Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Senators, TDCJ administrators on hand to kick off Seminary project on Darrington

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

The brainchild of Senators Whitmire and Patrick, the Darrington Seminary project was kicked off Monday during a visit to the Darrington unit in Region III by both Senators along with TDCJ administrators. The new seminary program is sponsored by the Southwest Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and will train felons to become ministers.

It's a 125 credit hour four year program and once completed inmates will receive a degree. The program was patterned after a Louisiana based program that mirrors this one and is said to have had a positive calming effect on some of that states most violent prisons.

Both Senators addressed prospective offenders in the unit chapel  regarding the new pilot program. Also on hand was TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston.

 Photos Provided courtesy of  Senator Dan Patrick

Senator Whitmire (left) and Senator Patrick (center) speak to offenders.

From Left to right- Senator Dan Patrick, Darrington Senior Warden Brenda Chaney, TDCJ Exec. Director Brad Livingston, Senator John Whitmire

Darrington unit chapel service honoring the new Seminary Program

Sunday, August 28, 2011

State Legislators, others visit Region III Darrington unit Monday to kick off prison seminary project

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

Though thought to be ill conceived by many, it's creators Criminal Justice Committee chair John Whitmire and Senator Dan Patrick say the program will reduce violence. The new seminary program is sponsored by the Southwest Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and will train felons to become ministers. It's a 125 credit hour four year program and once completed inmates will receive a degree. The program was patterned after a Louisiana based program that mirrors this one and is said to have had a positive calming effect on some of that states most violent prisons.

State Legislators, TDCJ administrators and even rumors that the Lt. Governor may attend have put Darrington on alert we are told. How do you corral dozens of politicians through a metal detector and pat search process ? Guess after Monday we will know.

Private Prisons in Texas will lose business with new law to deport illegal immigrant criminals

Backgate Says;

Found this in the Austin American Statesman written by Mike Ward. The state just might be on to something here with this one. Let their own countries deal with them. What positives do you see in this legislation ? Comment below the story.

In a move that could save taxpayers millions of dollars, state parole officials Wednesday took the first steps to begin deporting some of the 11,000 foreign citizens who are serving time in Texas prisons.
The state Board of Pardons and Paroles grilled federal immigration officials at an Austin meeting to make sure the foreign citizens they want to deport — most probably back to Mexico — will actually be sent to their home countries, not turned loose in Texas.
"We're concerned that they're not deported and they're just released to the street," said Parole Board Chairwoman Rissie Owens of Huntsville. "We hear horror stories. With all of our votes, public safety is the main issue."
Under a state law that takes effect Sept. 1, the parole board can begin approving convicts for parole on the condition that they are deported to their home country. The law covers foreigners convicted of both violent and nonviolent crimes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Whitmire disgusted with TDCJ, again.

 By Mike Ward, Statesman

The chairman of the state Senate committee that oversees Texas’ prison system, angry over what he perceives as fiscal missteps by top brass, called this morning for the agency’s headquarters to be consolidated in Austin.
“It’s time to do things differently,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “Maybe when there were no prisons any place other than east and south Texas, Huntsville made sense for the headquarters. But they have offices there and in Austin now, and we should do away with duplication and move it all to Austin.”
Whitmire’s comments came after he blasted prison officials earlier this week for holding a briefing session for the agency’s 30 top officials at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park, between Austin and Huntsville, just days after most of those officials were in Austin for a meeting of the prison system’s governing board.
And he criticized the agency’s expenditure of more than $1.2 million to maintain a vacant federal Veterans Administration hospital in Marlin, near Waco. Four years ago it was to have been turned into a prison hospital, but that project is on indefinite hold.

Read entire article here ! 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

FNG’S are not prepared

By Tracy Barnhart, 
Contributing Backgate Training Author

I have authored countless training articles in hopes that the information I provide will someday provide officers the ability to identify and prevent violence during their shift.  I have said many times that the initial education and annual training correctional agencies all across the country provide are not meeting the requirements that will give new officers the ability to remain safe and be able to effectively interact in a correctional environment.  It is always great when independent organizations support your education & beliefs and verify what you have been saying for years now.  For those of you that follow my training and informational articles this is nothing new for this is the whole reason I started writing in the first place. 

“Current training may leave new officers more vulnerable”

·        The average officer within months of leaving an academy will be able only to describe how a given suspect-control technique should be used but will have “little ability” to actually apply it effectively in “a dynamic encounter with a defiantly resistant subject.”

·        At the rate academy and in-service training is typically delivered, it could take the average Corrections Officer up to 45 years to receive the number of hours of training and practice in command-and-control and officer-safety techniques that a young student athlete gets through practice and education in competitive sporting events during the usual high school career.

·        Many Correctional training programs are not employing modern research-based methods of successfully teaching psychomotor skills, a shortcoming compounded by the fact that current record-keeping fails to capture even the most elementary relevant information about the dynamic nature of real-world assaults on officers.

 These are but a few of the findings that will be included in an assessment of training in the U.S. and the United Kingdom that has been conducted across the last 3 years by the Force Science Institute.  Wherever they are based, if officers are unprepared to meet the various threats and levels of resistance and violence they face, it can impair their ability to make good judgments, to affect control, and to avoid injury or death to himself or herself.  This fact in itself leads to the excessively high turnover rates among correctional agencies.  Therefore, if I were to give some advice to a new officer what would be some things that I would want to know that would give me a better chance of success.

“I would say, Jump on this website and start reading and educating yourself!”

Take into consideration the amount of practice that you do involving your agency response to resistance techniques.  If your agency is like mine, that would be about eight hours per year during recertification, at slow speeds, with your partner acting a specific way.  That would be like asking a martial arts instructor to give you a black belt worth of knowledge but he could only train you eight hours per year.  Most instructors that I know would laugh at you and walk away.  However, your administration, community and court systems expect that level of expertise from you as it relates to your use of force incidents.  You are expected to win, not get hurt, and not hurt the inmate.  Not one of us would bet $5 on a football game in which we knew that the quarterback only had practiced with the ball only one time in the past year.

Remember those terms in previous articles, Reasonable, Excessive and liability?  Are you confident in your ability to be reasonable?  How about your ability restraining an inmate while you are being video taped and not being excessive?  Will you use the techniques properly and as instructed or will you write in your reports that you Attempted the proper agency technique only to have to abandon the maneuver during the restraint and do something else that actually works?

Training shortcomings that threaten survival

Any departmental self-defense techniques need to have a two-pronged approach;

  1. Having techniques that allow an officer to enact the strategy of advancing from one position into a more dominating one {positional moves.}

  1. Those techniques that allow an officer to finish a fight quickly and efficiently {submission moves.}
 We run into problem with administrations attempting to water down martial arts techniques in order to alleviate the pain aspect of their maneuvers.  All techniques are by their nature Pain Compliance or Submission Techniques.  If you take away the motivation of pain to establish voluntary compliance, then there will be no compliance with your commands in the mind of a defiant criminal.  They must be shown, better yet feel, that if they voluntarily comply, the pain will stop, thereby giving them the motivation to obey your commands.

Officers and supervisors need to evaluate handling of real-life events with a critical eye. Do we have the skills and fortitude to recognize mistakes have been made and take corrective actions?
Consider the Navy Blue Angels flight team. At the end of every flight, there is a debriefing in which rank is taken off the table and every member can feel safe to do self-criticism or constructive criticism of another team member.  Corrections need to adopt this same mentality where pre- and post-performance is evaluated with a critical eye, with the focus on improvement rather than castigation or discipline.  The answers to these questions should be addressed:

  1. Is our self-protection techniques based in reality, work when used, and easy to apply?
  2. Do we need more training?
  3. How could we have prevented or avoided the violent incident from happening?

Look out among the predators of the institution.  Watch them as they do countless push-ups and train themselves into physical combatants in which you might someday have to physically restrain.  Are you ready?  Do you have the stamina to withstand an onslaught of punches in an all out assault until your back up arrives?  It is one thing to look back ten years ago when you were in great shape and in a martial arts class three times a week.  Look at yourself now.  Are you as ready now, as you were then?  One thing you have to consider when working in a prison setting.  You are getting older everyday yet the average age of the inmates are staying steady at a young average.  Inmates come in and get out and new young aggressive inmates fill their open beds.  You however, get older, more and more out of shape everyday.  This is why we must keep ourselves in shape and condition our bodies for combat.  We walk among the predators of society without question.  Our abilities must reflect our authority to tame these aggressive predators without question. 

Taxpayers pick up tab for empty would-be prison hospital

— Four years ago, state officials heralded the gift of a red brick hospital in a residential neighborhood, unveiling plans to convert the onetime Veterans Affairs center into a prison hospital for women.
Today, after funding for the project evaporated, the six-story building remains vacant. But Texas taxpayers continue to pick up the tab for maintaining the empty structure — $1.2 million and counting, officials said.
Prison officials said they are following the wishes of the Legislature, but a key lawmaker whose committee oversees the prison agency said keeping the building makes little sense in such tight budget times. Meanwhile, the female prisoners whom the hospital was intended to serve continue to be transported to the Gulf Coast when they require hospitalization.
"There are no plans to move ahead with that project at present, because there is no funding," said Brian Collier, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "The Legislature had it transferred to this agency. We are obligated to keeping it in a holding pattern until they decide what they want us to do with it."

Check out the full article here ! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Contraband 101: The conclusion

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website
Check out the below statistics on cell phone confiscations 
within TDCJ dating back to 2008. Have the numbers improved
or have they become progressively worse ? You be the judge.

Calender Year 2008

Month Number of Incidents of Cell Phones Found
June 80
July 114
August 121
September 123
October 174
November 91
December 100
Calendar Year 2009
Month Number of Cell Phones Not Intercepted
January 118
February 78
March 88
April 101
May 83
June 90
July 87
August 93
September 129
October 83
November 84
December 76
Calendar Year 2010
Month Number of Cell Phones Not Intercepted
January 65
February 71
March 86
April 98
May 62
June 45
July 67
August 65
September 68
October 58
November 48
December 58
Calendar Year 2011 (Through June 2011)
Month Number of Cell Phones Not Intercepted
January 67
February 48
March 58
April 86
May 57
June 44
(Explanation of statistics: TDCJ first counted numbers of total phones found inside and outside.
they then began logging them as found prior to being introduced (found) and the phones found
inside the secure perimeter (phones not intercepted). 

The AFSCME Union had this to say when we asked their opinion about how TDCJ is
currently handling issues with contraband:
"The AFSCME Union believes the overall problem with contraband in TDCJ is not the
fault of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice or Brad Livingston.  From our
experience blame should fall on the Texas House Appropriations Committee and Rick
Perry.  The Texas Board of Criminal Justice and Brad Livingston supported in full
the 20% increase in pay for Texas Correctional Officers.  The House Appropriations
Committee and the Governor's Office did not support the increase in pay.  Without
proper pay TDCJ is forced to take short cuts in recruiting qualified applicants to
keep positions filled."  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Years-long isolation of inmates under attack


Spread among 22 prisons, Texas has more inmates in so-called "ad-seg" than most other states in the nation. They have been deemed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to be "confirmed" members of gangs, too organized, predatory and violent to mix with the 150,000 prisoners in general populations. 

They serve their time in cages of about 9 feet by 7 feet with cement walls outfitted with solid steel doors or bars covered with mesh."We ain't the most likeable or most welcomed group in society," concedes 38-year-old Anastacio Garcia, a robber from the Rio Grande Valley who has been in isolation here for 15 years. "We sit here day in and day out, basically rotting ourselves away."
Another 4,000 or so inmates are serving temporary stints in ad-seg as punishment for breaking rules or being escape risks. Their cells are identical to those on death row. The American Civil Liberties Union and others contend ad-seg imprisonment is cruel and makes inmates meaner and more dysfunctional by the time they are freed

Read more: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7699504.html#ixzz1VERssein


Backgate Says : 

The media along with the general public's perception of Administrative Segregation is way off base. Ad-seg is full of violent gang members, problematic major disciplinary  prone offenders, and escape risks. These offenders have proven themselves worthy of their assignment to that status. At what point are these offenders held accountable for placing themselves in one of those categories to win a stint in ad-seg ? Or even the fact that they willingly committed crimes on the outside that society saw fit to put them behind bars for in the first place. I invite the media to spend a full shift in a Texas prison working the Ad-Seg wing before making a judgement based on perception gained in an office setting watching prison based reality shows on TV...

What are your thoughts ?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Contraband 101: has anything really changed in the past three years ? Part Two ...

As a followup to the article published two weeks ago, this is the second in the series of the three part story. In the series, we are looking at the difference in how contraband interdiction was handled three years ago as the Terrell unit corruption probe was in the news and in special session in Austin, and how it's handled today. TDCJ employees from all over Texas complained via email about the use of Xray machines and Walk through metal detectors on selected units in the state. They contended that there was no real documented training on the units, and no training program in effect at pre-service or inservice training focused on these new tools. The employees also questioned the effectiveness of having their friends (co-workers) perform searches on them and how those searches weren't always thorough. Two weeks ago we spoke with Texas Senator John Whitmire on the matter who stated ;

" I have used every tool available to draw attention and seek TDCJ's total
commitment to a zero tolerance on contraband items, from conducting hearings, 
working with the Finance Committee on funding and direct appeals to the individuals
who run the prison system.  At the end of the day it is up to Oliver Bell, along with 
the other governor's appointees and Brad Livingston to fix the problem and run 
TDCJ appropriately." 
  In this story we spoke to Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Oliver Bell, who is no stranger to the Backgate. Employees brought up issues with the lack of real documented training and consistency in using Xray machines and walk through metal detectors to scan employees entering some selected TDCJ units.. We showed him the statement made by Senator Whitmire and asked him what his thoughts were on the issues. He had this to say.

" First let me say that the majority of your co-workers in the TDCJ are
exceptional people who are dedicated to accomplishing their job in the
safest most efficient manner possible each day and for this they deserve
the thanks of all Texans."

" Security training, as well as training in a number of other areas, is an
ongoing and sustained process that touches many areas of our operations.
Security training is not a static onetime event.  It also includes
pre-service, in-service, and training on new equipment and search
procedures that occur during the course of day-to-day operations."
" TDCJ employees have excelled in pat searches, wand searches, monitoring
traditional walk through detection devices and at some locations have
recently been trained and exposed to new equipment and technology to help
further identify and stop contraband."

 "Training on the operation of the security monitoring equipment has been
provided by vendor representatives directly to front line staff at
appropriate facilities. This staff in turn has served as trainers on the
units to teach their fellow staff members.  It is this training that helps
us operate effectively and also learn more about the operation of specific
equipment.  This subsequently allows the staff to look for other
opportunities to enhance our security operations."

" I do not know anyone on the TDCJ leadership or any member of the
organization that would not seek ways to improve security and implement
those ideas whenever operationally or financially possible."

"These procedures helped us intercept over 400 cell phones last year before
they reached offenders.  Further we have the lowest cell phone infiltration
rate of any large corrections system in the nation. That is still not good
enough because our goal is to have none."

"While our staff continues to screen, some people continue to test us.  When
they are caught we make every effort to use the law to our best advantage
to discourage crimes of this type.  We are not giving up or giving in, and
I thank your co-workers for all their efforts."

"The bottom line is, while we will never be satisfied as long as any
contraband reaches the offender population, search procedures and security
equipment are clearly having an impact.  The number of cell phones found in
Texas prisons has declined. The agency leadership is open to any
suggestions or ideas on how we can be more effective to the benefit of the
public safety of Texans."

Oliver J. Bell
Chairman, Texas Board of Criminal Justice
That being said, join us next time for the actual numbers on contraband seizures 
statewide as supplied by TDCJ and compare them with those of three years ago. Find
out what the largest TDCJ employee union has to say about those numbers. 
(In all fairness to the agency, while researching information for this story via open 
records requests, it was determined that training was conducted on the xray machines
 and metal detectors on most of the units polled, although that training was not always
 documented. To date there is still no training supplied within the curriculum at yearly
 Officer inservice or pre-service classes.)   

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Leadership for Challenging Times

 By Tracy Barnhart, Contributing Backgate Training Author

In the past I have been fairly critical of the supervision I have seen within the law enforcement and correctional community.  I have given very graphics examples and descriptions of the poor efforts being applied by many managers in all aspects of the administrative roles of our agencies.  And yet I have been given an opportunity to offer a solution to the problems administrators of today as well as the supervisors of tomorrow will experience.  An action plans so to speak, a detailed roadmap to deal with change and how to become a better decision maker and a leader whom your officers will want to follow and excel for.   They will sacrifice and extend loyalty and they will grow and develop.

The first thing I would tell all new and present supervisors is this; “Teach your job to someone else and learn someone else’s job.”  Take a minute and ask yourself this question, “Are we a Para-Military organization or are we just playing military?”  In no other profession do we promote people into supervisory roles within our agencies and then we might give you the training on how to do their job.  Our supervisors are so poorly trained that most of the training is left up to “on the job training” to fulfill the education aspects of a supervisor.  The actual military has found out that this little bit of leadership information could lead to either a victory or failure within their organization.  Each member must know how to do everyone’s job in case the inevitable ever happens… 

In our agencies it seems that administrators are afraid that someone exhibiting a greater knowledge will take their job so they keep their information secret in an attempt to seem more knowledgeable that the rest.  In reality smart leaders surround themselves with people that are smarter than themselves.  Realize, each of us are no better than anyone else in the room, we all just have different experiences.  A leader’s goal is to do three things for their officers:

  1. Educate
  2. Stimulate
  3. Motivate

When things are not working well and there is a failure and frustration, there will always be some violations of the rule of leadership.  Leadership is easy, being a good leader is however, very hard.  As supervisors strive to make difficult decisions I will give you a simple checklist to work from. 

  1. Will this decision benefit the workers?
  2. Is the change in line with the mission and vision of the organization?
  3. Is the change specific and clear?
  4. Can we test the change before the final decision is made?
Decision Making under Stress is crucial, it’s not enough to keep from panicking under life-and-death conditions so the effective command leader must be able to think clearly and make critical split decisions under fire as the preverbal “shit is hitting the fan.”  This requires the ability to tune out the noise, take in and distill the relevant environmental data, and come up with a useful response.  The key is not to be “relaxed,” but to maintain an optimal arousal state of focused concentration without distracting anxiety.  Sometimes subtitled under the heading of “charisma,” this leadership quality is more than just the brashness and swagger that this term implies.  Rather, it consists of a calm, purposeful, self-assured interpersonal style that inspires the troops with confidence and commands respect without having to fish for it.  There is always a leadership test to any decision you will make and that is this:

Am I doing the right thing?
At the right time?
In the right Way?
For the right reason?

If your answers are “yes” to all the leadership test questions above then your results should be beneficial to all concerned.  There are seven steps to leadership decision making and they are as follows:

  1. There must be an awareness that a problem exists.
  2. You must obtain all the facts first.
  3. Once you have all the information you can then evaluate and analyze.
  4. Determine if there are alternate solutions to the problem.
  5. Select the decision from the various alternative solutions.
  6. Consult with your officers and other peer supervisors.
  7. And finally, communicate the decision to those who have to carry it out. 

I want to add an additional eighth step in the decision making process and that being: “Be present with those individuals whom you have ordered to carry out your decision to show support.”  No matter whom above you issues the initial order or directive, YOU are the reason for the choice or directions when you present it to your officers.  When you say, “This came down from the ivory tower, I don’t agree with it but we have to do it.”  What you actually just said is this, “I don’t care if you give it your all or do it right, because I don’t care.”

Some of the best police officers I know have no aspirations to promote to leadership positions, yet they lead by example within their departments, and they are amazing leaders in other areas of their lives.  They lead their families, they are church and community leaders, they are elected officials in some capacity, or they have reserve military careers. I find these individuals to be among the finest officers, because they understand the principles of leadership and also “followership.” They understand that both require loyalty, dependability, and unselfishness. In whatever position they find themselves, follower or leader, they make the lives of the people around them better.

Not everyone can be a leader; in fact, very few true leaders exist. Most are found in the business world, military services, law enforcement, or corrections where the rubber actually meets the road. In the real world of success and failure; life and death, competition separates the leaders from the managers and their close relatives, the supervisors. There’s a distinct difference between these three concepts. You may have good managers, even good supervisors, but leaders? That’s something special. You don’t inherit this quality, delegate it or have it handed to you.  Neither do you have it by virtue of promotion or election.  You can’t buy it or give it away. The essence of a leader is mixed and molded by physical and mental traits, intelligence level, aptitude and temperament.
Leaders inspire others, forged by the strife of life; leaders learn to set an example. Not only do they care about the people they lead, they also possess a genuine compassion for others, and are not afraid to accept responsibility. They embrace the concept of being held accountable and accept the consequences of such. A sense of decisiveness pervades their thinking, enabling them to get things done, and they aren’t afraid of making mistakes. They’ve accepted the fact that mistakes are a part of the job. Despite obstacles, leaders normally prevail against the odds.  Leaders believe in the ability of their subordinates in the process, subordinates learn to believe in leadership. Leading by example is crucial to the leadership continuum. Leaders know when to take charge and when to delegate authority.  Leaders know when it comes to work-related productivity; a leader’s subordinates always get credit due.

Leaders are not afraid to get their hands dirty and e
ffective leadership encompasses tactical and technical proficiencies. True leaders do not forget where they came from, regardless of rank. Ranking officers have a unique responsibility to demonstrate leadership and this is their primary operational function.  In discussions about leadership characteristics, people often cite such things as honesty, integrity and reliability. Things like “adherence to a code of conduct” and “honor and consistency” comes to mind.  This is the result of a well grounded sense of self worth. 

“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.”  Julius Charles Hare

Keep your people safe is the first thing the leader must accomplish establish a problem assessment to determine what your people are facing. Is this a hostile inmate? What is that brown gooey stuff running out from under the kitchen door? How many people could be in that building that was just collapsed by a tornado?  Most importantly, how does this threat endanger your own officers?  You all know that the aforementioned scenarios are horribly panic ridden and confusing.  At one point during the Columbine school attack; as many as eight shooters were thought to be active in the building.  Always remember, the officers under your command come first and they should always know that you hold their safety and security in high regard. 

The word “courage” usually conjures visions of performing dangerous acts of valor in the midst of hazards or threats. However, there is another realm of fear that rarely involves physical risk, but does require great moral courage. Those in leadership positions face various kinds of real fear from this realm, including the fear of failure, the fear of criticism and the fear of rejection. In fact, these fears prevent many people from assuming leadership. Leaders combat these fears with the courage of conviction.  Leadership requires making decisions.  A decision always entails the possibility of error or the risk of criticism when additional facts come to light. The acute fear of failure can paralyze you into inaction. Leaders learn to make decisions without the benefit of all the facts. Doing so makes you a true leader.  Leadership is easy, being a leader is hard.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

TDCJ contraband 101 : has anything really changed in the past three years ?

 By Tonya Peters and Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

As the first part of an upcoming series of stories, the Backgate once again called upon Texas State Senator John Whitmire for his thoughts on the continuing contraband issues plaguing the agency. We asked Whitmire what his thoughts were on the current state of TDCJ's contraband interdiction policy, and detailed to him just how the agency was handling those issues. Over the past few months the Backgate has received numerous emails detailing the usage, or mis-usage,  of the recently added walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines that were added at several TDCJ facilities. Not to scan inmates, but to scan incoming prison staff as they enter those facilities.

Staff detailed the added responsibility in being the Officer charged with doing the entry searches on their co-workers, how the searches could be biased, and how many items may be slipping in to the prisons due to employees misreading the X-ray scanners and not doing proper searches. Although TDCJ doesn't specify through record keeping just how many employees have been disciplined for failure to properly search incoming employees, judging by the number of employees polled, many have been in recent months. TDCJ introduced the added security of walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines after Senate hearings determined that enough wasn't being done to take on employee corruption and introduction of contraband. Hearings conducted after this website reported issues with corruption on a Region III unit that ended in terminations, arrests, and lockdowns in 2008.

In the latest information obtained by the Backgate, employees themselves are concerned that illegal items may be making into Texas Prisons, muled in by employees who are not properly searched, or overlooked during the search process as the enter a prison facility. An employee at a facility in central Texas stated that she had knowledge of employees assisting other employees in circumventing search procedures, allowing entry of such items as tobacco, marijuana, cell phones and other prohibited items. A charge that has not been verified, but is very possible say employees. " When Officers you are friends with, or maybe even hang out with when your off are assigned as search Officers, they are not going to really worry about that search." stated the source. Another employee stated " It's like the fox guarding the hen house."  A statement echoed by several people we spoke to from all over the state.

Senator John Whitmire
Outside of the "human" element involved at these search locations, training or lack thereof may also play a role in the inability to stop introduction of prohibited items. After the Senate Criminal Justice Committee pushed through added funding for walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines, which cost taxpayers millions, TDCJ took over two years to train the bulk of employees on how to operate the equipment properly. As of last week, TDCJ still has not initiated any in-service or pre-service based training to teach employees how to use the equipment. Although the walk through metal detectors are fairly self explanatory, the top grade X-ray machines are the same as those used in airports throughout the country by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). TSA does many hours of employee training on that equipment on contraband recognition and operation to ensure employees are effective in reading and identifying contraband. TDCJ recently had representatives from the X-ray machine company train selected employees on some facilities so they could eventually train other staff members on their facilities. Many employees state that they were never trained, and TDCJ could produce any documentation showing they had been even now.

After being briefed on the current system of searching employees, training issues, and seeing the newest numbers on contraband entry into State Prisons, Whitmire stated :

" I have used every tool available to draw attention and seek TDCJ's total
commitment to a zero tolerance on contraband items, from conducting hearings, 
working with the Finance Committee on funding and direct appeals to the individuals
who run the prison system.  At the end of the day it is up to Oliver Bell, along with 
the other governor's appointees and Brad Livingston to fix the problem and run 
TDCJ appropriately." 
Whitmire stated that he would continue to monitor how the agency detects contraband
and stated that  he was not aware of the issues presented by the employees.  In upcoming
articles in this series, see Texas Board of Criminal Justice chairman Oliver Bell's response
to the remarks made by Whitmire, and get his take on the current state of the agency that he
was appointed to ultimately oversee as he speaks to the Backgate. Also, see the numbers on
contraband seizures statewide. Have the numbers dropped, or have they risen ?