Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The day we interviewed Kinky Friedman about his shot for Texas Governor - did he ever stand a chance ?

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

Texas humorist, songwriter, and gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman took a few minutes just days ago to speak over the phone with me about some of the major issues facing state employees and everyone else in Texas. Kinky, now running on the democratic ticket, has more of an established platform this time around, and had a a lot to say about the future of Texas.

I started out by addressing Kinky with questions about his thoughts on Texas border security, and he had this to say. " We need to stop illegal immigration and beef up security. We need to offer the folks that are already here a way to stay. Get them tax identification cards, social security cards and allow them to pay their way." Kinky also stated that he supported a measure that would punish companies that hired undocumented illegal aliens. He went on to say that legal immigration is what the country was based on, but the current system is broken.

I had interviewed Kinky in the past, and was surprised when i got the response from him that i did when i asked him his stance on the Texas death penalty. Kinky, who once agreed with the death penalty now wants it halted if elected governor of Texas. He stated that recent cases in Texas have presented doubt to whether innocent people have been put to death. He went on to state that Rick Perry has overlooked those cases, and has failed to act on facts that should have created stays of executions based on credible evidence. Kinky stated he wants a tough stance on crime, but prefers life without parole over killing innocent people.

When we asked Kinky his opinion on Texas being near 46th in correctional pay out of the 50 states he had this to say. " TDCJ Officers absolutely need a pay raise, you can't raise hiring standards without raising the pay." He went on to point out how Texas fairs among others in education spending, and other important issues. He points the finger at Governor Rick Perry for the current position we are in now as a state. He also points out we are one of the richest, but spend the least where it matters.

Lastly, i asked Kinky what he thought about the way Texas appoints its Board of Criminal Justice. It is widely know that the 9-member Board of Criminal Justice, which is charged with overseeing the TDCJ, has not even one member with a criminal justice background. Kinky stated that he felt like those appointments fall right in line with the vast majority of Perry picks. Kinky added, " It wouldn't surprise me a bit if some of those appointees are also Perry contributors." Kinky went along with the Backgate's idea of either having the employees vote board members in, or at least make sure they each have something in their background to contribute before installing them. As it stands, most are either businessmen, or attorneys. Both of which Friedman says he has little patience with.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Whitmire speaks out on his decision to cut out last meals for Death Row Inmates

By Backgate Staff

Whitmire says " The warden should be disciplined" (Huntsville unit Senior Warden) after providing the over the top meal for Jasper dragging death killer Lawrence Russell Brewer prior to his appointment with death. What the public doesn't realize is that the food that is requested is not bought on the outside. The inmate chef whips it up with whats on hand in the regular kitchen. Most of the time they don't get what they ask for anyway. The media needs to educate themselves on the practice in Texas. No matter what public opinion is.

Are Texas Prisons still weak on hard time ?

By The Backgate Staff

After Senator Whitmire recently pulled last meals from Texas Death row convicts, is the state still light on doing hard time ? The below video report was compiled some years back, but still poses a valid question today just as it did then with little changes occurring to this point. You may see some old familiar faces in the video series.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Whitmire to TDCJ - no more last meal requests for death row inmates

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

After today, Texas death row inmates facing execution will no longer be able to choose their last meal. For at least a century,  death row inmates have been able to request cheese burgers and fries, chicken fried steak with gravy, peach cobbler, pies, cakes, breakfast or whatever they wanted in their final hours of life. Yesterday inmate Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed for his part in the Jasper dragging death of James Byrd. The crime became news all over the world after the only motive for the crime was that Byrd was black.

Brewer ordered a vast array of dishes for his last meal, but at the last moment, lost his appetite and the food went untouched. Senator John Whitmire, who heads the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice says that enough is enough with last meal service and wrote a letter to TDCJ Director Brad Livingston detailing his issues with the process. Livingston answered by halting the meal request procedure, and issuing orders that whatever meal the rest of the inmate population eat that day is what meal the condemned will eat as well.  The process of offering a final meal to Texas death row inmates goes back at least a century some say. 

see the letter below...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another possiblilty for Texas Governor.. And a true tea party Republican.

medina's platform supported gun owner rights.

 If Rick Perry is successful in his bid for the White House in 2012, the vacated Texas Governor's Mansion could be the new home of Mrs. Debra Medina. Medina, a Registered Nurse turned tea party Republican ran a good race against Perry. Medina has core Republican values and common sense. The Backgate was lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with Debra in December of 2009. Her representatives are hinting that we may see more of Medina if the Capitol top job comes available.

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

The Backgate recently interviewed Mrs. Medina on her thoughts for making Texas great again. She weighed in on questions submitted by the Backgate readers. Medina faces Kay Bailey Hutchison for the republican nomination for Texas governor.

Born in Beeville and raised on a South Texas farm, Debra Medina is a wife and mother, a registered nurse, a businesswoman, a rancher and a fighter.

Debra has always drawn strength from the courage of her convictions. She first got involved in politics in the early 1990s, when she saw that local leaders were not honoring the pro-life principles that guide her beliefs. Now chairing the Republican Party of Wharton County, she took the Republican Party of Texas to court in 2008 over violations in how the state convention was run.

Standing up to Goliaths is pretty much what Debra does.

She homes chooled both her children long before homeschooling had the kind of support and visibility it has today. She graduated from San Antonio's Baptist Memorial Hospital System School of Nursing in 1984, and later earned a bachelors degree in Business Management from the evangelical Christian Le Tourneau University. In 2002, she founded her own business, Prudentia Inc., which specializes in improving medical billing procedures.

Through it all, Debra has waged and won battles that were not always popular battles that often demanded uncompromising personal sacrifice. But this kind of strength is no surprise. After all, one of her ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. Another lost his life in the fall of 1842 in the Dawson Massacre near San Antonio, fighting to preserve Texas independence.

The Backgate Q & A ;
BG : Do you approve of, or oppose the Texas death penalty and why ?

Medina : Yes, although I have acknowledged problems within the criminal justice system that might warrant a moratorium on the penalty until those issues are resolved. I believe the primary responsibility of government is to insure justice. Some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty is the only just penalty.

BG: What part, if elected, will you play in Texas border security ? Of what importance do you rate it ?

Medina : I have already begun to work with local law enforcement in Texas border counties to identify solutions for insuring that all traffic across the border is thru the legal ports of entry. I believe it is proper for Texas and her citizens to pressure Washington D.C. to secure our borders as it is their constitutional duty to do so. Texas, however, can not continue to hold our breath waiting on the federal government to do its job. We must place a high priority on securing the border and dedicate the resources necessary to do so.

BG: Do you approve of, or oppose shorter prison terms for drug and non-violent crimes and why ?

Medina : I do not believe prison is an appropriate punishment for most non-violent crimes.

BG: What legislative changes do you support if elected Governor of Texas and why ?

Medina : I believe private property and gun ownership are essential elements of freedom and am currently advocating elimination of property tax in Texas. This will require legislative action. Eminent domain must be restricted to further protect private property.

BG: How would you rate Governor Rick Perry's terms of Texas governor and why ?

Medina: Less than hoped for. Debt has nearly tripled during his administration with Texas having exhausted over 85% of its constitutional debt limit ceiling. State spending has outpaced population and inflation by over 15%. Abuse and scandal have been reported within numerous state agencies. Education outcomes remain flat, drop out rates high. Illegal immigration has not been addressed and all suffer as a consequence.

BG: Texas prison employees are ranked number 46 out of the 50 states in correctional pay. Yet house more inmates than any other state in the United States. Would you be supportive of a raise for correctional officers, and assist in securing better hiring standards ?

Medina : Hiring standards certainly contribute to the quality of a department's performance and its ability to accomplish its mission. As such I would support the development of standards and selection criteria to insure employees are capable of fulfilling the role for which they are hired. While I support equitable compensation, many factors must be considered when developing compensation packages.

BG: Currently the Texas governor is responsible for appointing the members of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice members that oversee Texas prisons. Would you consider either an elective system by employees for members, or at least a system of appointment that places people of criminal justice backgrounds in those positions to assist the agency ? (currently, anyone is eligible and most have no working knowledge of a prison)

Medina : Texas has a long standing history of gubernatorial appointments to boards. In some instances, the legislature has mandated board makeup to insure representation from various segments of the society or various areas of expertise. Ultimately, an effective executive should be concerned with insuring that board members are expert at being able to provide leadership and guidance to their respective organization. We have much work to do in our society to insure that our elected officials are accountable to the people.

BG: If elected, what would be your first official project and why ?

Medina : None of us knows what crisis will face us in Jan. 2011. It is important to know that we have elected individuals who understand the proper role of government and will work to insure the protection of freedom and liberty, adhere to the constitution and uphold the rule of law.

BG: Finally, why do you want to be Governor of Texas ?

Medina : I want to fight for Texas. To lead to restore private property ownership, gun ownership, state sovereignty and a secure border...to restore freedom and prosperity to the great state of Texas and to, by example, demonstrate to our sister states the benefits of limited government and free market economies.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

If Perry leaves Austin, will ex-Houston Mayor Bill White step back up ?

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website 

I sat down with Bill White as he ran for Governor against Rick Perry in 2010, below is that Q & A session. Can he be a contender now that Perry has bigger aspirations ?

Texas Gubernatorial candidate and former Houston Mayor Bill White offered TDCJ employees an exclusive Q&A session. White, who is now said to be tied with incumbent Rick Perry in most media polls statewide, was excited to address employee issues in our forum. Below is our Q&A with Bill White;


1. What is your take on solving the Texas budget crunch, and will it
involve TDCJ employees cutbacks or lay offs ?

Bill White:

" I have pledged to work with leaders from both parties to find solutions
for our state's budget. As Governor I will look at the budget in its
totality and start by prioritizing the state's needs. In these tight budget
times, we must focus the efforts on the important functions of the state
budget. Obviously, TDCJ and the role TDCJ employees is a major function of
state government."

"My approach to managing a declining budget is to first look for savings
not by laying off employees but by taking advantage of normal attrition to
reassign tasks so that services are not interrupted. I would also
renegotiate major vendor contracts - this was a successful tactic I used as
Mayor of Houston. I would not make across the board budget cuts; I would
ensure priorities are funded first."


2. TDCJ employees have been referred to by current Texas Governor Rick
Perry as “ overpaid babysitters”, what role do you think professional TDCJ
Officers play in the rehabilitation process ?

Bill White:

"Most public employees are hard-working people who want to do their jobs
well and serve the public. I know this first-hand from my experience as
mayor of Houston, where I observed extraordinary dedication among our
employees. Strong management goes hand in hand with high morale and job
performance. Most state employees work for agencies that are led by
appointees of the governor, and it is their responsibility as leaders to
direct the staff in a manner that results in high quality work product and
employee commitment. As governor, I will encourage public sector
management to work effectively with employees to motivate them to do their
best and reward them for doing so."


3. TDCJ employees are 46th in correctional pay out of the 50 states. Yet we
house the second largest prison population in the United States. What steps
can be taken to improve the outlook for correctional Officers.

Bill White:

" I appreciate the value of public employees and believe that the vast
majority work hard on behalf of their fellow Texans. To attract and retain
good employees, those employees must feel they can make state employment a
career. While I was mayor of Houston, I routinely gave predictable pay
increases, as the budget permitted. The City of Houston has a robust civil
service system and working with that system I was able to hold employees
accountable and treat them fairly. While the state does not have a similar
system, I believe in treating employees with respect and fairness in all
aspects of their employment. I believe public support for revenues
required to meet essential needs does depend on maintenance of high
performance standards for all employees."


4. What is your stance on the Texas death penalty ?

Bill White:

" I believe in the death penalty and that by and large the
criminal justice system in Texas is just and credits the dedicated law
enforcement, prosecutors, and juries, who make it such. At the same time, I
believe that any injustice anywhere in the system is unacceptable.
Therefore it’s essential in all cases, and especially when death is a
possible punishment, that there be a careful, complete and accurate
examination of all the facts in a case, paying particular attention to
forensic evidence, to deliberately and swiftly arrive at a just decision."


5. Currently, the Texas Governor appoints all members of the Texas
Board of Criminal Justice. None of the 7-members have any experience in
corrections or even law enforcement. Yet they set standards and make
recommendations involving these issues. Would you support a different method
of selecting these board members if you are elected Governor ?

Bill White:

" I will appoint to boards of commissioners, individuals who are
knowledgeable and fair-minded, who would work for the public interest for
all Texans. That is not being done today."


6. What issues affecting Texans will you tackle first if your elected
Governor ?

Bill White:

" As governor, I will look towards the future- making education a
priority again in Texas, providing new incentives for small business to
hire, working to bring new industries to the state, and investing in job
training so Texans have the work skills needed to succeed for jobs with a


7. What sets you apart from Governor Perry, and the status quo ?

Bill White:

" As governor, I will demand accountability from all government
agencies. Unlike Governor Perry who has been a career politician for more
than 25 years, I have primarily been a businessman who has met a
payroll and made hard decisions as the head of companies across the state.
I will bring real leadership to Austin and I have a track record of
getting people from both parties together to get things done. I
will move Texas forward by improving education, tackling the budget deficit
head on and working for all Texans."
Debra Medina, a Republican Gubernatorial candidate in 2010 has also stated she may seek the office again if Perry leaves Austin. The Backgate also spoke with her last year. We will re-post that interview here in coming days as well. Stay tuned.

Senator Whitmire on TDCJ inmates enduring the summer heat " not a concern, do the time "

Friend of the Backgate , Senator John Whitmire ( Criminal Justice Committee Chairman) addresses complaints by rights groups on the Texas heat and confined prison inmates. Love that response Senator.

TDCJ mediation system still broken

A Commentary by Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website 

Just heard a confirmed story on a Region III employee who has been successfully mediated back for the second time. The last charge with being introduction of contraband. What is the agency thinking ? And yet the agency is portrayed as a professional workplace ? Does anyone see a pattern of running off the good help while preserving the employment of utter trash ? TDCJ states they want people to blow the whistle on illegal acts by it's employees. But what do you stand to gain by doing so when at the same time the agency fails to take out the trash? The person reporting those acts is shunned, punished and eventually retaliated against until they quit or are fired for next to nothing. Whats up Huntsville ? Practice what you preach. Thousands of people view this site everyday. Eventually someone out there is going to see how mismanaged the agency really is and make a difference.... so we hope.

5th Circuit denies Buck execution stay

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Wednesday rejected convicted killer Duane Buck's motion for a stay of his Thursday execution for a 1995 Houston double murder.
The court also denied Buck authorization to appeal an earlier rejection by the Houston Division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
Coming on the heels of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles' unanimous decision not to recommend to Gov. Rick Perry that Buck's death sentence be commuted to life in prison, Wednesday's court action all but assures that the former auto mechanic will become the 11th killer to be executed in Texas this year.

See entire article at the Houston Chronicle

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fewer GEDs, prison industry jobs thanks to TDCJ budget cuts

From our friends over at Grits for Breakfast Blog:

Coupla news items caught my eye related to budget cuts at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. First, reports Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman, six prison industry factories including a soap factory formerly at the Central Unit in Sugar Land have been closed because of budget cutbacks. Wrote Ward:

The closures are part of a national trend, officials say, as government agencies that run prison industry programs experience budget cuts and government agencies that buy prison-made goods scale back their purchases, also to cope with tighter state budgets.

"The question is how do you keep convicts busy if the plant closes," said Tony Fabelo, an Austin-based criminal justice statistician who tracks criminal justice trends.

"This has implications for prison management, beyond just the closing of a plant here and there."

In Texas, prison officials have always prided themselves on the state's robust prison-industry program. It is among the nation's largest, where convicts make everything ranging from furniture, highway signs and soap to garments, license plates and shoes at 41 plants. But now some officials worry that increasing numbers of idled convicts could lead to new disciplinary and security problems inside Texas' sprawling system of 111 state prisons.
The other closures:
In Beaumont, a metal products plant at the Stiles Unit was shuttered earlier this year and its operations were consolidated with similar plants at the Coffield Unit near Tennessee Colony and the Powledge Unit near Palestine.

A garment plant at the Jester 3 Unit in Richmond was consolidated with a plant at the Eastham Unit north of Huntsville. A shoe plant closed at the Jordan Unit near Pampa had its lines moved to a plant at the Clements Unit in Amarillo that makes blankets.

A wood and furniture plant at the Ellis Unit outside Huntsville was moved to the Lewis Unit in Woodville. And a plant that manufactures stainless-steel fixtures at the Boyd Unit in Teague has been closed and consolidated with a metal plant at the Luther Unit outside Navasota.
Meanwhile, the Huntsville Item has a story on recent budget cuts at TDCJ's Windham School District which informs us that:
As of Thursday, Windham had to eliminate 271 full-time employees, including 157 teachers in addition to adminstrative and support staff. WSD also enforced salary reductions across the board in order to reduce its budget by $17.8 million, or 27 percent, per year of the biennium.

It was another tough blow to the residents of Huntsville and the surounding communities. Another 40 jobs were lost in the area after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice went through a round of layoffs a few months ago.

Windham had to cut jobs at the Eastham, Ellis, Estelle, Goree, Huntsville and Wynne units as the agency’s budgeted figures for 2012 under the regular programs were substantially lower than the estimated expenses for the fiscal year 2011, which led to a reduction in funding. ...
As a result of the teaching cuts, Windham, which provides academic, career and technology training for offenders to help combat recidivism, has also had to eliminate and reduce educational programs, including General Educational Development (GED). Each teaching position was determined to serve 107 students per year, meaning more than 16,700 offenders will be left out of the classrooms in 2012.

GED classes are no longer being offered at the Glossbrenner, Halbert, Havins, Johnston, LeBlance and Sayle substance abuse facilities and at the Duncan Unit. The Central Unit in Sugar Land was recently closed down completely.

“Despite substantial budget reductions, WSD remains committed to providing the best possible programming with allocated funding,” Kiser said.

The GED, as well as other programs, were signifigantly reduced at 19 other units, including Eastham, Goree, Ellis, Byrd and Huntsville. According to WSD’s annual performance report for 2009-10, approximately 77,500 inmates received educational services and 12,464 of the offenders released in 2010 attained a GED and took college classes while incarerated in TDCJ.

Offenders at the units that no longer offer GED courses have limited options as to continuing their education.

Visit the Grits for Breakfast Blog Here ! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Keepers and the unkept" an interesting read

By Michael Williams, Backgate Website
Last week i had the opportunity to read a TDCJ related book that just so happened to have been written by a TDCJ offender. "Keepers and the unkept" by John K. Murray, went way back into TDCJ history as it brought back the times of frequent murders, out of control gangs, and even some shady staff members.

Murray talks about his affiliation with the ABT gang and the power struggles that went on behind the gates. Although some of the statements made in the book have to be taken with a grain of salt, i found it generally interesting and worth the time.

If you want to check it out, follow this link.