bars. So what do they tell their new peers if asked The Question?

      A) "I was a corrupt prison official."

      B) "I was getting kickbacks from the company that sells snacks to your family when they visit on weekends."

      C) "I had inmates fix up my personal truck, build a trailer for my lawn business."

      D) "I hooked up prison guards with steroids so we could win softball games."

      E) "A prison official? Me? I killed someone. Yeah, that's it. Killed someone. In a bar fight."

      The factually accurate answer would be, depending on which official we're talking about, a mix of A through D. But the prudent answer might be E.

      Better yet, remember the scene in Shawshank Redemption where Andy asks Red what he's in for?

      "Murder," Red says. "Same as you."

      "Innocent?" Andy asks.

      "The only guilty man in Shawshank," Red says.

      Mark My Words


      Idaho Prisoners Stage Protest at Texas Corrections Facility

      June 10, 2006

      85 Idaho inmates housed in a Texas jail are on lock down after a non-violent protest Saturday morning.

      The inmates refused to return to their cells inside the building after completing recreation time outdoors at the Newton County Correction Center.

      The protest lasted for over 7 hours.

      They demanded butter for rolls, more television channels and cheaper commissary prices.

      The warden said preliminary information indicates the prisoners were plaining their demonstration since arriving at the facility to protest their out-of-state transfer.

      Currently, there are over 400 Idaho inmates housed at the center. Offenders are being sent out of state because Idaho's prisons are full, and have been for several years.

      The Idaho Department of Corrections estimates 1400 Idaho offenders will be incarcerated out of state by the year 2010.

      Find this article at:
      http://www.localnews8.com/news/local/3015981.html


      Treatment of Idaho inmates at Texas prison results in firing, demotion Report from Texas blames untrained staff, but dispute remains over whether guards beat prisoners

      One correctional officer was fired, one demoted and one disciplined after six Idaho inmates were forcefully cuffed and maced at a private Texas prison in April, the Idaho Correction Department said Thursday.

      A report by the prison's parent company to Idaho officials said six Idaho prisoners were acting up in their cells, throwing trays, and yelling and banging against their cells when correctional officers arrived to remove them, said Pam Sonnen, the department's operations administrator. The officers had a hard time cuffing the inmates, and the situation escalated, she said.

      "They were taken to the ground and handcuffed, inmates were struggling, staff were struggling," Sonnen said. "It seemed from the reports that nobody was in charge, that there was no one there to say, 'Let's stop and take a breath.'" The Statesman first reported the incident last Friday.

      Sonnen said the improper use of force was due to inexperience and poor training, and said staffers have since received training. The prison, the Newton County Correctional Center, is owned by The Geo Group Inc., formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp. No medical reports showed that prisoners had been beaten or further abused, Sonnen said.

      But inmate Eddie Daniel said prisoners had been beaten. In a letter his sister, Fruitland resident Josie Daniel, received April 14, he said he and six other prisoners had been put in an isolation area without explanation for five days from April 3 to April 7.

      On the fifth day they were handcuffed, beaten and maced by 15 people, he wrote. "So these people came in ... and take turns beating us up," Daniel wrote. "And when I say beating us I mean beating us, kicking us in the face ... They went cell to cell during this."

      According to the letter, the beatings stopped when the warden intervened. Sonnen said Daniel had not been directly involved in the incident that got the correctional officer fired, though his sister's complaints drew the state's attention to the situation.

      An initial report sent by The Geo Group mentioned nothing about the use of force, nor did it say employees had been disciplined, Sonnen said. "We received a report that talked about our inmates having a disturbance, " Sonnen said. "There was nothing in there to make us think anything was wrong."

      Geo Group spokesman Pablo Paez said Thursday that a prison administrator began reviewing the incident immediately after it occurred. Paez said three officers had been disciplined for a breach of force that he called "procedural. " He declined comment on Daniel's allegations of more serious abuses.

      Sonnen said the department has been sending someone at least once every other week since the incident to check on prison conditions. "The biggest thing Idaho needs to do is make sure we're monitoring this contract," Sonnen said. "I will for awhile pretty regularly send someone out till we're pretty sure everyone's OK."

      Untrained Staff


      COMMENTARY: JOHN KELSO

      Prison guards, prisoners:
      in Texas, you can't tell 'em apart

      Sunday, April 30, 2006

      The Texas prison system has some of the meanest, hardest criminals on the planet.

      And the convicts are pretty bad, too.

      Whom would you rather meet in a dark alley over in Huntsville: a guard, or an inmate? Heck, if you met one of each, you might get mugged twice.

      It's as if some prison employees are working on their felony merit badge. The personnel chief of the prison school system gets busted for lewd conduct at a park in Conroe, the former gang enforcement head pleads guilty to sexually harassing employees, one guard gets popped for raping a convict and another gets nailed for holding his ex-wife hostage at gunpoint.

      That's why I'm suggesting Prison System Swap Day, which I'm hoping will improve prison system employee decorum.

      On Prison Swap Day, to be held once a month, the inmates would become guards for the day, and the guards would become inmates. That's right. On this day the two sides would simply change uniforms and the sides of the bars they stand on. A little bit of this treatment and maybe the prison workers might straighten the heck up.

      There could be arts and crafts. It would be interesting to see who could make the highest quality shiv: a guard, or an inmate.

      It's often been said that there's a thin line between law enforcement and criminals. But at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the line has gotten so thin you could read the newspaper through it.

      Look, 148 TDCJ employees were arrested during the first two months of this year. If that pace keeps up, 888 TDCJ workers will be busted this year, which would break the old 2003 TDCJ record of 783 by 105 arrests.

      See, the problem in Texas is that our prison system is a major industry. We've got so many darned lockups that it takes 38,600 workers just to keep these joints up and running. And who at high school career day raises his hand when the guidance counselor asks, "Hey, y'all, who in here wants to work at a place where the men bang their dinnerware with a large spoon?"

      Hey, it ain't the class valedictorian.

      So, you got prison correctional officers in 2005 being popped for assault and family violence, hot checks, smuggling cigarettes into jail, cruelty to animals, carloads of DWIs (maybe the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is running a sting operation at the Walls Unit), bigamy, even littering.

      Naturally, it was a higher-up guard — a lieutenant — who got arrested for bigamy. Only a lieutenant could afford that second double-wide. And littering? You'd think a prison guard could at least pick up after himself. That's the embarrassing one, if you're in the slammer.

      "Whaddaya in for?" "Littering." "Hey, girls, dig this. Missy here is in for gum wrappers."

      So anyway, I'm thinking it would be swell if the guards and the prisoners just switched positions on an occasional Swap Day. Maybe that way some of the convicts' good behavior would rub off on the guards.

      John Kelso's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
      Contact him at 445-3606 or jkelso@statesman.com.

      Find this article at:
      Prison guards


      Lawmakers want prison arrest inquiry
      Key leaders, perturbed by recent report,
      ask for more details about
      climbing prison arrest rates.
      By Mike Ward

      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

      Tuesday, April 25, 2006

      Key legislative leaders called Monday for an inquiry into the climbing arrest rate of state prison system employees.

      The comments came after the Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday that state records show at least 761 arrests of Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees in 2005 and 148 in January and February this year. If the trend continues, 2006 could set a record.

      The number of arrests has increased steadily for much of the past decade, peaking at 781 in 2003, the agency's statistics show.

      Prison officials have not made public any details of who was arrested, when or on what specific charges. Lawmakers said Monday that the data should be disclosed without delay.

      "They should release the details," said state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who leads the House Corrections Committee, which oversees the prison system. "Some of the problems they're having with arrests is not low pay. Some of the people who are being arrested are longtime employees."

      Madden said he intends to have his committee look into the details: "how many turn into convictions, how many arrests have charges filed, how many become resignations. . . . For an agency with almost 40,000 employees, are 761 arrests out of line?"

      He said he wants "to move (employees) out of the system if they're charged," Madden said. "I want to compare these numbers to a large corporation with 40,000 employees, to see how this compares."

      Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who helps oversee prison funding as a member of the Appropriations Committee, said the growing numbers of arrests are a cause for concern.

      "For basic security reasons, we can't have employees who are in trouble like this," he said. "It's no good for the system or the overwhelming number of employees who are law-abiding."

      Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee, said he wants to know more than just the details of the arrests.

      "The staffing shortages, the overtime policies, fatigue and stress — it's all probably part of this," he said, saying he plans to seek information from prison officials about broader staffing issues.

      "I think the arrests may be just part of the problem," he said.

      Madden echoed that sentiment: "Being a correctional officer is a tough job, not easy."

      For several years, the prison system has been chronically short of correctional officers. In March, the agency hired 514 officers but was still 2,616 correctional officers short, officials said.

      Other lawmakers said Monday that the inquiries should include a review of qualifications to be a correctional officer in Texas; the starting pay of about $22,000, among the lowest in the nation; and proper supervision and training.

      Prison officials have said they are working to gather data showing the details of the arrests, but have no timetable for when it will be made public.

      The state's prison system is up for legislative scrutiny this coming year as part of the so-called "sunset" process, in which the operations and efficiency of state agencies are reviewed every few years.

      Whitmire and Madden said their inquiries will be made as a part of that and as a part of the routine work committees undertake before the next regular legislative session, in January 2007.

      mward@statesman.com; 445-1712


      EDITORIAL

      The blurred line between guards, inmates

      EDITORIAL BOARD
      Tuesday, April 25, 2006

      In a state agency that employs more than 38,000 people, some bad apples are bound to turn up, but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has more than its share of them. Particularly alarming was the hiring five years ago of one of the Ku Klux Klan's top leaders to work as a prison guard in Texas.

      As the American-Statesman's Mike Ward reported in Sunday's editions, the situation reached a crisis level in recent weeks, during which almost two dozen correctional employees were arrested on an assortment of felony and misdemeanor charges. During the past five weeks, the prison system's former gang enforcement chief pleaded guilty to sexually harassing employees; the personnel chief of the prison school system was arrested after being accused of lewd conduct at a park in Conroe and a human resource official was sought as a fugitive after being charged in the death of two pedestrians in what police say was a drunken driving hit-and-run.

      In all, 148 arrests of employees have been logged during the first two months of 2006, Ward reported. If the trend continues, it would set a record. Last year, state records show that 761 prison employees were arrested, about 1 in 51. That arrest rate is higher than the arrest rates of prison employees in other states.

      It's not a mystery why Texas is attracting so many law-breaking corrections employees. We're getting what we're paying for. Texas ranks near the bottom — 47th among the 50 states — in correctional salaries. Starting pay for a prison guard is $22,000 a year. Compare that to the $44,570 annual pay of starting Austin police officers. Qualifications for the jobs are different, but neither requires a college degree.

      Texas prison officials can't be choosy at that pay. The turnover rate is about 500 people a month and demand far outpaces supply. In March, the agency hired 514 correctional officers but still needed another 2,616 people to fill positions. Another problem might be that standards for the job might be set too low. Raising standards without raising pay, however, would further decrease the pool of applicants.

      The best way to approach the problem is to increase the pay and the standards to attract better candidates. The majority of prison employees are law-abiding folks. But it will be hard to retain them unless something is done to improve their salaries.

      Technology has also proved to be part of the answer. Prison officials told the American-Statesman that they increasingly rely on hidden cameras to catch bad actors. Those surveillance cameras have caught prison employees engaged in embarrassing and unethical behavior, including having sex with an inmate and slugging one of their own prison guards in an attempted cover-up for an unauthorized use of force against an inmate. (The guard who was slugged by a colleague then would claim his bruises came from being hit by an inmate.)

      The increasing number of arrests of prison system correctional guards seems to track legislative spending trends. Three years after the Legislature slashed its budget to save money and help balance the entire state budget during lean years, the prison system is working with fewer resources. But the state economy has since rebounded and produced an estimated $8.2 billion surplus.

      The next legislative session in 2007 would be a good time for lawmakers to improve the hiring system for the state's prisons.

      This is not a problem that anyone should ignore. The reason we lock people up in the first place is to protect the public from crime and violence as well as to punish the perpetrators.

      There is a real danger to our security when those who are guarding the criminals are breaking the law.

      Find this article at:
      The blurred line between guards, inmates


      Salvador "Sammy" Buentello, a former high-ranking Official

      Former TDCJ SCC Classification Chief and Security Threat Group Guru Sammy Buentello plead guilty to 6 counts of official oppression (Class A misdemeanors) and 1 count of unlawful restraint (3rd degree felony) before Walker County District Court Judge McAdams.

      In exchange for his guilty pleas, David Weeks, the Walker County District Attorney dropped a felony sexual assault charge against Buentello.

      Buentello received 5 years probation. If he successfully completes probation, he will not have a felony conviction on his record.

      Judge McAdams did not state whether Buentello will be required to register as a sex offender. Instead, he gleaned over the conditions of probation, saying ". . . and abide other conditions that I will not read but that are here in the agreement."

      Two victims made victim impact statements. They were very eloquent in different ways.

      One was very composed as she described what Buentello did to her, how it affected her relationships with her family and her children, how it impacted not only her life, but the lives of the people she cares about. She said there is one only word that accurately describes how he made her feel and it is "terror" because he "terrorized her."

      The other victim was very emotional and cried as she described how she tried to hide from Buentello to protect herself, how she hid under his desk when he came looking for her, how she was afraid to go to the restroom, afraid to go to work - all because he felt he had the right to sexually gratify himself at her expense, even as she told him NO! and STOP! over and over again.

      The Huntsville Item had a reporter in the courtroom, so there will probably be a story in tomorrow's edition:

      http://www.itemonline.com


      Published: April 01, 2006 01:47 am

      Buentello pleads guilty to charges

      Kelly Prew
      News Editor

      Salvador "Sammy" Buentello, a former high-ranking official with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, pleaded guilty Friday to five Class A misdemeanor counts of official oppression and one third-degree felony count of unlawful restraint.

      "There was a time when I thought Mr. Buentello needed to be in prison," one unidentified victim told the court through sobs. "His irrational and distorted thinking infringed on my rights — my right to go to work and just work, not to hide under my desk.

      "He must know what he did to me was not wanted by my saying `stop,' `no,' `get away from me.' ... No means no."

      She said she would like to see Buentello be required to go through offender treatment programs and to "heal himself."

      Buentello will serve five years probation and pay a $5,000 fine for the felony and serve one year probation and pay a $2,000 for the five misdemeanor counts as part of a plea bargain.

      "Part of the plea bargain was that Mr. Buentello would not have to register (as a sex offender)," explained defense attorney Hal Ridley. "Mr. Buentello and his family are glad this is finally behind them, but because of the financial and emotional pressure to his family, he agreed to do this."

      In July 2004, a Walker County grand jury handed down indictments for three separate counts of sexual assault against Buentello. Two were unadjudicated in the plea bargain but considered for sentencing, and a third was refiled as unlawful restraint.

      According to the Walker County District Attorney's Office, the plea bargain evolved from lengthy negotiations involving the advice and consent of the victims. By agreeing to the deal and pleading guilty on all counts in front of district judge Bill McAdams, Buentello waived his right to appeal.

      Buentello's guilty plea was the result of official complaints by four separate female employees who said Buentello abused the power of his office and sexually harassed them. The original charges involved complaints involving sexual remarks, touching and an incident where he allegedly exposed himself.

      Civil lawsuits also were previously filed against TDCJ by Buentello's victims, two were decided in trial and two were settled out of court. Confidentiality agreements were signed and the amounts awarded were sealed.

      Victims considered the advantages and disadvantages of a public trial against Buentello, and each individually allowed him to plead guilty without trial Friday, according to a release issued by the DA's office.

      "Today also serves as a victory against all those who knew of Mr. Buentello's conduct but consciously disregarded it. It is the hope of this office that these six courageous women may now turn the page from an incredibly painful and lonely time and begin a new life knowing Mr. Buentello has been exposed for the terrible crimes that her perpetrated," it read.

      A second victim spoke briefly Friday.

      "I tried to think of a word that has crippled me for the last several years, and that word is terror," she said. "I will not think of him again after today, and I hope for the rest of his life he will never forget my name and what happened on this day."

      Buentello worked at the BOT Complex in Huntsville, and had been an employee of TDCJ for 25 years as the Chairman of the State Classification Committee and the assistant director of the Security Threat Group Management office. Over the years, he has become nationally known for his work in tracking and documenting gang activity in prisons.

      In April 2004, he was placed on administrative leave by TDCJ because of the sexual harassment complaints, and he officially resigned in May that year.


      From Gatesville

      "Lockdown"... Lt. Cambell was talking about deaths he caused in prison and was extremely proud of himself.
      They would not let these heart patients...almost blind..crippled people put their stuff into their chain bags.
      They make you put all of your stuff in a blanket and your HAVE to lift it up.
      Lt. wanted people to fall out. Lt. Cambell said that someone died on him ...He was laughing..
      I heard a few months ago a girl died at Hackberry under his supervision also.
      We heard he just made captain.
      I wish to God that undercover police would be hired as guards in here..especially males that would blow the top off those sexually exploiting females in prison.
      I can't stand it.
      One girl yesterday told me about a Lt. telling her to suck his dick to get out of her major case.
      She said she came back to her dorm all upset and her friend told her "Girl you should of did it." "I've done it."
      The Lt. was Mc Duffy but we think he has been transferred."
      Name with held due to fear of retaliation


      TDCJ Officer arrested on drug charges

      21 pounds of pot found in tire when he tried to pass border checkpoint

      March 15, 2006
      By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News

      AUSTIN – A uniformed corrections officer was arrested this week after he tried to pass through a Border Patrol checkpoint with 21 pounds of marijuana stuffed in a spare tire, authorities said Tuesday.

      Curtis W. Hinson, 27, left Kleberg County Jail on Tuesday afternoon after posting a $10,000 bond. Authorities charged him with possession of marijuana, a third-degree felony.

      Investigators said they didn't know why Mr. Hinson was wearing his uniform when he tried to drive a Chevrolet Tahoe – registered to the wife of a former prisoner – through the inland checkpoint on U.S. Highway 77 in Sarita, south of Corpus Christi.

      When Mr. Hinson stopped at the checkpoint, he appeared nervous, said Agent Roy Cervantes, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector. Agents arrested him after a drug-sniffing dog led them to five bundles of marijuana hidden in the vehicle's spare tire, Agent Cervantes said.

      "This arrest shows we do look at everybody closely, regardless of whether they are wearing a uniform or not," he said.

      Mr. Hinson, who spent Monday night in the Kleberg jail, was not available for comment. Richard Colvin, his father-in-law, said the arrest was "totally out of character for Curtis Hinson."

      "We thought maybe somebody had stolen his uniform," Mr. Colvin said. "My gosh, this is not Curtis Hinson. He is a total stand-up guy."

      According to Texas Department of Criminal Justice statistics, 761 of the agency's employees were arrested in 2005 for various offenses. Eighty-five were arrested in January.

      Mr. Hinson worked as a corrections officer at the Stiles Unit near Beaumont. His employment, which began in 1999, is "under review," said Michelle Lyons, a department spokeswoman.

      Ms. Lyons said Mr. Hinson was off-duty when he was detained Monday by the Border Patrol. He did not have a reason to be in South Texas for work, she said.

      "If he was using his uniform to try to smuggle drugs, that would obviously be a very serious offense," she said.

      The vehicle Mr. Hinson was driving is registered to Cheryl Arterburn of Houston. She is the wife of Charles Arterburn, who served time for cocaine possession and was found dead in a field in Houston in February, according to the Harris County medical examiner.

      Charles Arterburn's father, Ray Arterburn, said he does not know Mr. Hinson and has not seen his daughter-in-law in months.

      Criminal justice officials have not been fully informed about the details of Mr. Hinson's arrest, Ms. Lyons said. She said other officers have been paid or blackmailed into doing "favors" for inmates.

      "Unfortunately it happens," Ms. Lyons said. "In some situations, an officer finds themselves doing one favor, and then blackmailed into doing bigger favors."

      E-mail dmichaels@dallasnews.com

      © 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co.


      Jury sides with ex-guard in retaliation case

      Web Posted: 03/04/2006
      Guillermo Contreras
      Express-News Staff Writer

      A federal jury on Friday awarded a former prison guard $120,000 after finding her bosses at the Torres Unit in Hondo retaliated against her because she filed claims of sexual discrimination.

      In a trial before U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, jurors deliberated for more than five hours before returning the verdict for Maryanne Denner of Edinburg, who had worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 17 years.

      The jury awarded Denner — a former gang sergeant with the prison system's Security Threat Group — $45,000 for back pay and benefits, and $75,000 for mental anguish.

      Prison officials have not decided whether to appeal.

      Denner, 43, said she had to endure sexual harassment from September 2002 to June 2003, and the prison system punished her for it rather than do something about it.

      "I'm vindicated," a teary-eyed Denner said, raising her arms in victory outside San Antonio's federal courthouse. "If you stand up for yourself, they don't like that. They find a way to get rid of you, and they do it. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

      According to statements made in court, Denner received exemplary evaluations, the latest shortly before administrators forced her to resign in 2003 after she complained of sexual discrimination, harassment and a hostile work environment.

      An internal inquiry by the prison system did not substantiate her claims, but a probe by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did.

      The prison recommended Denner for termination over allegations that she did not follow a security rule that required employees to notify supervisors of relationships with inmates' relatives.

      According to statements made in court, Denner maintained a relationship with the family of an inmate, whom she said served as an informant. Denner's lawyers argued that Denner notified her superiors of the relationship.

      The state argued otherwise, and said it created a problem.

      "It (the relationship) crossed the line and compromised security," Lee Haney, an assistant Texas attorney general, said in closing arguments Thursday.

      Denner said that, given the verdict, the prison system should "hold those people who did this" to her accountable. She also criticized the prison system's internal review process for not thoroughly and impartially investigating her complaints.

      "They do review those claims, they do look into them, they do investigate them," said TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. "We're disappointed with the verdict, and we'll be looking next week at our next course of action, on whether we'll be able to appeal or not."

      gcontreras@express-news.net

      Online at:
      Jury sides with ex-guard


      Prison employees arrested in official oppression case

      By LORI DUNN
      Texarkana Gazette

      Four prison guards at the Barry Telford Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections and one former guard have been arrested on charges of official oppression.

      Curent jailers Brian Simmons, 26, of Fouke, Ark.; Brian Smith, 28, of New Boston, Texas; Mark Harbison, 31, of New Boston; and Wesley Roseberry, 29, of Avery, Texas, were booked into the Bi-State jail on one count each of official oppression, said Michelle Lyons, a spokesman for TDCJ.

      Former Telford Unit guard Charles Brannon, 43, of Clarksville, Texas, was booked on two counts of official oppression.

      Lyons said the charge refers to excessive or unnecessary use of force against an inmate. Specific details of the alleged incidents were not available Friday.

      “It’s not a charge you see a lot,” said Lyons, who did not know if the alleged force was used against one or more inmates.

      The incidents allegedly occurred in January and Feburary 2005 and were investigated by the inspector general’s office before the information was turned over to the Bowie County prosecutor’s office.

      Brannon’s bail was set at $6,000. Bail for the other suspects was set at $3,000. The offense is considered a Class A misdemeanor, according to the statutes under the Texas Ethics Commission.

      Lyons said she is not sure of the men’s current job status with TDCJ.

      Prison employees arrested


      2005

      THE POLITICAL PRISONER

      This political prisoner was beaten and verbally abused by His guards, both before and after His trial. Upon conviction, the guards placed a thorn of crowns on His head and a sign around His neck which read, "King of the Jews".

      While being beaten with a whip, He was then forced to carry a heavy wooden cross on his back to the town's garbage dump where He was nailed onto the cross until He died.

      During the course of His dying, the guards gave Him vinegar when He asked for water, and gambled for His few meager belongings, dividing them among themselves. When His dying took too long to suit them, one of the guards stabbed Him in the side. The wound was not immediately fatal, as He died several hours later, calling out for God to forgive them for what they had done to Him.

      2,000 years have not seen a great improvement in the basic characters of those to whom "jailer" seems an appealing profession. Since prison guards were capable of doing all of this to Jesus Christ, what are they capable of doing to our loved ones, who are mere mortal sinners?

      + + + + + + +


      The story came from the first of the year,
      but the links lead to some very interesting information.
      Published: March 2, 2005

      BLACK FORMER TEXAS PRISON GUARD
      RESIGNS FLORIDA PRISON IN DISGUST

      Tampa, FL (BlackNews.com) - In December of 2004, author and former Texas prison guard Tim Hampton made headlines nationwide for releasing his first book entitled 'Holding My Own' - a book he describes as a testimony of how he was able to avoid the corruption that so many guards in Texas prisons are persuaded to take part in.

      Texas Prison officials were initially outraged with Hampton's literature and deemed it a security threat inside Texas prisons. Hamptons Port Arthur Texas-based attorney Langston Adams was able to contact Texas Governor Rick Perry who ordered the Texas prison officials to review the book again, the result being 'Holding My Own' is suitable for Texas inmates to obtain.

      During that period, Hampton shared his stories with many media outlets, and was able to keep quiet about his current employment as a prison guard in the state of Florida. Hampton has announced his resignation after only 11 months and sites disgust and déjà vu feelings about working at Hillsborough Correctional Institution, a female state prison located in Riverview Florida just outside Tampa city limits.

      Hampton wrote a detailed letter to the administration, and it can be read on his website www.holdingmyown.com

      Prison officials are declining to comment on the letter.

      For more details about Hampton and his experience with
      the Texas Prison system, interested ones should visit:
      Texas Prison

      HILLSBOROUGH CI on MTWT


      Nov. 25, 2005
      Warden belies job's stereotype

      The soft-spoken native of Nigeria often surprises inmates, outsiders

      By STEVE MCVICKER
      Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

      He stands 6 feet 4 inches tall, but there's little else about Kenneth Negbenebor's appearance that fits the stereotype of a Texas prison warden.

      Clad in a turtleneck sweater, double-breasted blazer and wire-rimmed glasses, he could be mistaken for a college professor as he sits behind a desk in a small office with African art on the walls.

      And then there's the soft voice and the accent of his native Nigeria.

      Negbenebor oversees about 1,200 male prisoners ó many of them among the state's most violent ó along with almost 300 employees at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Ramsey II Unit near Rosharon in Brazoria County, about 40 miles south of Houston.

      Even Negbenebor, 49, acknowledges that inmates sometimes mistake him for a prison chaplain. Once, he says, he was invited to speak at a local gathering. While he sat waiting to be introduced, the host went to the podium and told the crowd the warden had not yet arrived.

      "And so I said, 'No, I'm here,' "Negbenebor recalled recently. "And so he looks at me and says ó well, let's just say I was not what he was expecting. I guess he was expecting somebody with a cowboy hat and cigar like you would see in the movies. I guess I don't fit the profile."

      Lawsuit catapult

      In his 21 years with TDCJ, however, the profile has gradually changed. The department, which named its first nonwhite warden in 1981, has 19 blacks and six Hispanics among its 79 senior wardens.

      When Negbenebor was assigned to head the Ramsey I health care system in 1984, the state prison system was in the middle of what became a landmark reform lawsuit filed by inmate David Ruiz, who died of natural causes this month while still incarcerated.

      Among other issues, the lawsuit targeted inmate health care. It had a major impact on Negbenebor in his role as chief health administrator at Ramsey I, which also is near Rosharon.

      "Back then, that's all you ever heard: Ruiz, Ruiz, Ruiz," he said.

      He acknowledges there was merit to the complaints. When Negbenebor took the Ramsey I job, he found what he calls a substandard operation heavily dependent on inmate labor.

      Within a year, the medical facility had received national accreditation. Negbenebor acknowledges that, without the Ruiz lawsuit, those changes might not have taken place ó at least not when they did. "(The lawsuit) was the jump-start for us to show the public that we could police ourselves and that there were standards that we were set to meet," he said.

      Negbenebor, named TDCJ's warden of the year in 1994, says he left Nigeria at 20 to attend college in the United States. He received an undergraduate degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and a master's degree in health care administration from Texas Woman's University in Houston.

      A naturalized citizen, he hasn't been back to Nigeria since 1992, when his mother died. His father is a retired police officer there.

      Winning over critics

      He took over as warden at Ramsey II in April this year. He also has served as warden of the Jester IV psychiatric unit, the prison system's hospital in Galveston, and its Carole Young Medical Facility in Dickinson.

      In addition to impressing within TDCJ, Negbenebor has won over a few of the prison system's critics. They include longtime TDCJ watchdog Ray Hill, who hosts a weekly prison radio show on KPFT-FM. "It's a good sign that he's a warden," said Hill, who served time in prison for burglary in the early 1970s. "I just hope there are more like him in the pipeline."

      steve.mcvicker@chron.com

      This article is: Warden belies job's stereotype


      Director named to new division

      The Huntsville Item

      A veteran prison administrator who rose through the ranks, starting as a correctional officer, was named Monday as director of a new division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Douglas Dretke, 45, was promoted to director of the Correctional Institutions Division by TDCJ executive director Gary Johnson.

      The new division will include the institutional division of the prison and state jail systems, prison support operations and private facilities oversight, which previously have been stand-alone divisions.

      Dretke, a 23-year veteran of the agency, has been deputy director of the prison system-- previously the Institutional Division -- for the past two years.

      I feel extremely honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve the agency in this capacity, he said.

      "I look back through my tenure, beginning as a correctional officer, and I'm so grateful that my experience includes wearing the gray uniform and being a part of our most critical work force.

      Day in and day out, they make our agency what it is today."

      Johnson said Dretke was the right man for the job.

      "Texas and our agency are extremely fortunate to have a corrections professional of Doug's proven ability to manage the prisons and jails and maximize public safety," Johnson said.

      Although the position is a new one, Dretke is essentially replacing Janie Cockrell, who retired last month after 27 years with TDCJ.

      Dretke, who worked with Cockrell for the past six years, said Cockrell was committed to a focus on safety initiatives for both staff and offenders and he will continue to make that a top priority.

      "The reorganization and consolidation of four divisions is an opportunity to provide a level of efficiency and consistency within the agency by bringing all of our incarceration functions under one leadership team," he said.

      "Our next task is as we create our new leadership team to look for those opportunities to become more consistent and more efficient."

      Dretke's career started in Huntsville in 1980 and has taken his across the state, including stops in Richmond/Rosenberg, Palestine, Gatesville, Navasota and Beeville.

      He served as a warden at the Pack Unit in Navasota and the Holliday Unit in Huntsville before being appointed one of TDCJ's five regional prison directors in 1997.

      Dretke earned his bachelor's degree in criminology and corrections from Sam Houston State University, and a master's degree in public administration from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

      He and his wife, DeeDee, live in Huntsville and have two children, Lara, a student at Texas A&M, and Ryan, a senior at Huntsville High School.


      TEXAS BOARD OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE

      TDCJ is having problems filling positions. As of the meeting, they had 2,054 vacancies, and apparently summer has the highest turnover rate. They are working on hiring people and re-hiring retirees to compensate.

      They have a new diversity program, hoping to encourage diversity among the employees of TDCJ. (And acceptance of diversity.)

      Every year the department does a "Survey of Organizational Excellence" where the employees of TDCJ anonymously rate their jobs based on certain criteria. An EXTREMELY low percent of TDCJ employees participated in the survey. Of that percent, the results were crappy. To paraphrase the survey results in my own words, the job sucks, but the benefits are good. You can view the full results of this survey on the website in a few months. Or Linda can report on it when she gets the packet.

      The project on the roof at the Ellis unit has been postponed. They ran into some unexpected problems. The board is hoping for an estimate on a re-bid by the next meeting, July in Huntsville.

      Gary Johnson has introduced a new incentive for employees perusing a college education. Read about it at:
      http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/vacancy/hr-home/alop.htm

      The only real notable is that I talked to board member Adrian Arriaga. I talked to him because he is the one at the meetings I've witnessed who asks the most questions and seems the most interested in the affects of the decisions made by the board. He told me that he was appointed to the board during the time period his brother was incarcerated. He knows first had what it is like to visit the units. This was very interesting to me as the board makes ALL decisions regarding the operation of TDCJ. They make the policy, the units implement it. Mr. Arriaga asks a million questions of these people, intelligent questions, he wants to know WHY you are doing this and why are you suggesting that? But he is only one man - that's the problem. It was interesting to know though, that at least one of the board's members had been on the other side.

      Texas Board of Criminal Justice
      P. O. Box 13084
      Austin, Texas 78711
      (512) 475-3250 phone
      (512) 305-9398 fax

      For more info:
      http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/tbcj/tbcj-home.htm

      Reported By: TX-E-Bond
      JBS Member








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