Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

TDCJ: No Plans To Change TDCJ's Physical Agility Testing Program

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

With rumors of changes coming, we have the latest on the truth behind all these rumors. Rumors circling the state regarding the TDCJ's intention to increase the qualifications to pass it's physical agility testing given during pre-service and in-service  have been found to be just that at this point. Rumors. In an email from TDCJ's Public Information Office sent to the Backgate, Jason Clark stated that there are no immediate plans or conversations underway about changes to the current  TDCJ Officer P.A.T program. Does that mean that changes still won't happen in years to come? Who knows, but for now you guys are safe. But get ahead and start a work out program just in case. It can't hurt.

PTSD in Corrections

By Bryan Avila, Backgate Contributing Author

For those of us that are in this line of work know that we have a perverted sense of humor. With the things that we have to deal with on a daily basis, how else can we cope if not with some type of humor. But do we really know how this job really affects us? Have we ever really thought about the possibility that PTSD may be an issue?

I am going to ask you to put in order from lowest to highest who is more likely to suffer from PTSD and compare your results after. No cheating and let’s see how you do.

1. Corrections
2. NYPD Officers (post 9-11)
3. Fire Fighters (post 9-11)
4. Civilian Population
5. Emergency Management Personnel
6. EMT
7. War Time Military Personnel 

Now if I was a betting man, I’d bet that you put down civilian population with the lowest and wartime military as the highest. You would be correct with the lowest. The civilian population currently has a PTSD rate of 3.5%. Wartime military has a PSTD of 12-20% (that’s up to 1 out of every 5 members of our military!) NYPD officers have a rate of 7.2%, firefighters are 14.3%, EMTs are 14.1%, Emergency Management personnel are 13.2%.

But for corrections in the US is 27%... Let that sink in for a minute. 27%. Want to see it from a different perspective? Let’s try this one then. One (1) out of every 3.7 people working in corrections is suffering from PTSD.

The Desert Waters Correctional Outreach conducted a first of its kind (in the US) research study regarding PTSD in US Correctional Professionals (uniformed and non-uniformed).

Their results showed that the most common symptoms were anger (82%), numbness (60.4%), fear (57.9%), helplessness (51%) and indifference (50%).  How about how it affects other parts of our lives? Depression (53.8%), sleep difficulty (40.9%), digestive problems (35.3%) and obesity (36%). And folks, these numbers are representative of if you experienced the symptoms within the last 30 days.

Would it surprise you to find out that the average number of missed days from work within a year for these staff members was 15.21 days? How about 7.24 doctor’s visits within a year? Or 2.44 medical conditions that they have?

Those numbers are just staggering. Did we ever think that it would be this high? Yes, we knew that we go through some of these but most of us blow it off as just part of the job.

It is not a matter of being too proud to ask for help. Stress, relationship problems, anxiety and satisfaction with life are all affected as well as a result of what we go through.

The Employees Assistance Program is there for a reason. Many of us have heard about it but really don’t know what it is all about. If you are not sure, let me give you the cliff notes version of the cliff notes version: 24/7/365 days someone will answer the phone. Available to you and your immediate family. Have teens? Teen helpline just for them. Confidentiality concerns? The only people that will find out you called are the ones that YOU tell. The agency will never find out unless you say something. Marital problems, depression, whatever…they can help. And the best part: FREE

If you work for the State of Texas, their number is 866-862-5972. If you work in another state, find their number, program it into your phone and make sure you know it is there. You may have a friend that needs it later on.

If you want to read the research report, here you go:

Editor's note: and  Backgate Website Contributing author, Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  - Note; the views expressed within this article are opinion and do not reflect those of  the TDCJ (Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice) in any way.



Texas Prison Homicides at 10-yr high

American-Statesman Staff 

As statistics go, the news inside Texas prisons seems good: Violence is down, fewer weapons have been found, sexual assaults have dropped. Even the use of pepper spray is down from last year, and that usually means more calm inside the slammer.
But one number is way up: Eleven convicts have been killed this year inside prisons, the most since 1997, when 10 prisoners were killed. Last year, just three such homicides were reported.
Prison officials say the near quadrupling of the murder total appears to be an anomaly without a single cause — a deadly uptick that neighboring states say they haven’t seen, though they have seen increased violence overall, which Texas has not.

See the entire story by clicking HERE

Monday, December 10, 2012

Oil Field jobs still booming, TDCJ units near Huntsville now at risk for losing staff to better paying jobs

 By Lance Lowery, for the Backgate Website

 5,000 new permits were issued for drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale. The drilling area has expanded closer to East Texas prison towns by expanding to Grimes, Madison, and Leon Counties. All these counties border highly populated prison counties (Walker Co and Anderson Co). Oil field companies are already setting up shop in Navasota home of the Pack and Luther Units.

The labor force in these areas is already exhausted and TDCJ is already dangerously understaffed with over 740 officer short in the Huntsville Region. Oil fracking has already overwhelmed TDCJ's labor force in Beeville, Kennedy, and now in West Texas, where the Smith unit is only 52 percent staffed. Rumors are spreading that the Smith unit is shutting down cell blocks and shipping inmates.

TDCJ and Texas politicians continue to ignore the states economy as the Eagle Ford drilling inches towards areas next to Huntsville (Walker Co) and Palestine (Anderson Co), two of the most prison populated areas of Texas. The Huntsville Region is experiencing a correctional officer shortage of over 740 officers at a time of year when officer recruiting is usually up.

TDCJ leadership is playing with fire downplaying the staffing shortages and should be screaming for help from the state politicians. With the massive prison expansion in the 90's, many experienced officers with be facing retirement soon.

Texas will have a surplus of over $9,000,000,000 this next session and can easily permit correctional officers a reasonable and competitive pay increase. With competitive pay, this may keep more experience from leaving due to retirement and the expanding energy sector.

Montgomery County south of Huntsville is also experiencing a large expansion in their energy industry with Exxon Mobil relocating there world headquarters on a new 300 + acre campus. Several other companies are also relocating to the area. TDCJ can expect further employee fallout unless competitive pay is implemented.

Lance Lowry
AFSCME Local 3808
Texas Correctional Employees

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Speaking Out ?

 What are the top 5 biggest issues you would like to see TDCJ correct in 2013 ?Let em' hear it from the horses mouth.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Senate Criminal Justice Committee chairmain speaks to the Backgate about TDCJ staffing woes

John Whitmire
By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

The Backgate, as well as several other sources, have been talking about the current staffing shortages within the TDCJ that have created safety and overtime issues all over the state for months. Millions in paid out overtime dollars and serious safety issues for staff members who are now required to do more with even less. Senator John Whitmire, Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair who frequently weighs in on TDCJ issues in our forum, stated to the Backgate today that he has long been in favor of increased staffing and raising pay to attract more applicants. Whitmire told us that he needs help from all of us in making that become reality.

"I share your concerns on the TDCJ Corrections Officer shortage and have been very vocal about it.  I have pushed for improved benefits and pay in the past and will do so again this session." Said Whitmire. He went on to say " Keep in mind I am but one member and will need the support of the majority of members as well as state leadership.  I encourage each Correctional Officer to reach out to their Representative and Senator." 

We encourage everyone out there to take a minute to either email or call your state Senators and other Reps and let them know your concerned. You can find your districts Senate member by clicking HERE

And also find and contact your district state Rep by clicking HERE

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Author/Psychologist wants your take on TDCJ issues

The Backgate was contacted by a Texas based author and psychologist currently writing a book dealing with Offenders in Administrative Segregation, or on Death Row and wants to hear from employees who work, or have worked in these particular areas. The intent is to gain your thoughts and opinions as to the mental status of some of these offenders and how effectively some of them would be re-integrated into society if the time comes. Some of the survey questions deal with thoughts on under staffing, your opinion on being safe in the workplace, and the reporting of corruption within the agency. They have created a Q & A for employees who fit the criteria to take. You will remain anonymous and no identifying information will be used. If you are interested email us at and we will forward you to them.

Brutal Texas prison gang being taken down from the inside out

Terry Glenn Sillers (TDCJ picture)
By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

Terry Glenn Sillers,49, (AKA "Lil' Wood") is a general of one of the most brutal Texas Prison gangs in Texas, but has agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and testify against many of those who carried out orders under his watch. The violent leader of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas was found guilty of several federal charges including racketeering. His sentencing has been placed on hold pending the outcome and extent of his cooperation in the prosecution of up to 30 ABT members. Sillers, who is from Fort Worth, has spent a lot of his adult life inside of Texas prisons carrying out violence and running the day to day operations of the gang, even from the inside. He got out of prison and was arrested by Fort Worth Police after a long freeway chase as he taunted Police from his souped up Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The ABT's still have a tough hold on the Texas prison system some experts say, and their presence on the street is still well known. Operating methamphetamine manufacturing operations around the state, the gang funds it's operations selling those drugs and committing robberies. Well known for violence and retribution, they are feared both on the street and behind the walls. Originating from the Aryan Brotherhood gang in 1967's California prison system, the offshoot group made it to Texas as some of those members migrated back to Texas.

Another past ABT general thought to have been cooperating with authorities was found dead back in 2011. Houston Police are still baffled by the murder. Frank E. Roch Jr., leader of the biggest faction of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prison gang, was found dying slumped in a crashed pickup truck, reported the Houston Chronicle. The heavily tattooed 54-year-old Baytown native was carrying so many different IDs that it took police hours to figure out who he really was. Roch is thought to have controlled around 1,500 members of the ABT in and outside of prison, officials said. He was last in prison in 2009, but had a criminal history spanning decades. ABT members are well known for covering themselves in tattoos and Roch was no exception.

He had the world 'loyalty' inked across his chest, according to a custody photo. He also had the gang's shield: a large tattoo featuring a swastika, the gang's initials and a star to denote his rank as general and chairman.

See Sillers indictment below...

Check out this Gangland TV documentary about the ABT. Featuring past TDCJ gang investigator Maryanne Denner.

College Station News Station covers TDCJ understaffing woes as they creep closer to Huntsville

 As TDCJ employees and our little grassroots website here keep the dangerous TDCJ under staffing issues in the public eye, many other news organizations and have also picked up on the developing story. Bryan/College Station TV news station KBTX covered the issue this week. See that story below and add your comments !

KBTX Story aired 11/28/12;

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice admits there's a statewide shortage of correctional officers. That fact is causing some local correctional officers to fear for their lives. To the public eye, the last time you see a convicted felon is usually in court. But after the sentencing, the eyes in charge of monitoring the criminals in prison are becoming tainted with fear. "You don't know if you are going to come out in one piece or the same way you went in everyday when that door closes,” said a Huntsville prison corrections officer who didn't want to be identified in fear of retaliation. Every day he is exposed to what he calls a different 'world.' "You have to deal with 186 offenders in a cell block…There's only one of you, and maybe one watching if you are lucky,” said the officer.

See the entire story and TV video HERE !

Thursday, November 22, 2012

AFSCME union: Governor's office ignoring concerns about lack of prison staffing and related safety issues.

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

The Backgate received a copy of a letter forwarded to the Governor's office last month that detailed issues arising from the lack of adequate staffing inside of Texas Prisons. Below you can view the original letter that the AFSCME, the TDCJ employees union, sent Governor Perry back in October. The facts are frightening and are issues we have also reported on over the past year here at the Backgate. To date, still no answer from the Governors office.

Here is the original letter;

Letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry

October 1, 2012
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Dear Governor Rick Perry,
            As the President of the largest correctional employee's local in Texas, I am asking for your assistance in stopping the next wave of increased violence in your Texas prisons, as well as the spillover violence that will hit our public streets. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has experienced a new wave of violence, with 2012 now becoming TDCJ's deadliest year in the last 20 years, with over 12 homicides and a substantial largest increase in assaults and gang activity. 

In 2009, I delivered a study to your office, as well as the Texas Legislature, forewarning you and other elected leaders of impending violence in our prisons as a result of declining to hire professional qualified staff. In 2009, the Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Brad Livingston, asked for a 20 percent raise, also foreseeing this pending disaster. In 2009, the number of homicides in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was zero, but the prison system had the emergence of newer more violent gangs, as well as an increase in special needs offenders (i.e. Elderly Offenders / Psychiatric Offenders). With the emergence of more special need offenders, more staffing is required to care for this needy population with increased medical transports to public hospitals and assisting this segment in daily care.
The Department of Criminal Justice currently is over 2,700 officers short, not including the 530 correctional officer positions that were eliminated by your budget cuts this last session. The prisons further have over 500 new recruits in training every month, in addition to over 1,000 employees on Family Medical Leave Status, Military Leave, extended sick leave, and leave without pay. This leaves Texas prisons with a shortage of over 4,730 officers not present at TDCJ prison facilities.
Texas Correctional Employees would like to thank our state leadership for an improved Texas economy; unfortunately this has left our prisons dangerously understaffed as a large number of our employees have left for higher paying jobs in Texas' expanding energy sector. I would like to propose a fair pay increase to help better retain a more professional, experienced officer and wage a war on the violent gangs in our Texas prison system. TDCJ employees have failed to receive any cost of living adjustment for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years. At this time I am asking for an emergency cost of living adjustment of 3.5 percent be retroactively implemented for the 2012 fiscal year. In addition I am asking for you to support a cost of living raise in the same increment for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 fiscal year for a total of 14 percent over a 4-year period.
Thank you for our strong Texas economy, let’s keep Texans safe, and continue to grow this Texas economy by keeping us stable.
Lance L Lowry
President AFSCME Local 3807 

Below is the press release issued today to the Backgate from Lance Lowery, AFSCME President,  relating to this story;

"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice continues to remain dangerously understaffed, despite the agency offering a $3,000 bonus for newly hired officers willing to work at some of the most short-staffed prisons in the state, officials with the  American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Correctional Employees Council 7 said on Wednesday. 

Lance Lowry, President of AFSCME Local 3807, the union which represents Texas prison employees, recently sent a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, asking that he address the dangerous understaffing existing at many TDCJ units throughout the state. 

In the letter, Lowry calls for TDCJ employees to receive an emergency ‘cost of living’ pay increase of 3.5 percent. He cited the fact that the understaffing in Texas prisons has contributed to a substantial wave of prison violence this year. This year, there have been 12 inmate-on-inmate homicides in Texas prisons, making 2012 the deadliest in more than 20 years. 

TDCJ prisons continue to operate with a shortage of approximately 4,730 officers, which includes cuts to staffing made by Governor Perry during the last Legislative session. Although TDCJ is the largest penal system in the nation, it ranks 47th in the nation in terms of correctional officer pay.
“Texas’ economy continues to grow and TDCJ is failing to compete against private sector employers in terms of employee salaries and benefits,” Lowry said. “The low pay and dangerous working conditions are only driving many prison employees away. If we want to address the officer shortage, we must be competitive in the salaries we offer to our correctional officers.” 

Lowry explained that TDCJ, desperate to hire new correctional officers, is offering hiring bonuses, recruiting students who are just out of high school and employing foreign citizens who are working under visas which are only valid for a limited period of time. The result is an ever-growing turnover rate that fails to address the root of the problem. 

Unfortunately, TDCJ’s staffing shortage is at its height as we enter the holiday season. The holidays generally are regarded as a dangerous time in Texas prisons. The risk of escapes, suicides and other acts of violence is exacerbated during the holidays, when inmates may feel more isolated and miss their families and freedom more. 

“During the holidays, TDCJ employees aren’t the only ones wishing they were at home,” Lowry said. “Correctional officers have to be on high alert during the holidays because there is a greater risk of suicides and escapes throughout Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.”
Lowry noted that one of the most infamous prison escapes occurred on Thanksgiving night in 1998 when death row inmate Martin Gurule escaped from Texas death row at the Ellis Unit near Huntsville.
To date, Perry has not responded to AFSCME’s letter or acknowledged the dangerous conditions currently existing in TDCJ units throughout Texas: this important public safety issue continues to go unaddressed."

See the Texas Tribune story just published on staffing today by clicking HERE !

 More to come.....