Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is lack of Correctional staffing creating a safety issue for Officers on the Connally unit and other Region IV units ?

Coming soon ! .. hundreds of hours in forced overtime, dangerous issues involving the lack of Correctional staff, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for TDCJ. Stay tuned as we examine the issues presented to us by current employees in Region IV and see what TDCJ and state Legislators have to say about it.

Do you work in Region IV and have information? Email us!

Bill King talks to the Backgate about the current state of Texas Employee pensions

 By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

 The Backgate covered a story two weeks ago involving Bill King, a wealthy businessman from Houston who has long fought against the city of Houston's employee pension plan, and now has his sights set on the destruction of the Texas Employee pension system. King has likened the Houston pension plans, that are similar to that of Texas state workers to " watching the Titanic hit the iceberg in slow motion", responding to the solvency of the plans over the years to come.  "I think the state needs to get the hell out of this (pension) business completely," said lawyer Bill King, who is forming Texans for Public Pension Reform with others from the Greater Houston Partnership, an über-chamber of commerce with business members representing $1.5 trillion in assets.

King recently stated to the Backgate that there may be some misunderstanding as to what the issues are. King seems to see the current system of pension management as archaic and unsupportable. many Texas counties have joined the march against the basic pension system and favored using a 401K plan. That system can provide risks to the employee, but are far more dependable then an ailing state payed pension system that may or may not be funded 10 years from now says King.  King stated in a recent email to the Backgate, "I have not proposed a specific plan, however as you will see from what i have written i have adamantly maintained that benefits that have already been earned should not be changed." King made that statement in regards to our questions about how the new plan would work if implemented, and if it would strip the current pensions of vested state of Texas Employees.

King states that his mother in law, aunt, and former wife all currently receive benefits from TRS (Teachers Retirement System of Texas) but that plan alone is $38 million dollars underfunded. Kings went on to say that " This is as much of a problem for public employees as it for taxpayers".

In opposition to King's plan,  "They don't have to destroy a system that works," said Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. He said government pensions provide retirement security for millions of Texans in a cost-effective manner for taxpayers. Research by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College shows that professionally managed pension funds produce better investment returns than 401(k)s and cost less to administer.

"When there are rumblings, you sit up and take notice," said Bill Miller, a prominent Austin political consultant and lobbyist representing the employee pension groups. Miller said he doubts that pension reformers will be able to make it a major issue in next year's legislative elections. But if they do, he said there are 2 million public pension members in Texas who will stand up and take notice. "I'm not picking a fight, but I'm not backing off from one, either," Miller said.

Talmadge Heflin, former House appropriations chairman, agreed that it is probably too late for the pension reform group to be a major force in the 2012 elections. But they could make waves during the 2013 legislative session, said Heflin, who has advocated for similar reforms as director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Fiscal Policy.

 King said the campaign is in its infancy, and its specific goals are still being developed. It's not clear how the campaign will get involved in next year's elections or the 2013 legislative session, but King said he is confident the campaign will soon make pensions an issue for lawmakers. King said he would support a constitutional amendment eliminating public pensions in the state and moving all government employees to retirement accounts akin to 401(k)s. Legislators would have to approve such an amendment on the ballot when they convene in 2013.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

23% of Texas prison spending outside of TDCJ's budget

From our friends at the Grits for Breakfast Blog:

According to a new report (pdf) by the Vera Institute, "Texas taxpayers pay an average 23 percent more for state prisons than the state’s annual corrections budget reflects," reports Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman: "The new report by the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based research organization that tracks criminal justice trends, calculates the state’s total costs for its adult corrections and prison programs at $3.3 billion — almost $783 million higher than the $2.5 billion annual budget for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice." Wrote Ward:
While Texas’ costs were 23.7 percent higher with the associated additional costs, other states ranged from 1 percent higher (Arizona) to 34 percent (Connecticut). Texas was one of six states — Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania — where between 20 and 34 percent of the corrections budgets were outside the prisons system budget.

To see the entire story, click here !

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Houston businessman has his sites set on stripping state employees of their pensions

Bill King

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

Bill King, a Houston businessman, wants to see Texas state workers lose their pension plans and replace it with a 401K type system. Wealthy businessmen don't just step in to state business without some sort of benefit in the deal do they ? Investors stand to make millions if a 401K plan is shoved down the throats of state of Texas employees such as Teachers, Prison employees, DPS, and all other state agencies. Immune to the change would be state judges and legislators.

King stated "I think the state needs to get the hell out of this (pension) business completely,"  Bill King  has formed " Texans for Public Pension Reform" with others from the Greater Houston Partnership, an über-chamber of commerce with business members representing $1.5 trillion in assets.

King said the campaign is in its infancy, and its specific goals are still being developed. It's not clear how the campaign will get involved in next year's elections or the 2013 legislative session, but King said he is confident the campaign will soon make pensions an issue for lawmakers. King said he would support a constitutional amendment eliminating public pensions in the state and moving all government employees to retirement accounts akin to 401(k)s. Legislators would have to approve such an amendment on the ballot when they convene in 2013.

Call, email or write your local legislator immediately and tell them your not having it !  

 Correction: The Backgate posted that Mr. King possibly had ties to the Enron debacle some years back. We retract that statement as we have not seen the documentation proving such statement to be factual at this point. We have offered Mr. King to provide a statement in response to this story to be posted in this forum. We are awaiting his response.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Take the online survey of employee engagement

 From the Backgate Website

You have heard it at shift turn-outs, and have seen the paperwork to forward it via snail mail. Click on the below link and submit your survey electronically.

  • The Survey assists organizational leadership by providing information about employee issues that impact the quality of service delivered by the organization and about employees' job satisfaction. 
  • To see how TDCJ uses the survey data click here.
  • More information about the Survey is available from our homepage.
  • If you have questions or concerns, you may contact the Survey office via e-mail at soe@uts.cc.utexas.edu, by telephone (512) 232-0627, or you may write the Survey of Employee Engagement, UT - Austin, 1 University Station D3500., Austin, TX 78712.
  • The on-line survey does not have the capability to save partial information for completion at a later time; therefore, it is necessary to complete the instrument in a single session. 
  • After the last item, you will be asked to submit your responses. 
  • Many demographic questions are included in this survey for research purposes. However, you are not required to answer every item. 

Click Here to complete the online survey !

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Immimigrant Employees on work visas, is it safe ?

By Marcus Williams, Backgate Website

The question was posed back in 2009, and at least one State Senator questioned it's practice. Over the past 18 months, TDCJ seems to have seen an influx of newly recruited Correctional Officers from overseas that have been hired to fill the current gap of over 2,100 Officers statewide. Many of these newly hired staff members were hired on temporary work visas and English is their second language. Can this have an impact on Officer safety on prison facilities? That question has been raised by employees who have experienced it firsthand. Records show that the majority of newly hired recruits possessing work visas come to TDCJ from Africa. Although any help is welcomed help when your 2,100 Officers short, their ability to speak English seems to have been overlooked during the hiring process.

We received information from TDCJ in regards to the issues presented on the subject. As of December 31st 2011, there were 26 Officers employed by TDCJ on temporary work visa status. Of those, TDCJ states that the " majority" are assigned to facilities in Region III. When questioned, a TDCJ spokesperson stated that there is currently no policy regarding employment of Officers that speak English as a second language, or even how well they communicate.

"It's not a race, or cultural issue, it's a safety issue based on the inability to communicate and understand the English language." stated a veteran Darrington Officer.  That statement was echoed by another Correctional Officer at the Wynne unit in Huntsville. Staff members don't only feel uneasy about the fact that they are unable to communicate issues such as assaults or disturbances, but also the background checks, or lack of. " How can we do complete and effective background checks on employees from other countries when there is no verifiable criminal  history?" emailed another TDCJ employee.

There are no rules or policies that deal with these issues, and employees fear that it will take a serious incident or a death to bring the issues to light. 

TDCJ employees are not alone. State Senator Kel Seliger also has continued concerns about recruiting from other countries to fill state correctional jobs. We will be speaking to state Legislators, as well as Senator Selig about these issues in coming weeks. What are your thoughts ?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Training Tips

By Tracy E. Barnhart
Backgate Contributing Author

 Assessing behavior and preventing a physical assault should be accomplished whenever possible. It is critical for an officer to recognize and assess aggressive verbal and physical actions of a person. Recognizing verbal and nonverbal aggressive behavior signals will aid the officer in preventing and de-escalating situations. Also, it prepares the officer mentally and physically to take immediate counter actions should a physical assault occur. Before physical action by an aggressor occurs, that individual usually begins to threaten to attack, in an attempt to intimidate the opponent, through a process sometimes called posturing, ritualized combat, or affective aggression.

1. The individual may tell you what they are about to do, “I’m going to kick your ass!”

2. Visible overt awareness - visible weapons/unusual bulges/unusual nervousness/hands in view.

 3. Their face may show tension and will tighten or twitch, the jaws and lips will tense into a biting position as well as quiver and mouth expressions will frown and tighten over the teeth.

 4. Their body posture will display broadside with their hands on their hips or clasped behind their head. They subconsciously will take a bladed boxers stance and will rock back and forth or bob up and down on the balls of the feet. Stands taller, sets head and shoulders, moves away/moves closer, points, forms fist and/or loads the arm.

5. Their hands will pump open and closed and then clench into a fist so much that their knuckles will go white. Always look at the hands and what they are doing with them.

6. They will deepen their voice tones and the volume increases. The more threatened or aggressive an individual becomes the lower, harsher and louder their voice turns thus the bigger and tougher they seem. The deeper the voice the more authoritative they seem.

 7. The eyebrows will come down as if to shield the eyes. This makes them look more aggressive and intimidating.

 8. The nostrils will flare and their breathing will become rapid and deep. Lips separate to show teeth.

 9. Aggression redirected to something/someone else, such as breaking pencils, kicking, chairs, yelling at bystanders.

 10. The individual will seem to be looking through you; their eyes become glazed over with an empty stare. The individual will take on an uninterrupted stare with alternating eye stares and the eyelids will tighten down. They may attempt to get chest to chest with you.

 11. They may start sweating and beads of sweat will form on the forehead.

 12. Eye blinking; the blink rate reflects psychological arousal. The normal blink rate is about 20 closures per minute. Significantly faster rates may reflect emotional stress.

 13. Individuals will show exaggerated movements such as pacing, finger pointing, and threatening fists with bent arms. Their verbals will be relentless and rapid to get you to change your mind or change your last orders that have sent them over the edge. They want to win the confrontation.

 14. The individual may shed clothing such as taking off their shirts or jackets bend down and tighten their shoes or remove items of value such as watches and hats and set them aside.

 15. The individual will start to look around to assess witnesses, back-up available, escape routes or will start to target glance at the places they want to strike on your person.

 16. Vasodilatation and vasoconstriction or flushing of the face will also be evident at the tops of the ears by a darkening redness due to the release of adrenaline and noradrenalin into the bloodstream.

There is an inherent danger associated with the corrections profession. Whether an officer is in a county jail or a closed security segregation facility, wearing a uniform will put them in dangerous situations. Threat assessment is the act of becoming aware of a situation directly through the senses, including hearing and seeing, thereby making a reasonable determination about the risks involved. Any inmate potentially can be assaultive and use deadly force. However, approaching every inmate in a high-risk mode would be unreasonable. There can be many articulable facts that support threat assessment. Some of the facts used in this judgment decision are listed above; it is not a comprehensive complete listing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

TDCJ to undergo Sunset Legislative Review by Ledge, Nows your chance to sound off.

The mission and performance of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP), Windham School District (WSD) and the Correctional Managed Healthcare Committee (CMHC) are currently under Sunset review by the Legislature. Sunset review is a periodic assessment of a state agency by the 12-member Sunset Advisory Commission, which consists of five members of the Senate and one public member appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, and five members of the House of Representatives and one public member appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Legislature established the Sunset review process in 1977 to ensure that state funds are spent efficiently and to eliminate duplication in state government. The Commission asks whether the state needs an agency's functions, and helps create legislation to make necessary changes to its mission and operation. The Sunset process can also set a closing date for agencies determined to be obsolete or redundant. Agencies are typically reviewed once every 12 years, although larger state agencies may be reviewed more frequently, and those that perform similar functions are reviewed at the same time.

Sunset review: a three-step process

The review process begins when Commission staff evaluates an agency's mission and determines whether the agency has effectively achieved its goals. Information is collected from many sources, including a Self-Evaluation Report, which allows the agency under review to participate in the process. The Commission then issues a report recommending either abolishment or continuance of the agency. If continuation is recommended, the report may contain recommended operational changes. For TDCJ, BPP, WSD and CMHC, this report will be published in April 2012.

Step two of the agency's upcoming Sunset review is currently scheduled for June 2012, when the Commission hears public testimony and comments from Sunset staff. After consideration, the Commission issues recommendations during September 2012 for the Legislature to consider when it convenes in January 2013.

Step three of the review process takes place when the Legislature considers the Commission's recommendations and concludes when laws are enacted to make the final changes.
Most recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission involve matters of policy, organizational structure or agency operations. One very unusual example of a Commission recommendation regarding legislative appropriations occurred in 2007, when the Commission recommended additional funding for TDCJ's treatment and diversion programs.
That same year, the 80th Legislature allocated more than $200 million for community corrections, substance abuse treatment and mental health care for offenders. These additional funds greatly expanded treatment opportunities for probationers, parolees and prison inmates.
Given the tight fiscal climate and Sunset's emphasis on issues other than appropriations, TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston said he would be surprised if any recommendations speak directly to funding, but emphasized that doesn't mean the recommendations wouldn't be beneficial to the agency.

"Sunset review brings a fresh perspective to many issues, and many useful recommendations typically emerge from that process. In order to maximize the benefits, it is important for the agencies and staff who participate to treat this as an opportunity for improvement. That perspective has served us well in prior sunset reviews and in all our dealings with Internal Audit and the State Auditor."

To learn more about the Sunset process, go to the Sunset Commission website at www.sunset.state.tx.us. To share your ideas about agencies under review, you may send a letter to: Sunset Advisory Commission, P.O. Box 13066, Austin, Texas, 78711, or e-mail your views to sunset@sunset.state.tx.us.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

In 2009 TDCJ had an issue with hiring immigrant workers, is there still a language barrier creating a safety concern?

 By Marcus Williams, Backgate Website

Are Nigerian Officers coming in to the agency after just entering the U.S. creating a language barrier and work ethic that is putting other TDCJ staff members at risk? Stay tuned for our upcoming story. If you have working information please email us..

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

TDCJ sheds light on pay deduction issues, but who dropped the ball ?

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website,

The Backgate received an email this morning from TDCJ regarding the controversy over pay deducted from employee pay checks this month. The following letter was sent out to all TDCJ human resources offices statewide in "late"  December as per TDCJ. Apparently the units did not  post the notice on bulletin boards. If you do not have time to follow the main stream media news, you wouldn't have known this was coming. 

Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Payroll Update Notice
January 2, 2012

The following information is a payroll update notice for TDCJ employees
regarding Social Security and federal income tax changes effective January
1, 2012. This is being provided for Human Resources use and information.
Please post this notice on your employee bulletin board through March 31,

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 signed by the
President on December 23, 2011 extends the reduction of the Social Security
tax rate for employees by two percentage points, from 6.2 percent to 4.2
percent, for an additional 60 days. Without further Congressional action,
this tax rate will return to 6.2 percent beginning March 1, 2012.

Updates are being made to the payroll system during the first quarter of
2012 to account for the required adjustments to the Social Security tax
withholdings. For most employees, this translates into a Social Security
tax deduction of 6.2 percent on their December 2011 monthly salary (payable
January 2, 2012) and 2.2 percent on their January 2012 monthly salary
(payable February 1, 2012). This will ensure that the total amount of
Social Security tax paid by each employee for the 60 day period will not
exceed 4.2 percent.

The Federal Income Tax Withholding tax table provided annually by the
Internal Revenue Service (FIT deduction) has also been revised for calendar
year 2012, and each employee’s net pay will be dependent upon their
individual taxable salary based on their deductions. These changes will
begin with the December 2011 monthly salary that will be paid on January 2,

Let us hear from you !

Have information of wrongdoing within the TDCJ ? Waste, fraud, or ethics issues ?  Kudos or a job well done? We want to hear from you. You can remain anonymous. Help us help you to make the agency a better place to work. Email admin@thebackgate.org.

Home of the TDCJ UTMB hospital, Galveston again alive with Mardi Gras!

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

Just three blocks from the hospital that houses some of the TDCJ's sick or injured, the UTMB hospital stands in the distance from Galveston's historic Strand boulevard and the site of the popular annual Galveston Mardi Gras celebration. Incoming TDCJ Offenders may even be able to see the celebration as it takes place if they are lucky.

The Backgate did a feature story on the proximity of the UTMB/TDCJ hospital to Galveston area attractions back in 2011 and how the facility fit in to the culture of the city. Daring hospital escapes, and potential contract failures have been in the headlines over the past few years regarding the hospital. In October of 2011, the Texas Legislature reached a deal with the UTMB that would allow UTMB to continue serving the TDCJ.  UTMB provides medical care for about 80 percent of the 156,000 prisoners in the Texas system and also employs 589 employees in correctional and other capacities. So as the celebration grows near, step aside TDCJ and watch as the annual celebration gets ready to kick off.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Understanding Congress' payroll tax cut fight - where your money went !

— If President Barack Obama, the House and the Senate all want to extend a Social Security payroll tax cut and jobless benefits through next year, why are they fighting so bitterly over doing it? Obama, House Democrats and lopsided majorities of both parties in the Senate want to immediately renew the tax cut and jobless benefits for the next two months, and find a way later to extend them through 2012. House Republicans want to do it for a full year right away.

That doesn't sound like an unbridgeable gap. Yet the fight has evolved into a year-end partisan grudge match with no clear resolution in sight and with huge political and economic stakes.
Without action, the payroll tax paid by 160 million workers will rise by 2 percentage points to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1. That would mean $1,000 a year less in the pockets of people making $50,000, or about $19 weekly. In addition, 3 million people currently receiving long-term jobless benefits will begin to lose weekly payments that average under $300 — for many, their only support.

See entire article HERE!