Thursday, March 31, 2011

Texas Senator to the Backgate :" I do not support any cuts that will take away from public safety."

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website 

    Texas Senator John Whitmire, who heads the Senate committee on criminal justice, made the statement via email to the Backgate just days ago. Whitmire made the statement to the Backgate after we asked why lawmakers where having second thoughts about stripping TDCJ and DPS of vital operational funding to help balance the states budget. Whitmire stated that he would not vote for any measure that would take money from the two agencies and would strain the two agencies operations. He went on to say that public safety was still the most important topic.

The latest news out of the legislature was the initiative to replace money cut from the TDCJ and DPS budgets. Money in excess of 323 million dollars. 32 million of that was said to be earmarked for saving the Central unit that was once said to be a lost cause by legislators. A move that is sure to rattle Sugarland investors and real estate brokers if it materializes. The cost of housing those offenders removed from Central, along with the impact of relocating hundreds of TDCJ employees from the facility may have played some part in renewed interest to save the historical facility. The fate of the Central unit won't be assured until after legislators close out the session.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Could the Texas budget head back into the black if gambling becomes a reality ?

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website 

Gambling bills are once again up for negotiation in Austin. Could a measure to allow a vote on the issue be practical ?News polls state 80% of Texans are said to be in favor of a vote on the issue. Maybe it's just the influx of revenue Texas needs to keep legislators from cutting public funds in the future. The Austin American Statesman put out these stats about potential benefits of gambling in Texas;

"The slots group said that slot machines at 13 tracks would generate more than $3 billion a year in revenue. At the group’s proposed tax rate of 30 percent, the taxes coming into the state would be about $921 million a year by 2013.

And the Texas Gaming Association, which is promoting “destination resort casinos,” said the measure it is supporting — which would allow for eight casinos and eight licenses for slot machines at tracks — would generate $6.6 billion a year in revenue for a total of $1.3 billion in annual state taxes, according to its report. (Under the tax rates outlined in the casino bill, casinos would generate $771 million a year and slots would bring in $515 million annually when everything is up and running.)

The fiscal notes also indicate that each measure would require the addition of state workers. If the casino measure passes, the state would need to hire 223 employees. The slots bill, if passed, would lead to the creation of 22.3 jobs, the budget board said. "

First, let’s dispense with a common misconception: The Texas Legislature cannot simply pass a bill that would legalize casino gambling in our fair state. Only a majority of registered Texas voters can do that. Oh, it’s not as if the Legislature isn’t involved, and that’s why you’ve still not had your say.
What the Legislature must pass — by two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House — is a constitutional amendment that then goes before voters.

Gov. Rick Perry could not get between you and that vote, a good thing since he has consistently opposed adding casinos to Texas’ otherwise-pro-business palette even though he seems to not have issue with cutting public funds that may shut down the states most important agencies. Guess we will see which way it all goes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

UPDATE: $373 million more for DPS, TDCJ ??

By Mike Ward,

Updated at 4:30 p.m.:A Senate subcommittee just recommended restoring more than $373 million in funding to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Texas Department of Public Safety to fund previously cut programs and initiatives.

The recommendations go to the full Senate Finance Committee for approval, which is expected.
Back in: $273 million for the state corrections system, including funding for rehabilitation, treatment and parole programs, plus $31 million to keep the Central Unit in Sugar Land open; $32.7 million for DPS to hire 646 additional troopers, $22.8 million for new vehicles, and unspecified funding to restore the uniform-cleaning allowance for state troopers that had been cut.

Click here to see the entire story!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Prison cell-stopping tests successful

Conceptual tests of high-tech gear at a Beaumont prison to check its effectiveness in curbing smuggled cell phones were successful, and officials said today that they expect to move ahead to consider possibly buying the technology.

After a convict used a smuggled phone to orchestrate his escape earlier this month, prison officials had arranged for the demonstration at the Stiles Unit — the first tests conducted in a Texas prison — as a prelude to possibly purchasing phone-detecting gear or managed-access equipment.

Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville, said this afternoon that CellAntenna officials demonstrated equipment that can pinpoint the location of cell phones in prisons.

See entire article here ! 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Former Stiles Officer blows the whistle on prison issues, how Puckett could have escaped.

 Backgate Says: Saw this on the Texas GOP Vote blog site. The Correctional Officer that wrote it is absolutely correct. Due to TDCJ reducing the number of Officers on unit staffing plans, some areas are drastically undermanned and unsafe. This story seems like it is on that path. It happens everyday, on nearly every unit in the state. Less staff members are required to get more work done. Administrators know the numbers and accept the fact that corners must be cut. Until something like this happens. It's not a unit level wardens issue. Its a Huntsville and regional issue. sure there is more to come.

By David Bellow
An open letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board of Directors and the Texas Legislature about the Problems that allowed for the Escape at Stiles Prison. These problems are most likely problems in most Texas Prisons. Basically, the problem is Overworked Staff and Bad Correctional Officers.
David Puckett recently broke out of the Administrative Segregation section (Ad Seg) of Stiles Maximum Security Prison in Beaumont, TX. This is the MOST SECURE place in all of the Prison. In order to get out, he had to saw through solid steel bars that are over 1 inch thick. Not to mention he had a phone in the prison to help him plan the escape.
How could this have happened?

As a person who just recently worked as a correctional officer in the Administrative Segregation section of Stiles Prison, I can tell you how this could happen.

Link to the full story here !

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Texas one step closer to jamming illegal cell phone signals in prisons

 By Michael Willams, Backgate Website

Cell Phone Jamming Unit
Just days after Stiles unit escapee David Puckett was arrested in Nebraska after using a cell phone to assist him in fleeing the prison unit in Beaumont, TDCJ prison chief Brad Livingston has called for testing of signal jamming equipment at Stiles. Puckett is said to have used a smuggled cell phone to not only Facebook with a female friend in Nebraska that assisted with his escape plan, but also made cell phone calls over a long period of time. State officials claim the jammer testing could begin as soon as next week.

The only hurdle in the testing comes as radio signal jammers are in violation of federal law. We are told that there are some variations of the signal jammers that may pass under the radar but its not clear which technology the state is trying to purchase. The FCC also noted that there have not been any prosecutions under the 1934 based federal law in "many years". And that no one has filed any complaints regarding jamming of signals which normally consists of law enforcement agencies jamming signals during hostage situations and the like. Texas state legislator Jerry Madden stated that each cell phone jammer will cost the state from $500,000 to 2.5 million per prison unit. He stated that TDCJ should think about altering it's state housing policies to make employees pay more for state issued housing. Possibly market value. Despite the current budget shortfalls, legislators vow to find the money to secure state prisons. If TDCJ outfitted all prisons at the basic levels, it would cost taxpayers close to 58 million dollars. But surely only the worst facilities would be outfitted if the plan does materialize at all.

As an editorial on the situation, i have to say that the law put into place outlawing cell phones in prison has no deterrent factor whatsoever. When inmates are caught red handed with the cell phones, if they are prosecuted at all the back log of open cases filed or investigated by TDCJ OIG officials goes back years. Then you have to contend with county court systems that are just as back logged. Many times inmates have already paroled and been on the streets for years before the charges are even heard. The same goes for prosecuting staff members who are caught introducing the phones. They resign, are fired and move on. Sometimes going un-prosecuted. Hows that for a deterrent ? 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stiles unit inmate Facebooked and made cell phone calls to set up escape plan

 By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

 Mike Ward, a reporter with the Austin American Statesman has released information today that shows calls were made to a female friend of escaped and now recaptured Stiles unit inmate David Puckett dating back to September of 2010. TDCJ Office of Inspector General information confirmed that Puckett had used the cell phones capability to update posts on the popular social networking site Facebook. Accomplice Mattice Mayo, 25, was said to have been in contact with Puckett,27, using the FaceBook site as well as by phone.

Ward contacted Texas Senator John Whitmire  about the issue who stated, “This is absolutely outrageous,” Whitmire said. “Apparently the (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) is incapable of blocking cell phones from getting into prisons, and now one has been used in an escape. Before we experience a tragedy, this needs to be stopped.”

Whitmire demanded that Gov. Rick Perry authorize prison officials to immediately begin jamming cell-phone signals in state prisons.

“We need zero tolerance on cell phones in prisons. Whatever it takes,” Whitmire said.
“This state should do whatever it takes to stop cell phones from getting into prisons, and if the current leadership at TDCJ can’t do that, we need to find someone who can.”

Texas Senator John Whitmire
Whitmire echoed this same message during an interview with the Backgate just last year regarding cell phones behind bars. He stated to us then that he felt that TDCJ was not doing enough to combat the problems. Whitmire was instrumental in getting metal detectors placed on units for employee searches for contraband as they entered prison units after a 2008 Backgate, then KPRC channel 2 news Houston report on corruption and employee contraband issues at the Terrell prison in Brazoria County.

Whitmire also voiced concerns then during a special Senate hearing in which he publicly blasted TDCJ chief Brad Livingston, and OIG chief John Moriarty for their inaction in fixing the cell phone issues. It's come down to a point of hiring standards now. It may not be possible to do any more employee searching then the agency already legally does. Short of body cavity searches, I think the agency has done what it can to stem the flow of contraband in most cases, at most facilities. Jamming brings it's own issues, number one being the legality of it.

The ban against cell phone jammers isn't new. In fact, it's the musty old 1934 Communications Act that bans the jamming of any commercial radio communication, a law that predates not only jammers but cell phones themselves. The state of Texas would be in violation of the act if it attempted to use the jammers. The federal government can jam the airwaves in some cases, but states do not have that power or ability.  Movie theaters, Restaurant, and police agencies have all tried and failed to get permission to use jammers to stem unwanted cellular transmissions. It is said the the United States has the most strenuous jamming laws in the world. Canada, Mexico, Norway and a few others use jammers to stamp out cell phone use. And are using them successfully.

In support of Stiles unit senior Warden Richard Alford, who has been assigned to the unit for just a few months, open records information the Backgate obtained last month clearly showed improvement in contraband issues, and weeding out of corrupt employees. This escape may unfairly target him being he is at the helm of this perpetually troubled facility. So whats the answer ? How does the agency clean up or change the issues with contraband ? Does it all come down to hiring standards and the morals of those we hire for the little pay ?

Stiles escapee "touched up" a bit during arrest, new facts emerge in plan

Puckett after being captured in Omaha

By Backgate Wesbite Staff

 A report from Omaha Marshal's office authorities say that Puckett failed to listen to commands during his arrest and was brought down with a tazer. Just saw this report and pics. Way to go Omaha ! Also the pic of Puckett's "friend" were posted courtesy of the Omaha Police Department as was his.

The Houston Chronicle stated that David R. Puckett is expected to appear before a judge at a hearing to determine if he will waive extradition to Texas, said John Moriarty, Inspector General for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Mattice Mayo, also arrested with Puckett
Moriarty said Omaha resident Mattice Mayo, Puckett's friend, has been charged in Harris County with hindering apprehension connected to the case. She faces possible extradition to Harris County, Moriarty added.

Both Puckett and Mayo were being held without bond Tuesday at the Douglas County (Neb.) Corrections Center.
Moriarty said the woman alledgedly wired Puckett money, which he picked up in Houston and used to buy a bus ticket to Omaha.

Officials stated that there were kids present at the location and they feared a hostage situation would materialize if Puckett wasn't taken down quickly.

Stiles escapee caught in Omaha Nebraska

From the Backgate Website

Escaped Stiles inmate David Puckett was arrested at a girlfriends apartment in Omaha Nebraska today by members of the Texas Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force and Nebraska law enforcement officials. He was apprehended without incident after jumping from a second story window to avoid capture.

Puckett should be extradited back to Texas as early as tomorrow after seeing a Nebraska judge. Puckett may face an extra 20 years or more for his escape and theft of his getaway vehicle. The women with Puckett was not identified but was arrested by Nebraska authorities.

Now the Administrative review into the incident by TDCJ begins. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Failure rates high on the Texas prison guard career ladder

From our friends at Grits for Breakfast
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: 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

TDCJ: Prison Escapee Remains On Run

From KPRC Channel 2 Houston

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said David Puckett, 27, escaped from the Stiles Unit in Beaumont on Wednesday. The last time he was seen at the prison was in a recreation yard about 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, officials said."It was determined that he cut a small hole in the recreation yard that he was in," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said. "Then he scaled a perimeter fence that was covered in razor wire."

See entire article here !  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Perry now bending on possible use of rainy day fund

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website 

Just weeks ago, calls to Governor Rick Perry to use the states rainy day fund to help balance whats left of the states budget came with distinct "NOs" from the capitol. Now that may all be changing.  Rep. Jim Pitts , chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, filed a bill that would use nearly $4.3 billion of rainy-day funds to erase a shortfall in the current two-year cycle, which ends Aug. 31.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he favors tapping rainy-day money at least to fill the current budget’s hole — which he puts at just over $3 billion. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst stated that the Governors office "has not drawn a line in the sand" regarding using the funds, and is still willing to talk about it. This week the Texas Teachers Union let Governor Perry have for what they called the capitols back room, shady way of cutting teachers and school funds and then stating they had no hand in it.

Thousands of school teachers and other school district employees will lose their jobs as a result of the budget woes. Over 1,000 TDCJ employees have already lost their jobs, and more are on the chopping block as stated by the agency. I think if there was ever a time to use the rainy day fund, it would be now. As one post read under a story in the Houston Chronicle story regarding the use of the fund, "Governor Perry, It's raining." And we have to agree. Cutting teachers to make classes 22 students to 1 teacher is nuts. And taking TDCJ employee jobs that are essential to everyday business is not well thought out.

Maybe it's time for some casino gambling in Texas. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stiles unit offender on the run after scaling fence


Law enforcement officers are searching for a prisoner who escaped from the Mark Stiles Prison Unit by jumping over a fence Wednesday night.

Investigators believe David R. Puckett, 27, escaped at about 7 p.m. Wednesday.
He is serving a 30 year sentence out of Lavaca County for Aggravated Assault on a Public Servant, according to public records.

Authorities say Puckett was wearing prison whites and they believe he might have gotten into a white Chevrolet pickup truck with a silver toolbox and headed north on Cardinal Drive.
State troopers, Jefferson County Sheriff's officers, Beaumont Police and officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are searching for Puckett and stopping vehicles in the area near Cardinal Drive and West Port Arthur Road. They're also using K-9's.Officers say Puckett is about 5'5" and weighs about 150 pounds. He has red hair and brown eyes.

According to the TDCJ, Puckett was last seen in a recreation yard at about 6:45 p.m.
Officers found material from an offender uniform and socks on a nearby perimeter fence.
Puckett received a cut to his left arm while jumping over the fence. Officers urge the public not to pick up any hitchhikers in the area near the escape. According to public records, Puckett was arrested in June of 2001 for assaulting a public servant. He pleaded guilty in December of 2001 and received a 30 year sentence.

Puckett was received by TDCJ on Feb. 11, 2002. According to reports from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal , Puckett was a teenage runaway from Wisconsin who fled to Texas in 2001. According to the reports, he was stopped for not paying for gasoline at a service station in Lavaca County and stabbed an officer in the neck during a struggle following a chase in June, 2001. He was jailed in Halletsville on a charge of attempted capital murder. Anyone who believes they have seen Puckett should call their local law enforcement authorities, or the TDCJ Office of Inspector General.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New details of TYC-TJPC merger emerge

By Mike Ward,

As a coalition of groups endorsed the proposed merger of Texas’ two youth corrections agencies, new details emerged today on what the combined agency might look like if lawmakers approve the plan.
As much as $150 million might be saved during the next two years by merging the Texas Youth Commission, which runs Texas’ prison system for teenagers, and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which supervises county-run probation programs for youthful offenders, officials said...

See entire article here..

Saturday, March 5, 2011

TDCJ chaplains fighting for devine intervention to save their jobs: Senator John Whitmire weighs in.

From the Backgate:

Senator John Whitmire states in a release to the Backgate and other media outlets that " It will all come down to money." Whitmire also stated to the Backgate that he would rather put boots on the ground in security then keep chaplains if made to ultimately choose. But hates to consider cutting the spiritual leaders.
 From the Houston Chronicle:

Members of the state's religious community are fighting to save a $4.8 million program that sends chaplains into Texas prisons, saying volunteers and prison guards can't handle the job.
"Chaplaincy is the heart and soul of the prison system," said Rabbi Dovid Goldstein, who oversees services and other programs for Jewish prisoners. "A body without a soul is a piece of dead meat."
Goldstein testified before the Senate Finance Committee last week, part of the outcry after the proposed budget in the House of Representatives killed the program to help address a shortfall of at least $15 billion. The Senate version would cut but not abolish the program.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TDCJ admits in open records release, the overtime policy was never changed to incorporate call ins.

 By Robert Mann, Backgate Website

After weeks of asking for the information from the TDCJ media services division in vain, an open records request to TDCJ human resources answered our questions. TDCJ administrative directive 11.50 which covers the implementation of overtime within the agency, was never amended or changed to include the mandating of employees using their accrued sick time to work overtime. TDCJ director of public information Michelle Lyons was asked to provide a statement as to why TDCJ unit wardens all over the state were mandating employees to work overtime merely because they called in sick during their work week. We never received a response.

In a story we published last week, the Backgate noted several emails from TDCJ staff all over the state who claim they were singled out for overtime based on the fact that they called in a day during their work cycle. Some of those writing in are employees verified as being cancer patients, and others with documented chronic illnesses. They were mandated to work overtime based on the fact that they called in. After our story became public last week, several Texas Legislators were contacted and began weighing in on the practice. A few days ago TDCJ announced that employees would not be mandated based on their sick time status, and would be picked based on the original system of volunteers then mandatory based on card schedule and alphabetically.

But.. as a result of those units mandating overtime based on calling in sick, some employees refused and were charged with violating policy. Some were suspended, others faced only probation. So what will happen now that TDCJ has retracted the practice due to the legality of it ? Upcoming employee grievances will tell the tale. If you have been affected and would like to tell your story, comment or email us here !