Friday, February 25, 2011

TDCJ stops the use of madatory overtime based on sick leave

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

As previously reported by the Backgate just last week, TDCJ had started the practice of mandating employee overtime based on whether or not an employee called in sick that week or not. And in some cases, took an approved day off. Just two days ago, Huntsville administrators decided against allowing units to continue the practice. The TDCJ written overtime policy never contained or approved the practice, and due to employee complaints and media attention, it was corrected.

Now called in to question are the many employee disciplinary actions that occurred after employees refused to work the mandated overtime after calling in sick. TDCJ made the right call on this one. It was sure to end up costing the state millions in lawsuits that they surely don't have in this time of budget shortfalls. There is a better way to regulate sick time abuse, but its not or never will be justified or legal to retaliate against employees for using accrued sick time afforded to them under policy. Much less accrued holiday or comp time. Now get on the ball and create a real sick abuse policy !

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TDCJ cuts Project Rio program as of March 15th

 By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

Agency Project Rio employees have been notified that they will no longer be employed in their present capacity after state budget cuts have eliminated their jobs. Those staff members will have until March 15th to either find another position within the agency, or go elsewhere.

Project RIO is administered by the Texas Workforce Commission in collaboration with Local Workforce Development Boards, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the Windham School District and The Texas Youth Commission (TYC). The project provides a link between education, training and employment during incarceration with employment, training and education after release.

The program is designed to reduce recidivism through employment. Numerous studies have shown reduced recidivism rates for employed ex-offenders. Even when one takes into account other factors such as age, risk score, race/ethnicity and type of previous offense, post-release employment reduced rearrests and reincarcerations.

In an inter-agency email, TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston announced the cuts, and also mentioned the deletion of  400  TDCJ employee positions on the horizon. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Comprehensive video surveillance installed at TDCJ unit

It’s all caught on camera. First, the offender crouches to snatch a hand-fashioned weapon from beneath the door of a third row cell. He then walks down a flight of stairs and casually waits on the landing as another offender passes. Suddenly, the armed offender pulls out his weapon and strikes his target in the back. The wounded man runs off, tearing off his shirt as he flees. The non-fatal assault happens so fast and with so little commotion that even an officer positioned nearby doesn’t realize what’s happened. But the camera sees it clearly, and records everything it sees.

The camera is one of more than a thousand that have been installed at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. It is part of a comprehensive network of surveillance cameras being strategically placed throughout four TDCJ units to capture and record the activities of offenders, staff and visitors. Installation of the first system, which is coming online in stages, began at Polunksy this past summer. Similar systems, purchased with legislative appropriations made in 2009, are being installed at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, the Darrington Unit near Rosharon and the McConnell Unit in Beeville.

Cameras now cover virtually every aspect of the Polunsky Unit, to include blanket coverage of death row housing areas. Outside, cameras that pan, tilt and zoom in as far as a mile are mounted on two towers. Others are interspersed around the perimeter. Linked together, Senior Warden Tim Simmons said the interior and exterior cameras are a “game changer” for TDCJ as it battles to curtail the introduction and movement of contraband within units.

“To me, they’re something that enhances security,” Simmons said. “They’re another tool, and probably the most valuable tool that I have received in my career. They will help make the unit more secure and help us deal with contraband issues.”

More than 700 cameras are being installed at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont. Like Polunsky, cameras cover all housing areas, dining halls, gymnasiums and other places where offenders congregate, including the unit chapel. The indoor and outdoor visitation areas have multiple cameras mounted on walls and ceilings.
Stiles Senior Warden Richard Alford said the camera system, which can store up to 20 days of data, will not only assist in efforts to combat contraband, but also help ensure staff safety and monitor compliance with proper procedures.

Simmons and Alford say they are impressed with the user-friendly software that comes with the new surveillance system. From their offices or any other viewing station they can review what occurred anywhere on the unit at any point in time during the last 20 days. A “smart search“ feature allows them to select and search a specific area of the camera’s view to quickly determine if there’s been any offender or staff movement through the area over a period of time.

“The software is where the agency really hit a home run,” Simmons said. “It’s one thing to have all the data. It’s another thing to be able to go back and access it. This software is very easy to use.”
Polunksy and Stiles unit administrators stress that the comprehensive surveillance systems do not replace correctional officers.

“You can never replace a real set of eyes and a real voice in managing offenders,” Stiles Assistant Warden Darren Wallace said. “The system is just an enhancement. It just gives us an extra ability to monitor what’s happening and to go back and review things that have happened.”

“A camera can help you investigate something that is happening right this instant or it can help you investigate something that happened previously, but the camera doesn’t stop anything from happening,” Simmons added. “It doesn’t stop intent, but it does help us prevent, identify and verify things.”

From TDCJ Connections News 

Friday, February 11, 2011

TDCJ says it thinks it can find enough drugs to carry out executions through April

By Marcus Williams
Backgate Website 

Attention all execution drug makers : TDCJ needs you. As previously reported over the past few months by main stream media and even the Backagte, TDCJ  has been running low on the drugs used to execute the condemned in Texas.

The Associated Press reported today that the only U.S. manufacturer of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental is discontinuing the drug's production. According to the AP, Hospira Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., decided to switch manufacturing of the anesthetic from its North Carolina plant to a plant in Italy. But Italian authorities insisted the company guarantee the drug wouldn't be used in executions. There has been some talk about possibly using another drug to replace the now hard to get sodium thiopental, that being the drug that Veterinarians use to put down animals, pentobarbital.

Exactly how low the state is on the lethal combination of drugs is still in debate and open records requests for those numbers have been ignored by TDCJ. Within those requests also lays that of this website. The Texas Attorney General has ruled the information releasable but has done nothing to enforce the release of information from the agency. That may be an issue for the Travis county courts to decide.

The Houston Chronicle reported this morning that Rick Thaler, director of the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice Institutional Division, told the Associated Press Friday outside a state prison board meeting the issue has been a top priority within the agency for several months.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lege leaders: Revised prison cuts okay

 By Mike Ward,

UPDATED at 5:50 p.m.: Prison officials have just responded to word that they have submitted a revised budget-cutting plan:

“We continue to work with the governor and the legislature on ways to reduce FY 2011 expenditures by up to 2.5 percent,” spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts of all involved to help mitigate the most negative effects of budget reductions. Once finalized, all the measures by which TDCJ will reduce FY 2011 expenditures will be posted on the agency website.”

See Mike's complete article by clicking here ! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

TDCJ back to mandatory overtime, using people that call in sick to save money

 By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

Mandatory overtime within the agency, an issue said to be a thing of the past is back with a vengeance. Even regions said to be fully staffed are said to be using staff in mandatory overtime positions. In those cases, those units are short due to employees calling in sick, and having Officers out on family medical leave. All of which are accounted for in the units total numbers even though they are not there. TDCJ policy on overtime just a few months back consisted of asking for volunteers, then mandating. Most times, volunteers covered the shifts. Over the past couple of months however, TDCJ has unofficially altered that policy in that now if you call in during your cycle, you may be mandated to work. Even before volunteers are sought after.

The statewide rates of employee disciplinary for refusing to work mandated overtime has gone up. Many are due to those employees refusing to work just because they called in a day during that cycle. The Backgate had received 18 emails from Officers that have been disciplined in one way or another for refusing to work mandatory overtime based upon them calling in sick when there were volunteers before them available. We have even heard reports that Officers taking a day off of comp time to avoid losing time being mandated to work overtime based on the fact that they wont accrue overtime because they already took off in their cycle. I understand the point that TDCJ is broke and can't afford to pay out cash money for overtime. But come on TDCJ, come up with something that doesn't punish staff for not abusing, but using their sick, or other accrued leaves afforded under policy. These issues surely wouldn't hold up in a court of law.

Being a TDCJ employee myself, i understand that Officers abuse their time and create hardships on the unit. But for the people legitimately sick, on dialysis, or even cancer patients that have to take a day due to circumstances out of their control, what sense does it make to mandate them to work overtime ? And we have seen this. Many employees are filing grievances as we speak. If you have been affected by this new altered policy we want to hear from you. Email us your story at  We will pose this issue to legislators, attorneys and others over the next few weeks. Let us hear from you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Polunsky staffers plan to testify on pay, advisory role

Although they are climbing a steeper fiscal slope, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) correctional staff, to include those from the Livingston-based Polunsky Unit, are encouraged by the receptiveness of Rep. Jerry Madden, a key member of the Texas House of Representatives, who is willing to listen to their requests for an increase in salary and benefits.
Eager to continue discussions with Madden, last session’s House Corrections Committee vice chairman, who served as committee chairman from 2005-2009, Polunsky Correctional Officer Earl Brown is looking forward to working with Madden, with the committee as a whole, and with members of the Senate Corrections Committee. 

See the entire article here !