Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TDCJ spokesperson addresses issue of state law regarding State Jails in Texas

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

TDCJ forwarded us a statement via email this morning regarding the issues we
brought forth on security and classification practices at state jails. There
are no perimeter pickets for security at state jails, and most are in close
proximity to highly populated areas. The question was raised that offenders
sentenced to life sentences, child molesters, and violent others that fall outside
of the two year sentencing requirements for assignment to state jails are being
housed at them due to lack of bed space at other facilities. There are
stipulations to assigning offenders to a state jail, and we believe TDCJ is
overstepping it's bounds and endangering the general public by hiding offenders
in state jails that are not supposed to be there for periods in excess of that
allowed by law.

Those Officers assigned to state jails know that TDCJ in fact house offenders
that do not fit the criteria of the statute posted below. We have asked TDCJ
to provide facts as to how many mis-classified offenders, or offenders housed
outside of the required criteria are actually housed in state jail facilities
in Texas. We are awaiting an answer. State Senator John Whitmire, and state
representative Jerry Madden, both on State Criminal Justice Committees, have
received information from the Backgate and we expect a reply from them soon as
well. If you are an employee of a state jail and have knowledge of these
practices we want to hear from you, email us at admin@thebackgate.org. You
will remain anonymous.
 Sec. 507.006.  USE OF FACILITY FOR OTHER INMATES.  (a)  Notwithstanding any
other provision of this subchapter, the state jail division, with the
approval of the board, may designate one or more state jail felony
facilities or discrete areas within one or more state jail felony
facilities to treat inmates who are eligible for confinement in a substance
abuse felony punishment facility under Section 493.009 or to house inmates
who are eligible for confinement in a transfer facility under Section
499.152, but only if the designation does not deny placement in a state
jail felony facility of defendants required to serve terms of confinement
in a facility following conviction of state jail felonies.  The division
may not house in a state jail felony facility an inmate who:
(1)  has a history of or has shown a pattern of violent or assaultive
behavior in county jail or a facility operated by the department;  or
(2)  will increase the likelihood of harm to the public if housed in the

(b)  Sections 499.154 and 499.155 apply to an inmate eligible for
confinement in a transfer facility under Section 499.152 who is nonetheless
confined in a state jail felony facility in the same manner as if the
inmate were confined in a transfer facility.
(c)  The responsibility of the department to provide substance abuse felony
punishment facilities is governed by the General Appropriations Act and
Section 493.009.  This section does not affect the responsibility of the
department to provide substance abuse felony punishment facilities.

Sec. 499.152.  ELIGIBLE INMATES.  The institutional division may confine an
inmate in a transfer facility authorized by this subchapter:
(1)  only if paperwork and processing required under Section 8(a), Article
42.09, Code of Criminal Procedure, for transfer of the inmate to the
division has been completed;  and
(2)  only during a period in which the inmate would otherwise be confined
in a county jail awaiting transfer to the division following conviction of
a felony or revocation of probation, parole, or release on mandatory

Is there a TDCJ cover-up going on at the Pam Lyncner State Jail ?

Backgate Says: 

 This editorial was sent to the Tribune newspaper that serves Humble and the Atascocita area. It's obvious that it was authored by a TDCJ employee that feels that TDCJ is covering up the fact that they are housing offenders serving lengthy sentences at that facility that are not supposed to be there. State law indicates that state jails are to house offenders serving two years or less at those facilities. I'm sure if the residents in that area knew what types of offenders are actually housed there that they would be a bit fearful. looks like there may be some explaining to do... We will work on this story and report back.

Here's the letter in it's entirety;

I’m writing to inform society of the Pam Lychner State Jail facility located at 2350 Atascocita Road. All state jail facilities are for state jail offenders who are a low risk to society and are doing two years or less. There are no guard towers because of the low risk. But, there are secrets being kept! Do you know that the state jail facility is housing Texas Department of Criminal Justice Offenders? I heard this took place before when serious offenders were shipped here from another facility. There are 700-plus TDCJ-ID offenders there with sentences ranging from two-to-40 years. There is even one with a life sentence. They are hiding these offenders because of overflow from other facilities. There is no room and no beds in other facilities. But the state jail is claiming those held at the Lychner facility are just transient. This is to fool the city of Humble. I’m quite sure the city was not informed that more serious offenders are once again being housed in the Pam Lychner facility.
– Anonymous

Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Increase Your Awareness by Becoming the Hunter!

By Tracy Barnhart, Backgate contributing Author

I believe it is important to develop your awareness and detection skills, but when it comes to violence, luck can play a significant role. As a former no-holds-barred fighter, I saw and experienced how quickly a fighter with superior skills could be defeated by a newbie who got lucky. If they would fight 100 times, the superior fighter would probably win 90 times or more, but the newbie still has a chance. With violent encounters, there is no referee or rules and a lucky cut, stab, or shot can kill you, even if you eventually stop the threat.

Although it sounds overly simplistic, one of the best ways to survive a violent encounter is topred avoid violent encounters all together. One of the best ways to avoid violent encounters is to train your mind to recognize the predators, and the quickest way to do this is to start thinking like one. For the next, several days pretend that you are an inmate in your facility. As you go about your daily operation, picture how you would ambush someone in the various places in which you find yourself throughout the shift.

Pay particular attention to which staff you would feel comfortable ambushing and which ones wouldn’t be worth the risk. What common actions do you have with potential victims that you can change? What actions make others not worth attacking that you can begin to mimic? Try to ignore physical attributes they only camouflage the bunny or beast inside.

As you work through out the day observe where in the building or institutional facilities would you hide if you were going to attack someone? With a little practice, you will be amazed at how many spots in which you might be able to hide and dead space areas that exist in your institution. Start watching how you open doors. In particular, note where you’re looking, which arm you use to push or pull open the door, and how that helps or hinders your ability to react to someone attacking you on the other side. After you have learned to spot the ideal physical settings for an attack, you need to then spot potential predators.

You need to pay attention to the physical mannerism of potential predators. When you see an inmate approaching you, ask yourself is he dressed ap­propriately for the climate circumstances? Is he wearing baggy clothing to hide a potential weapon? Are his shoes tied tightly or are strapped up? Don’t be afraid to look inmates straight in the eye. You want to know if they’re checking you out as a possible victim. Does the potential predator have his hands in his pockets or in his waistband, perhaps holding a weapon? Does he appear nervous, sweating or breathing heavily?

Most attacks come from behind but, inside our institutions inmates will attack you straight on and may even inform you what they plan to do, so learn to expand your field of vision and never get caught looking at the ground like your in need of a quarter for the vending machine. Most of us tend to stare when we look at something. Here is a simple exercise you can use to break this habit and expand your field a vision. Look at an object in the room you are in. Now, without moving your eyes or head, what do you see out of the sides of your eyes? How about top and bottom?

It’s amazing how much more you see when you pay attention to your periph­eral vision. Imagine a hose nozzle that can be adjusted back and forth from a wide spray to a concentrated stream. When you need to focus on something, tighten the nozzle and then quickly ad­just your vision back to a wide spray. As you develop your vision, with a little twist of your head you will be able to scan almost 360 degrees around you. No one will ever be able to sneak up on you again. Try it and see for yourself. Most civilians have never seen a real criminal in person, but you have seen countless on a daily shift. You get to see the worst that society has to offer in terms of vicious criminals and they are all in one place. So as part of your training and daily routines you have got to observe mannerisms and threatening postures. You have to make a conscious effort to learn how they think and act.

You need to become an expert in spotting predators and categorizing them according to their specialty and propensity for violence. By watching and listening to their conversations, you get a feel for what they are like, the way they move, act and THE WAY THEY WATCH OTHERS. What you’re looking for is a way of spotting those who are mean, sadistic or emotionally disturbed. They are the violent predators who will attack you first and then laugh at you just for the fun of it. They are the ones you want to spot early on. You want plenty of time to avoid, evade or otherwise deal with these inmates on your terms and locations.

“WARNING: Your Survival Could Depend On Your Next Choice”
We are living in some of the craziest times in history and many experts agree that it is not a matter of “if” but “when” you will face an emergency that is beyond what you and your co-workers have trained or prepared for. Police officers are being killed at an alarming rate, which we have never seen before. Individuals are becoming more aggressive toward authority and are not consciously held back by their natural fear of authority and are quick to disrespect and attack that authority figure. There is a famous truism among instructors getting soldiers ready for war:
“When the bullets start flying, you WON’T rise to the occasion.
You will perform half as well as you did during your best training.”

You could use my instructional guidance to train your mind into the most effective survival tool you can possess. On the other hand, you can stick with your current operational plan and HOPE that your individual agency academy instruction has given you all the tools you will need and has prepared you for what is going to happen. I have studied the human denial response. It is a cruel mental condition and leaves you mentally vulnerable to attack and victimization. You see, the denying officer knows the truth on some level, but experiences constant anxiety because they refuse to address it.

Simply denying that a threat does not exists or by denying, that it will never happen to you will not relieve your sub-conscious mind of what it already knows. The only way to put your mind at ease is to consciously identify, face, and deal with the reality that you work with the potential for violence daily. Through out my writing instruction, I walk you through the aggression identification process in easy bite-sized chunks so you can face your fears about survival and have the peace of mind that comes with KNOWING you are prepared for the occasion when your life depends on it.

Trust your instincts. If you feel like you are in a situation that could go wrong, have a look at what your options are to get out of it and do so as soon as possible. Often your body picks up signals that you do not consciously realize. If you feel uneasy but you are not sure why, trust that your senses are warning you and try to identify where the threat is coming from. Anything can be a weapon. If you are in a situation, where you think you might have to fight, be aware of anything you have on yourself or is nearby that can be used as a potential weapon. This can be anything from your coat, a set of keys, to a cup of coffee or a nearby chair. Especially if your opponent has a weapon, be sure to keep a barrier between the two of you when possible.

Rely on yourself and trust your judgment. You have the ability to determine the outcome of a confrontation, use this wisely and you will not look back and regret your actions. Arm yourself with knowledge. The more you know about how to react to a variety of situations the safer you feel no matter where you are. Practice what you know and think about how what you know can be applied to situations you could possibly find yourself in.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

After 47 years , Angola Louisiana prison rodeo still deemed an annual success

Angola State Prison

 By Tony Roberts, Backgate Website

 Sitting just next to the Mississippi river on 18,000 acres of farmland three hours north of New Orleans, Louisiana's Angola state prison sticks out like a sore thumb on the bare East Central Louisiana plain. Nick named the Alcatraz of the south, it houses the most inmates in the United States with 5,000 inmates being overseen by just 1,800 staff members. Angola houses mostly lifers, matter of fact, one out of every two are convicted murderers, and is host to Louisiana's death row. Angola has also been home to the Angola prison rodeo since 1964, which makes it the longest running inmate oriented rodeo in the United States, or the world for that matter.

2011 Angola prison rodeo contestant (inmate)
Over the years, more and more spectators from all over the world have bought tickets to see the Angola prison rodeo, and what started as locals sitting on apple crates outside the fence watching the action to thousands in attendance sitting in grand stands resembling those of a college football stadium have allowed the show to go global and is the talk of Louisiana residents. Angola Warden Burl Cain, who has been the Warden at Angola since 1997, believes the rodeo is a welcomed break for the convicts and a boost to the state and local economy. Convicts are given the opportunity to win prize money competing in regular rodeo events such as wild bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, cowboy poker and other events. The Angola Prison Rodeo is now a professionally produced rodeo.  Angola contracts with professional rodeo stock contractors to provide the rodeo stock used in events; professional judges are contracted with to objectively judge each event.  In addition, to ensure inmate participant safety, professional rodeo clowns are always present in the arena during events.  A full complement of emergency services personnel are on-site to provide medical assistance to inmates and spectators. They even have there own facebook page and website now.

Texas Prison Rodeo
The Texas prison rodeo was also the talk of the state and beyond after being introduced in 1931 by Marshall Lee Simmons, the general manager of the prison system. Held then at the Eastham unit near Huntsville, it was eventually moved to a stadium that was built next to the Walls unit in Huntsville. The aging stadium was closed and the rodeo was retired in 1986 after the state legislature refused to spend the estimated $500,000 in repair cost to make the stadium structurally secure and instead chose to build more state prisons. Before its closure, the Texas rodeo hosted big name performers such as John Wayne, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Rodriguez, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Strait, and Tom T. Hall to name a few. The rodeo garnered 100,000 visitors or more in years leading up to it's closure. A boost to the local and state economy to say the least. If the state of Texas would have expanded the prison rodeo and infused it with the money necessary, would it be a cash cow like the Angola prison rodeo ? Who's to know i guess. A prison rodeo is a sight to see, and every October, the Angola rodeo commences like clockwork.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Texas prisons housing over 6,000 illegal aliens. Who should pay the bill ?

 By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

Closing a prison, cutting staff, and lowering operating budgets are just a few of the ways TDCJ has dealt with the current budget crunch in Texas. But as Texas deals with it's budget crunch, thousands of illegal aliens sit in Texas prisons serving time, and the state has to pay the bill. Texas logged over 6,000 illegal aliens residing in it's prisons this year, and the wave of criminals from other countries seems to only be getting bigger. The state of Texas is spending nearly $300,000 per day just to house confirmed illegal aliens in Texas prisons, most of which hailing from Mexico.

With the federal government ultimately responsible for immigration enforcement, shouldn't the feds be paying the bills ? Many think so, but the states have had to absorb those costs. TDCJ was recently forced by the legislature to close the Central unit in Sugarland, uprooting over 300 employees and sending the assigned offenders to other state prisons. A move many promised would not happen.

State Senator John Whitmire, Senate chair for the house committee on criminal justice stated;

"Closing prisons ought to be a result of having excess capacity that results from having diversion and treatment programs that are successful, to build new efficiencies into a system to make it work better, to be smarter about how we approach criminal justice," and has been a long time supporter of deporting alien criminals to avoid Texas prison stays.

Texas has had to absorb not only the cost to house these offenders, but also the cost of prison health care, and representation for these offenders. As Texas teachers are being let go for lack of state funds and social programs being cut, maybe we need to focus more on how to rid ourselves of this taxpayer burden we incur in our prisons and place the burden on the Federal government where it belongs. Email your State Representative today!

UT officials extend prison medical deadline

 By Mike Ward, Statesmen

With a deadlock on the future of Texas’ prison medical network still not resolved, the University of Texas System regents voted this morning to extend negotiations for 30 days.
But in a special telephone meeting, just a day before the current contract is to expire, UT officials made clear that their University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will continue to provide prison care only if they do not lose money.

If no agreement can be reached in the next month, officials said, UTMB will plan to terminate its contract for prison care at the end of December — and transition its role to a new provider.
By several estimates, the amount of funding for medical care of state prison convicts during the next two years will be about $100 million to little.

Backgate Says:

With the inadequate level of care everyone sees on a daily basis, what would the agency really be losing anyway ?

Read the entire story here !

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thanks to Backgate bloggers worldwide !

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website, General Manager

We would like to say thank you to all of our worldwide readers. The website is averaging 40,000 site hits per month from Texas tax payers, legislators, criminal justice employees and others. We provide news and topics that most won't touch. Our staff of seasoned current and former state and federal Correctional Officers,administrators, law enforcement, and legal representatives are always working on the next big story. Stick around for major interviews with some of the states most influential legislators. Get their take on current issues and more. Email us at admin@thebackgate.org for story topics. And again, thank you for stopping by!

New TDCJ figures: over 20,000 inmates convicted of DWI or non violent drug offenses. Is it really worth the cell ?

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

In the latest numbers released by TDCJ, figures state that over 20,000 offenders currently incarcerated in Texas prisons are convicted of non-violent drug offenses and or DWI. Texas generally spends on average of $42-$50 a day to house this class of offender. That translates into roughly 365 million dollars a year in tax payer dollars spent on these offenders alone to house them in prison. That doesn't include special needs offenders in this category requiring special medical care behind the walls. Could community or state run programs or probation programs step in and keep these offenders out of prison and still allow them to repay their debt to society ? And under what circumstances ? It may be up for debate in the Legislature soon. What are your thoughts ?