Monday, January 31, 2011

TDCJ - We are not threatening employees to stay mum at Central Unit

By Tonya Peters
Backgate Website

In an email from TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons, TDCJ has stated that they are not threatening staff members at Central who try to speak out on the impending closure of the facility. The Texas legislature has all but rubber stamped the closure which is said to be completed by September of 2011 if its signed off on. 300 plus state employees will be affected by the closure, and with those employees, many more families as well.

The Backgate became involved when we began receiving emails  from employees of the Region III unit stating that they were being threatened with disciplinary action if they spoke out on the closure. Even if it didn't wasn't about the agency, just  about how it affected their families and lives outside of the agency. Lyons also included a link to the TDCJ media policy that prohibits employees from speaking to the media about agency business.

TDCJ states that if the unit does close, employees would be given the choice to move to another facility (if there are jobs available) demote if they are supervisors, or leave the agency.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Region III Stiles Unit showing improvement

By Backgate Staff

The stats are in. The Stiles unit in Beaumont, Region III has shown to have improved in contraband interception and employee satisfaction. Stats provided via the Texas open records act have shown a significant drop in contraband found within the facility, and employee job satisfaction has risen tremendously. The Stiles unit topped Region III in contraband seizures and employee dissatisfaction just a year ago, but has completed a major turn. Warden Richard Alford arrived at the unit just months ago but the employee morale there has seemed to have blossomed ever since. Employee emails and unit contacts state that the transition was a major factor. We say good job Warden Alford. Keep doing what your doing.

Closing of Region III Central unit may be nothing more then a state sponsored land grab for cash

By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

As news of the impending, and now almost guaranteed closure of the Central unit in Sugarland looms over state employees assigned there, there just may be more then meets the eye within the deal to close the 101 year old prison that employs 300. The Backgate has learned that behind the scenes deals may have played out in convincing lawmakers to clear the property. Making room for millions of dollars in  private investment deals and sales for the state of Texas.

All of which possibly being orchestrated by your state legislators. The Backgate received numerous emails about employees of the Central unit being threatened by unit administrators against speaking out on the issues and the possible closure of the unit. An accusation that TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons denies. Lyons did however quote TDCJ policy on employees releasing agency information media in her email to the Backgate. The Backgate asked why the 300 plus employees of the Central unit were gagged publicly from discussing the closure of the unit and how it affected their families and life styles. Lyons directed us to the policy on the TDCJ website. Although a policy was not specifically quoted, or could be found on the website.

The story is ongoing, and your legislators have been asked to respond to the allegations.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

APNewsBreak: Sedative maker deplores execution use

 COLUMBUS, Ohio – The sole U.S. manufacturer of a sedative that Ohio plans to use to execute death row inmates — and that Oklahoma already uses to do so — said Wednesday it opposes the practice and has asked both states to stop using the drug. Pentobarbital maker Lundbeck Inc. says it never intended for the drug to be used to put inmates to death.
"This goes against everything we're in business to do," Sally Benjamin Young, spokeswoman for the Denmark-based company's U.S. headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., told The Associated Press.

see entire article by clicking here ! 

Torres Unit Escaped Trustee Back Behind Bars

 TDCJ Torrres Unit Inmate Tony Steve Requeno, 31, was last seen Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Torres unit. He was working as a trustee on a tractor in the garden on prison grounds. The tractor was found about an hour later.

Requeno was arrested after a concerned citizen saw a suspicious person walking down P.R. 5521 in the town of D'Hanis about 7:20 am.  A Medina County deputy was dispatched to the location and drove up on Requeno and picked him up without incident.

Requeno was taken before a judge and charged with felony escape. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Region III Central unit employees being threatened to stay mum on possible closure

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

As news spreads around the state like wildfire about the possible closure of the 101 year old Central prison unit in Sugarland, TDCJ has ordered it's employees there to remain quiet. Employees who have contacted the Backgate have stated that the administration has ordered them to not speak with the media about the potential closure. A move that is without a doubt outside of the power of TDCJ. Policy prohibits employees from releasing sensitive information about the agency to the public. That would be offender information, security sensitive information and the likes. The 1st amendment even applies to TDCJ employees believe it or not. Could it be a ploy by the agency not to ruffle feathers ? If there are no openings for staff in Region III where they live with their families and are sent 300 miles north then isn't that news worthy ? Bad choice TDCJ. It makes it appear there is something to hide. More to come...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stiles unit metal fab plant and Central unit prison in Region III on chopping block

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

It's been confirmed that the Stiles unit prison in Beaumont will close the doors for its metal fabrication factory. Texas Correctional Industries (TCI) has said the plant will be shut down in March. Those affected employees will be given the opportunity to become Correctional Officers or will be let go sources say. It's the first major closure of a state operated facility to date. Also on the chopping block is the Central Prison unit in Sugarland, Fort Bend County. For years analyst have projected that the land the facility is located on is worth more then the use of the prison itself. If Legislators have their way, the Central unit will be next up for closure.

The closure of the Central unit would affect 309 total employees, 229 of those being security related positions. With just over a total of 1,000 inmates, the unit sits on 325 acres of prime residential real estate.

Get involved, contact your local legislators now !

State Ledge proposal will cut pay, take jobs from TDCJ employees

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

This is the current proposal on the table now with Texas Legislators in Austin. If these initiatives are carried out, it will spell disaster for state employees. Now is the time for those of you that never have, to pick up your phone or write an email to your state Representative. Your career may depend on it.

(0.1) A Ten Percent Pay Cut for All State Employees GR Saving: $0.865 billion
Cutting all state employees' salaries, including higher education employees' salaries, by ten percent ensures that the state budget can be balanced without ending essential services provided to the neediest Texans. As outlined in the introduction to this report, the growth of the public sector in Texas is a driving force behind the current budget shortfall. One of the most effective ways to begin addressing the shortfall is to reduce compensation paid to state employees.

The $0.865 billion saving figure associated with this reduction is illustrative of the impact that a state employee pay reduction could have on the state general revenue budget. In practice, it would likely be necessary to exempt some of the state’s lower-income employees from such a reduction so that they do not become reliant on state programs such as Medicaid or CHIP that would end up costing the state revenue.

(0.2) A State Agency Hiring Freeze GR Saving: $0.496 billion
As noted earlier in this report, Texas has more full time equivalent state employee positions per capita than several other large states, including California, Florida, and Illinois. While Texas is significantly lower than the national average in terms of full time state employee positions, the state spends nearly 15 percent of its overall state budget on salaries and wages, ranking 22nd in the nation and above several traditionally "blue" states, including California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Pennsylvania .

Initiating a state agency hiring freeze during the 2012-13 biennium will address these discrepancies while helping to balance the state budget. This measure will allow state agencies to keep all current employees but, through attrition, these state agencies will gradually decrease in size and increase in efficiency. By requiring all state agencies to fulfill their mission with fewer employees, we ensure that Except where otherwise noted, the savings estimates in this section were provided by the Office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts. Recommendations outlined are those of the TCCRI State Budget Task Force alone.
our state employees are providing the same value as the rest of the nation. It is important to exclude the Department of Criminal Justice and the Department of Public Safety from a hiring freeze, since these agencies have a direct impact on the safety of the public, which is a core constitutional responsibility.

(0.3) End Longevity Pay for All State Employees GR Saving: $0.323 billion
Full-time state employees are eligible to receive an additional $20 per month for every two years of lifetime service credit up to 42 years. This is effectively a non-merit based bonus which costs state taxpayers more than $323 million each biennium, and continues to grow without regard to need or achievement. Eliminating all longevity pay should be considered in any event given that salary enhancements should never be based on the length of service.

(0.4) A State Agency Overtime Freeze GR Saving: $0.046 billion
An overtime freeze would underscore the point that the state must live within its means as a result of the budget shortfall. Agencies should complete their core mission without resorting to overtime, where possible, although it would likely be necessary to exempt the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Department of Public Safety because the services they provide directly affect the protection of the public and enforcement of the law, which is a core responsibility of government.

(0.5) Initiate a Two-Day per Month State Employee Furlough GR Saving: $0.856 billion
While the value of this reduction would be impacted by the other cuts to state employee pay and benefits recommended in this document, a two-day per month furlough could provide additional savings to the state by reducing employee pay by around five percent and overall payroll costs by almost ten percent.

(0.6) Offer State Employees Early Retirement GR Saving: $0.021 billion5
According to the Office of the Comptroller, the last time Texas faced a major budget deficit, legislators passed a temporary provision that offered state employees over 55 years of age a lump sum retirement incentive package equal to 25 percent of the employee's total regular salary. A total of 13,447 employees took advantage of this option.

Investigating a similar early retirement option for the 2012-13 biennium is necessary given the state's budget shortfall. Taking advantage of an opportunity to cheaply and permanently reduce the state's workforce on a voluntary basis is something that should not be overlooked: the savings in the 2012-13 biennium -- $21 million -- are just a starting point since the state would continue to save money into the future.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some TDCJ employees already facing Reduction In Force letters taking their jobs

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

While many open jobs are not being filled by Huntsville, some current employees have actually been laid off as part of a reduction in force by the agency. The Backgate has received information that mail room employees and even clerks are the first groups to see the reductions. On the security side, many open supervisor jobs have not been posted to be filled to save a buck. Even a delay in posting can save the agency money. How will these reductions and slow postings affect the bottom line--- security ? I guess that will be apparent as time presses on.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Backgate site progressing

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

Although some don't appreciate the change, the site is progressing back to the point it was at prior to the change. Security issues with the VBulletin format left the site wide open for hackers/spammers. Sometimes the most simple of formats is the most secure. You can post comments under each posted story in this format, and can do so by simply verifying your comment is not spam. The message board is also in its original basic format we started with years back. You will have to register to post as always, and you must be verified and approved before your membership is approved. The turn around on approval is approximately 6 hours. This will ensure that our community is secure from spam and other security issues. The Backgate is popular allover the world and with that being said, brings in a lot of death penalty opponents, and  others with the intent to damage or disrupt the website. Thanks for your support ! 

Friday, January 14, 2011

TDCJ Abilene based K-9's/ staff assisting FBI in search for missing Colorado City Teen

By Tonya Peters,Backgate Website
(Hailey Dunn photo at left)

Cadaver dogs are searching a landfill in north Abilene for evidence in the case of missing Colorado City teenager Hailey Dunn. Colorado City city manager Pete Kampfer confirmed that cadaver dogs from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice were searching the landfill.

Hailey Dunn was reported missing by her mother, Billie Dunn on December 28, 2010. On Monday December 27, 2010 at approximately 3:15 pm Hailey told her mother's boyfriend, Shawn Adkins, she was going to go to her Dad's house and then walk to her friend's house five blocks away to spend the night. Hailey's brother, David Dunn, called the friend on December 28, 2010 and at this time it was discovered that Hailey never arrived at her home and a sleepover had not been planned.

Shawn Adkins is now a prime suspect in the incident.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

TDCJ Executive Director Speaks to Employees about Legislative Session underway

 Executive Director:

Budget reductions expected

Editor’s note: The 82nd Texas Legislature convenes on Tuesday, January 11, 2011. Although media reports vary as to the amount, every report indicates lawmakers will confront a multibillion dollar budget shortfall. TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston recently answered questions about how the upcoming legislative session and the state’s budget situation might impact the agency and its employees.

Would you agree that addressing the state budget is the most critical issue facing the Texas Legislature in 2011?

Not to diminish the importance of other legislation, but in my opinion it is always the most critical issue facing lawmakers. The general appropriations bill impacts virtually everyone in the state, and balancing the budget is required by the Texas Constitution.

Do you anticipate reductions in funding for TDCJ and other state agencies?

I don’t think there is any doubt that state agencies will see a reduction in appropriations for the next biennium. How much less funding may depend on how the economy improves over the next few months and how much money legislators are willing to take from the economic stabilization fund, which is also known as the Rainy Day fund.

Do you think TDCJ might be exempted from the budget reductions, as the agency was from cuts made earlier this year?

Well, first of all, TDCJ was not totally exempted from the reductions requested by the governor and Legislative Budget Board in January 2010. Although the agency was not required to reduce expenditures by five percent, we did identify $55 million from various sources, to include funds targeted for much-needed capital expenditures like replacement vehicles, information technology, and laundry and kitchen equipment. I have no doubt TDCJ’s vital mission of protecting public safety will once again be of primary importance to legislators as they make budget decisions, but given some of the preliminary estimates regarding the size of the shortfall, I am skeptical that any agency will be completely exempt.

Will you oppose any further budget reductions to TDCJ?

Our Legislature Appropriations Request (LAR) for fiscal years 2012 - 2013 clearly identifies our priorities for funding, and we will seek the funding necessary to maintain critical agency operations consistent with our LAR. I will also strive to ensure lawmakers understand the impact of any specific budget reductions on public safety, agency operations and our employees. Providing accurate and timely information is the most effective thing agency administrators can do in regards to dealing with legislators and the legislative process. (Note: The LAR is available on the TDCJ website.)

Do you think it is possible any prisons will be closed as a result of the state’s budget situation?

Not at the expense of public safety; I think safety remains the highest priority of all our elected officials. However, if after reviewing projections of inmate population growth and considering various proposals regarding sentencing laws and other aspects of the criminal justice system, lawmakers conclude a prison could be closed without negatively impacting public safety, then it is possible.
As far as the role we will play should discussions about prison closings occur, understand this agency cannot and will not attempt to influence public policy which determines how many offenders are incarcerated. Those decisions are the prerogatives of our elected officials and are made based on various factors related to public safety and cost-effectiveness. The agency’s responsibility is to provide a safe prison environment for staff and offenders, which means our communication would focus on issues like adequate staffing and overcrowding.

Agency employees are obviously most concerned with a potential reduction in force. Do you have any idea how many positions might be impacted should appropriations be reduced?

I have no idea because it would depend on where the reduction in funding occurred, but unlike some state agencies that primarily distribute grants or purchase services, we are an operational agency with a greater share of our spending going toward employee salaries. This means reduced appropriations would be more likely to impact staffing. While I realize the uncertainty is troubling, nobody can answer that question right now, so employees should be extremely skeptical if they hear rumors to the contrary. It would all be speculation.

In past legislative sessions the agency has advocated targeted salary increases for certain positions as well as across-the-board pay increases for other staff. In light of the budget situation, will you continue seeking increased compensation for TDCJ employees?

Not this session. I don’t think that is realistic and see no reason to create false expectations.

When do you think employees will know the outcome of budget deliberations?

Final decisions regarding the budget for the FY 2012 - 13 biennium, which begins September 1, 2011, would be made in May at the earliest, and probably no later than next August. Now, if agencies are asked to make additional spending reductions during the current fiscal year, we would know the impact of those reductions much earlier. (Note: Just as this article went to print, all state agencies received a request from the governor and the Legislative Budget Board to identify an additional 2.5 percent in possible budget savings during the current fiscal year.)

In closing, is there anything else you would like to say to TDCJ employees?

The TDCJ mission is to provide public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into society, and assist victims of crime, and that mission is accomplished through your hard work and dedication. Every employee contributes, whether they directly supervise offenders in our correctional institutions or in the community, provide treatment and programming or perform one of the many other critical support functions. As policy makers grapple with difficult budget and policy decisions, we will try to keep you informed through this newsletter, the agency website and other means of communication.

from the TDCJ connections news

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Region III OIG investigation stalls


After 3-months ,OIG and TDCJ claim this is still an ongoing investigation and will not release any information on it. Will it be another investigation allowed to grow cold and disappear ? Major Humphrey is still reassigned to the Region III office as of today. See the original story we posted on this 2 months ago below..


Region III Stringfellow Investigation bares striking resemblance to that of the Terrell unit years earlier

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

In May of 2008, prison officials were admonished by Texas Legislators for what they called a blatant disregard for basic security. Weeks earlier, two TDCJ employee whistle blowers came forward with a story that would eventually create major waves at the state capitol. Corruption plagued the Terrell prison unit in Rosharon for months, but the calls for help remained unanswered by TDCJ administrators. The Backgate broke the story and published it here in this forum where state legislators and Houston area media outlets took notice. What happened after that may have changed the way TDCJ does business.

So why did it take months of red tape,harassment and retaliation by TDCJ officials against the reporting employees to eventually enable a change ? Legislative hearings, the creation of the employee search and other changes were enacted as a result of the ordeal. So have TDCJ administrators learned anything from the fiasco?

The Backgate reported just days ago yet another similar investigation (see below posted story) that is now underway at the Region III Stringfellow unit in Rosharon that may just encompass some of the same issues. "It bares a striking resemblence to the Terrell investigation", said one state legislator the Backgate spoke with. And we have to agree. TDCJ states that the investigation is ongoing and has expanded. A quote we were unable to verify.

Julia Humphrey, who has been Major at the Stringfellow unit for approximately one year, was confirmed as being reassigned as part of the investigation. TDCJ would not comment on any possible charges due to the ongoing investigation at this time.

Emails received by the Backgate Website from several staff members on the Stringfellow unit alleging wrongdoing were forwarded to TDCJ's Office of Inspector General officials for investigation. Those emails alleged wrongdoing on the part of Humphrey dating back months. Employees submitting the emails also alleged that unit officials were advised of the allegations and failed to act. Those allegations however cannot be verified at this point but are said to be part of the ongoing investigation.

State Senator John Whitmire, who heads the states Criminal Justice Committee also received information on the allegations and the issues surrounding them and has made it known that the allegations would be taken seriously and fully investigated by any means necessary.

If you have any first hand knowledge of wrongdoing regarding this case or any other, email it to You will remain anonymous.

Senator Whitmire speaks to the Backgate about cell phones

By Marcus Williams, Backgate Website

Just over a year ago, inmate Richard Tabler got hold of one of many cell phones said to be available on death row and manged to make a phone call to Texas Senator John Whitmire, threatening his safety. Whitmire publicly scorned TDCJ for he quoted as a lack of basic security. TDCJ reacted by increasing the frequency of employee searches coming into prison units, and even spent millions on new x-ray scanning machines and metal detectors. But after all the tax payer money spent on these new toys, has it helped reduce the number of cell phones found within the agency ?

The answer is no. data provided to the Backgate by TDCJ revealed that the numbers have actually increased. TDCJ Executive Services provided information stated "There were 370 phones discovered in calendar year 2009, and 398 phones discovered in calendar year 2010 (through November)." That period runs from January to January. These numbers reflect what was found to be inside of the secure facilities themselves, in the hands of Texas prison inmates.

The following are the total numbers of cell phones found each respective year: (found outside of the units as well for the grand total)

Calendar Year 2009 - 1,110
Calendar Year 2010 (through November) - 733

This information reveals that although the total amount of cell phones found was lower this year, more have actually made it into the prison units this year then last year. And this years numbers only represent phones found up until November.

Millions spent on new gadgets

With the millions of dollars spent on all of the new gadgets that TDCJ has employed to fight the war on contraband, no formal industry training has been conducted on how to use those gadgets. Many Officers around the state claim that they are just thrust into the position as necessary and are not really trained on what they are even looking for. "It's a smokescreen for TDCJ" said one Officer we spoke too via email. TDCJ training department administrators concede that no training is provided at any level formally within the training department for new incoming staff members, or those attending yearly inservice training. "No curriculum has been established as of yet." stated one training official we spoke with. "The search process remains in the hands of staff, and it's only effective as the quality of staff that are assigned there." " Not to mention the individual ethics of those staff members." said a long time TDCJ administrator we spoke with about the issues.

Just yesterday the Backgate broke a story that began on the Allred unit in north Texas. A female Officer who was assigned at a search point for employees, located a loaded pistol in the coat pocket of another female employee. That discovery was made by viewing the x-ray machine monitor at that location. This was a case of good search procedures and an employee being vigilant. But you have to ask yourself, how much gets through? How much slips by due to training issues, or ethics issues where an employee may look the other way for a co-worker ?

Senator John Whitmire weighs in

We posed these questions for Texas Senator John Whitmire just days ago. His response to us was "one phone is too damned many" and is still publicly critical of TDCJ's inability to secure it's prison units. Whitmire blasted TDCJ during public senate hearings last year after concerns were raised about contraband getting into prison facilities statewide when he himself got a phone call from death row. The Terrell unit corruption scandal that the Backgate brought to light in 2008 also resulted in Whitmire calling a hearing where TDCJ officials were admonished for lax security and supervision.

More Texas legislators have become interested in these new stats and we will print what they have to say about it here soon...

i phones in Texas prisons ?

Michael Landauer/Editor
Dallas Morning News

This is an unfiltered version of my Point Person interview that will run in the paper on Sunday:

Scott Henson is a criminal justice blogger and reform advocate who has worked for the ACLU and the Innocence Project. On his Grits for Breakfast blog last week, he created a stir when he linked to a New York Times article about smuggled cellphones in prison and took the position that they should be made available to prisoners and closely monitored. We asked him more about his controversial opinion.

See Entire Story Here !