Saturday, June 25, 2011

Can imprisonment rehabilitate?

 From Our Friends at the Grits For Breakfast Blog

The US Supreme Court yesterday held in Tapia v. United States (pdf) that federal law "does not permit a sentencing court to impose or lengthen a prison term in order to foster a defendant’s rehabilitation" in federal cases. (See SCOTUSWiki's case backup page, Doug Berman's first-take analysis here, and coverage from the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, McClatchy Newspapers, and UPI.)

The defendant had been sentenced to the Bureau of Prisons with a recommendation that she participate in the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), but Ms. Tapia argued that the terms of the sentence (a lesser sentence for completing a rehabilitation program," violated a Congressional command that judges “recogniz[e] that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation.” Justice Kagan's opinion declares that "A court does not err by discussing the opportunities for rehabilitation within prison or the benefits of specific treatment or training programs." And a footnote mentions that “Congress did not intend to prohibit courts from imposing less imprisonment in order to promote a defendant’s rehabilitation.” But in this case, wrote Kagan, "the record indicates that the District Court may have increased the length of Tapia’s sentence to ensure her completion of RDAP, something a court may not do."

Read the entire article here !

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Central unit debacle continues

Central Prison Unit/ Houston Chronicle Photo
By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

After news was released here that TDCJ would be closing the doors of the 102 year old Central prison unit in Sugarland, there has been little or no other information offered to it's staff. Although the agency states that the unit will not be funded after August 31st, the actual "final call" will be as late as December according to what some agency administrators are saying. Employees residing in state housing at the unit are said to have been given an August 31st deadline to be out of their houses. Those employees will then remain in limbo until they are transferred to other units in the area and beyond.

Many employees we spoke with are aggravated that the agency has not opened up positions in Region III for them to apply for. There are no security related jobs posted in Region III as of today. Being unable to apply for internal positions and not knowing when they will be released to transfer is taking a toll on some staff members we are told. The only two positions verified as being administratively moved to other units as Central closes are the unit Major and Captain. Others still have not been addressed.

Another employee we spoke to via email stated " We personally have small school age children that will need to be enrolled in school somewhere prior to August 31st. School starts the week before that and at this point none of us with families know where we will end up. We understand the issue wasn't created by TDCJ, and all we ask is that we know something soon so we can make arrangements and continue on with our lives."

This seemed to be the general consensus in the dozens of emails we received regarding the Central unit's closure. Employees weren't displacing blame on the agency for the closure. Only aggravated that no one in an administrative position has addressed the issues surrounding the closure and the plan as to where employees will be able to transfer to and when.

TDCJ Windham schools facing cutbacks today

By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

News spread like wildfire yesterday that as of 10 AM this morning, 75 or more Windham TDCJ school teachers would receive reduction if force (RIF) letters basically laying them off. This action comes after the Legislative session ended with lawmakers still unable to fill critical gaps in the budget. Windham, which is technically the largest school district in Texas, has stated that principals may also become involved in the reductions at some point as well. "The next few months will be critical for the district" said one Windham administrator. Lets hope it doesn't reach too far. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Backgate now available in mobile format

The Backgate Website is now available in the mobile format for iphone, PDA and android users. It loads fast and ques up all the latest stories and information from the website ! Check us out on your mobile device.

Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble

by John Burnett

The country with the highest incarceration rate in the world — the United States — is supporting a $3 billion private prison industry. In Texas, where free enterprise meets law and order, there are more for-profit prisons than any other state. But because of a growing inmate shortage, some private jails cannot fill empty cells, leaving some towns wishing they'd never gotten in the prison business.

It seemed like a good idea at the time when the west Texas farming town of Littlefield borrowed $10 million and built the Bill Clayton Detention Center in a cotton field south of town in 2000. The charmless steel-and-cement-block buildings ringed with razor wire would provide jobs to keep young people from moving to Lubbock or Dallas. For eight years, the prison was a good employer. Idaho and Wyoming paid for prisoners to serve time there. But two years ago, Idaho pulled out all of its contract inmates because of a budget crunch at home. There was also a scandal surrounding the suicide of an inmate. Shortly afterward, the for-profit operator, GEO Group, gave notice that it was leaving, too. One hundred prison jobs disappeared. The facility has been empty ever since.

See the entire article here !

TDCJ 'Going California'?: Prison health under-funded by nine figures

UTMB/ TDCJ  Hospital in Galveston
 From our friends at the Grits for Breakfast Blog

The big news in the corrections field recently has been the US Supreme Court's order for California to de-incarcerate its overstuffed prisons because of a failure to provide adequate healthcare. But Texas is setting itself up for the same type of situation with recently announced cuts to the prison health budget. Universities providing prison healthcare said prior to the 82nd Legislature that they weren't compensated for $57 million in healthcare services in the last biennium. The Legislature covered last year's shortfall in House Bill 4, but then they slashed another $71.5 million from prison healthcare over the next two years.

So if the last biennial budget was $57 million short and budget writers cut another $71.5 million without reducing the number of prisoners, the shortfall in the next two years - assuming the same levels of care - would run to $126.5 million, or around $800 per prisoner - a smaller reduction than earlier drafts of the budget but still around a 14% cut. In response, Grits commenters who work at TDCJ say thousands of clinic visits have already been canceled and operating room schedules have been reduced. While some of these services may not have been medically necessary, it's hard to imagine those levels of reductions without impacting actually needed services. As one commenter declared, "The system is clearly going California."

Even taking into account allegations by the state auditor that UTMB overcharged the state $37 million in the last biennium for services not covered under their contract, that's still nearly $90 million short of the amount needed to provide services that state officials already considered barely constitutional. (And notably, the state reimbursed universities for all the alleged overcharges, siding with UTMB over the state auditor.) A new $100 annual fee will replace $3 copays for inmates, but if there's no money in their commissary account they don't have to pay and nobody thinks it will remotely cover the shortfall. (UPDATE/CORRECTION: The bill to revamp inmate copays died unexpectedly on the last day but has been revived in the special session, reports the Statesman's Mike Ward.)

Go see the entire article at Grits ...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Central prison unit tagged for closure, funding stops Sept 1st 2011, TDCJ admin still have not addressed employees.

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

The current staff members employed at the Central unit in Sugarland  will have until December 1, 2011 now as part of a new plan to shutter the 102 year old facility, but TDCJ administrators still have not addressed affected staff members with plans. Signed legislation red tagged the facility almost a month ago, and a statement the Backgate received from TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons stated that the prison would not be funded past August 31, 2011. TDCJ has now stated that the facility has now begun the process of assisting employees find a new position within the agency, and even relocating employees housed in state supplied housing on the facility grounds.

Posted supervisory and other positions have been closed to allow Central unit staff members a shot at promoting out, or transferring out from the unit. A plan that may be too little to late in the eyes of some employees. During the legislative session, it was alleged by Central unit employees that the unit administration muzzled them and prevented them from speaking out publicly regarding the unit's closure. Allegations that TDCJ has denied. But now employees are speaking out regarding the lack of information, and lack of caring TDCJ has shown in dealing with the sensitive process of employees being forced to leave their homes and move there families out of the area. Employees have emailed us here stating that the administration has failed to pass along updates, information on relocating, or any other information to them as a whole since the ordeal began months back. Most have become frustrated and given up.

Many employees have grown roots in the Fort Bend County area near the facility and have expressed fear in being able to relocate their families to another area to continue there employment without driving long distances with high gas prices in place. It seems there needs to be more open communication and caring between TDCJ admin and the employees of Central. Updates need to be relayed to employees as it may affect there lives. It's not the fault of TDCJ why the facility is closing, but it's the fault of TDCJ that employees are having to reach out to the media for information that the agency should be supplying themselves.

As TDCJ recruiting slows, overtime usage increases.

By Victoria Anderson, Backgate Website 

TDCJ facilities statewide have posted dwindling numbers of Correctional Officers to staff there prisons, and there seems to be no relief in sight.  The Huntsville Correctional Training academy now trains the majority of the recruits themselves, leaving some satellite regional training facilities with little to do. TDCJ states that the Region III training facility located in Rosharon has suspended new recruit training classes and has been focusing exclusively on staff in-service classes for the past few months. That facility once held classes for new recruits numbering 90-120 employees every 6 weeks.

With budget cuts looming for the agency, and employees being laid off due to those spending cuts, the agency has slowed recruiting down to see what happens with the state budget.  In the mean time, prison facilities statewide are reporting staffing issues as administrators are having problems keeping their "priority one" duty posts filled and in compliance with agency policy. Overtime usage has started to rise once again and appears to be the only way to fill the voids. Even though the agency seeks to send employees home prior to them accruing overtime hours that would lead to a paycheck, many staff members are now supplementing their incomes by working overtime.

The Backgate has submitted a request for the number of empty Correctional Officer positions statewide, and the amount of overtime usage for the entire state. As that information is made available to us, we will pass it on by updating this story. What is your take on the overtime, staffing situation where you work ? Has staffing created a dangerous work environment ? Do you favor overtime pay for current staff over the hiring of new staff ? Let us know what you think by posting comments below.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When to Hold Them & When to Fold Them

By Tracy Barnhart
Backgate Contributing Author

When I refer to the Hold Them and Fold Them analogy what I am talking about is knowing when its time either to engage or disengage physically from a potentially assaultive inmate. I responded to a call for assistance a few weeks ago and I observed an officer attempting to verbally de-escalate an inmate who was visible angry and violent. The officer made several mistakes in the de-escalation process but was incredibly determined to talk the inmate down without the need to use physical intervention. So determined, in fact, that he continued verbalization even after the inmate assaulted him and struck the officer in the side of the head.

The inmate was never physically engaged and taken to the ground after the blatant assault took place. Incredibly, I can not blame the officer totally for his actions during this critical incident. Instead, the cultural climate within correctional institutions need to take much of the blame because of their often times hands off policy. Correctional officers are constantly cautioned not to touch the inmates and to continuously verbalize to attempt to gain voluntary compliance even after it has become unsafe to do so. The problem is that the type of clientele that we deal with often considers this type of action as weakness and fear. Many correctional institutions have adopted the liberal plaintiff attorney’s point of view that physical intervention is never appropriate and we have painted ourselves into a preverbal corner with our hands off policies and practices.

Understand; voluntary compliance is the desired result. The accomplishment of voluntary compliance is preferred because of staff and inmate safety, as well as the legal and administrative pursuit to reduce conflict whenever possible. How we attempt to accomplish this goal is a source of debate throughout the correctional and law enforcement cultures.

Correctional facilities have almost become the Al-Qaeda terrorist style criminal training camps and finishing schools which lead to the increase level of violence inside and outside our correctional institutions. Too often, our officers are assaulted and have become punching bags for the inmates – even as become more dangerous with the addition of Mixed Martial Arts training to their fighting skills. Yet, with all these assaults, the excessive recidivism rate, and increased inmate manipulation that leads to staff degradation, we are often told that we just need to take it and remain professional because, “it’s part of our jobs.”

We need to remember the S.A.F.E.R. Concept developed by Dr. George Thompson that states that although our goal is always to generate voluntary (verbal) compliance that there are times when words alone don’t work.

When SECURITY is violated, an ASSAULT takes place, an inmate FLEES from an officer, there is EXCESSIVE REPETITION, and/or REVISED PRIORITIES exist, that action is needed. This Action may include disengaging, calling for and waiting for more backup to arrive, and/or escalating to physical control techniques – but action, not inaction is needed.

Prerequisites for Use of Force Escalation: What factions need to be considered before escalating to physical intervention techniques?

  • Is the action worth the risk of injury to yourself or the aggressor?
  • Does the individual have the opportunity to comply with your lawful commands?
  • Is the current course of action (verbal or non-verbal) accomplishing the desired results?
  • What is the totality of the known situational circumstances?
Ultimately your safety must be your first concern with your administration’s legal umbrella second. With that said, we want to talk about knowing when to engage or disengage from your opponent. There are several instances when you may be creating aggression and not even knowing it.

“Force is defined as the exertion of power to compel or restrain the behavior of another. Physical force implies the touching or prodding of a resistor to comply with the state agents demands. Non-physical force implies the use of threats or other verbalization techniques to gain voluntary compliance. “CONTROLLED VIOLENCE!”

There is a useful formula that assists you in evaluated a threat.

Does the Threat Have?

  1. The INTENT: Causing you or a third party physical injury, serious physical harm or death? The threat may be from non-compliance or your direction, or being defiant. In an explanation, intent is the expression through verbal threats or threats acted out physically, the intent of causing you or third party harm. “I’m going to beat your ass.”
  2. The MEANS: Causing you or a third party physical injury, serious physical harm, or death? In an explanation, means is the ability to cause you or third party harm. Means can include the physical size, skill or ability as well as possession of a weapon or improvised weapon.
  3. The OPPORTUNITY: Causing you or a third party physical injury, serious physical harm or death. In an explanation, does the individual have the opportunity to cause you or third party harm? Based on proximity and environment. Opportunity varies dependant on type of means being employed by the individual.
Once you have INTENT, MEANS, and OPPORTUNTY, and have precluded all reasonable alternatives, you have the legal right and responsibility to physically act.

Closing The GAP: Officers often make the mistake of approaching a potentially assaultive inmate in an attempt to calm the situation. Closing the gap on an individual can bring about a verity of negative results.

When we talk about closing the gap what I mean is there are four different zones and a reactionary gap that surround an individual.
  1. The Intimate Zone (6” – 18”),
  2. Personal Zone (18” – 4’),
  3. Social Zone (4’ – 12’), and
  4. Public Zone (12’ – over.)
The reactionary gap as a rule, if we are within four feet of a person, and that person decides to punch, kick, push, spit, or stab us, there are few options available to prevent this action from connecting.

“Almost every animal is capable of self defense, from the smallest rodent up to the largest elephant. All will fight furiously when cornered and there appears to be no avenue of escape. The most violent fighting behavior is motivated by fear or rage which in turn can multiply a fighter’s strength ten-fold.”

When closing the gap on an individual in order to physically control, verbalize, reposition or make further interactions you must understand that you will leave the individual three options: Resist, Submit, or Flee.

In attempting to control an individual, there are four types of Cornering Tactics that officers make on an individual inmate during a contact that may generate aggression and a rapid decision-making in the inmate that may lead to violence:
  • Angular Cornering: physically boxing the individual in a corner or in a room where they now have no means of escape. Therefore anxiety has increased and their options have now diminished. They will feel as if you have trapped them and they have to respond to your authority.
  • Surrounded Cornering: this is an attempt to show force by two or more officers a semi circle around the individual or backing them against a wall. We see this often after a call for assistance and multiple officers arrive and zone in on the individual.
  • Contact Cornering: this type of cornering is the physical act of grabbing the individual. The person is cornered in the terms of limiting their available movement options. You must understand that there is an increased operability of a physical response once you place hands on.
  • Psychological Cornering: This type of cornering is when you give a direct order or command without any options and the individual must now respond appropriately. This forces a person to make rapid decisions to either obey or resist and face in front of their peers and face possible future repercussions.
We may be generating many levels of aggression without even knowing that we are causing the individual to make choice options.

When we talk about verbalization or de-escalation I have to stress to you, “that this action only works when it is Safe for us to do so.” If the individual is exhibiting aggressive or assaultive behaviors, it is not safe for us to get in close and verbalize with this individual. At this point the individual does not want to hear anything that you have to say. So, until he is at a point of understanding what you are attempting to do, your verbal attempts may be generating more aggression than calming. Keep your distance, call for assistance and while continuing to attempt stabilize the situation verbally. It is not safe for you to approach at this time and doing so may actually cause the inmate to assault you.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see is the excessive repetition and attention that we give to defiant inmates in an attempt to generate voluntary compliance. They will remain defiant because they know exactly at what point we have to go before we will force the issue. It is all viewed as weakness and when you swim among sharks, weakness is a detriment to your safety and the safety of the entire system. Remember Dr. Thompson’s caution that “On the Street or in the Institution (excessive) repetition is viewed as weakness.”

Draw upon the pride and knowledge of our predecessors before us and revel in the knowledge that you walk among greatness. True correctional professionals are not only great communicators but also skilled in physical intervention. The secret is to know when to change gears. Defensive Tactics, at its best, is truly a system of verbalization skills coupled with physical alternatives. Although we cannot control the cards we are dealt, we can control the decision making process of what we do with these cards. Your physical safety, as well as, legal safety requires that you know when to Hold Them and When to Fold Them. You need to develop these survival skills. Train as if your life depends upon it; because, someday it just might.

Death of reputed Aryan leader stumps police

When police found a heavily-tattooed, dying man slumped in a pickup truck crashed along U.S. 59 in mid-May, he had so many different identification cards they reportedly didn't know his name.
It would be many hours before police would realize he was the top general of one of the state's most notorious underworld organizations.
Questions still surround the death of Frank E. Roch Jr., the alleged head of the of largest faction of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a powerful white-supremacist prison gang.
"It was widely understood, at least in law enforcement circles, he was the general of generals," said John Bales, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.