Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Arizona switching to 1 drug for next execution: Is Texas Next ?

By - Michael Kiefer

The Arizona Department of Corrections will use a single dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital instead of a three-drug cocktail to carry out Wednesday's execution of convicted killer Robert Moormann.
And though Death Row defense lawyers have long lobbied for a "one-drug protocol" as used in other states, the corrections department did not make the change willingly. According to a notice filed Monday in the Arizona Supreme Court, corrections officials discovered during a rehearsal for the Wednesday execution that the supply of pancuronium bromide, the second drug in the three-drug process, had passed its expiration date and could not be used.

The current corrections protocol, however, says that such decisions are to be provided to the inmate in writing seven days prior to the scheduled execution date. Ironically, the Corrections Department was sued in December over its inability to adhere to its own protocol, but a federal judge ruled that the lapses did not violate constitutional rights.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2010 Texas Republican Gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina: Will she face Rick Perry in 2014 ?

 The Backgate Says...

We interviewed her during her bid for Texas Governor in 2010. Now the Backgate is again in contact with Debra, and we will be publishing our interview with her on hot topics in Texas and beyond soon from her farm in Wharton Texas. Stay tuned for the answers to some very curious questions..

Region IV staffing/overtime expenditure numbers exposed

The Official Numbers for Region IV

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Major understaffing in Region IV - Numbers revealed

 By Marcus Williams, Backgate Website

Over the past few weeks we have been examining the serious staffing issues that are crippling Region IV prison facilities. Hundreds of hours of mandatory overtime, $600,000 to $1,000,000 a month in overtime expenditures, and potential Officer safety issues. As more Correctional Officers leave state employment, or retire over the next few months, it's only going to get worse. Staffing West Texas prison units has always been a challenge, but over the past few years it has seemed to become almost impossible. TDCJ released information that reveals the agency to be short just over 2,000 Correctional Officers statewide. Many of those vacancies originate from Region IV.

TDCJ numbers released to the Backgate last week show that two prison facilities in Region IV stand out when it comes to staffing issues. The Connally unit in Kenedy is only 61% staffed and has 205 Correctional positions unfilled of the available 527. The McConnell unit in Beeville is 68% staffed and is minus 168 Officers of the available 531. Both Garza East and West facilities are next on the list with both units posting numbers of 82% staffing or roughly 60 Officers short each. Region Iv tops TDCJ in negative staffing with 710 vacant Officer positions as of last week. Region V is next in line with 690 open positions for Correctional staff. TDCJ has contributed it's staffing issues in West Texas to the return of the oilfield business in that area, tempting employees and competing with larger salaries. Employees working on other Region IV units have been used on Connally and McConnell on a mandatory bases as well. Some driving from as far as the Dominguez unit in San Antonio to fill the empty positions.

 The Backgate took note of the situation after dozens of employee emails poured into the website over the past month complaining of mandatory overtime, and disciplinary action as result of refusing to work the long hours with what seems to be no relief in sight. Many employees were curious as to why those facilities were not locked down as a safety precaution instead of running at 100% open traffic for the Offender population when the units were so dangerously short handed to deal with any potential emergencies that may arise. To that question, we have not received any information. We will be speaking with State Senator John Whitmire about some of these issues over the next week, and provide you with that information as it comes in.

Texas Senator Kel Seliger speaks to the Backgate about TDCJ hiring of immigrant employees

 By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

State Senator Kel Seliger (R) Amarillo, spoke to the Backgate Website yesterday regarding the hiring of immigrant Correctional Officers on temporary work visa status by the TDCJ. Back in 2009, Senator Seliger was interviewed by an Amarillo television station in regards to his stance on the issue. Senator Seliger stated that he was opposed to the hiring of employees under that basis. We spoke to Senator Seliger yesterday via telephone, and asked him what his thoughts were today. Senator Seliger stated that it's not an issue of the immigrant status, its a safety issue based on communication.

Senator Seliger
 Senator Seliger agreed that TDCJ needed to look at it's practice in hiring immigrants that have issues with communication. TDCJ responded to a Backgate request for information weeks back in which they admit that potential employees are not tested, or evaluated for their ability to communicate the English language, and that if they communicate well enough to make it through the interview process they are sent forward. This practice has shown to be disturbing at the unit level however. Correctional Officers we heard from via email and in person stated that the issues of safety due to the lack of understanding and communication were real safety issues on the job.

 As TDCJ is again over 2,000 Officers short statewide, the number of employees on any given facility are fewer then once before. That makes communication key in emergency situations that come up on those units. The ability to effectively understand and communicate are important in this type of environment. Senator Seliger also expressed our concern in the current Background investigations that are conducted on potential employees coming from overseas. The lack of available information on those originating from overseas poses issues with the ability to effectively verify an employees criminal record, education, and many other factors. Senator Seliger stated that he will revisit these issues with the TDCJ, and during the next Legislative session in Austin.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Region IV understaffing becoming expensive, dangerous.

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

For the first time in six months, staffing levels in Region IV have bottomed out to the point that Officer safety may become a bigger issue then first thought. TDCJ reports that back in August of 2011 that Region IV was down 551 Correctional Officers. As of January 2012, that number has ballooned to 710 and rising. TDCJ also reported that in August of 2011 that the state paid $604,000 that month for overtime just in Region IV. In January 2012, that number jumped to $992,504 for the month. That number is also expected to rise above the $1,000,000 mark within the next 60 days an insider reported. There have already been two consecutive months within the Region that the monthly expenditures for overtime have surpassed the million dollar mark according to state records.

The Backgate received word that employees were being forced to work at least one of their regular days off each week in mandatory overtime. Today TDCJ acknowledged that that was a true statement, but it only affected the Connally and McConnell units. The release also went on to say that voluntary overtime was still at the forefront. TDCJ did not comment on accusations by employees that Officer safety was being placed on the back burner as units dangerously short of staff were still operating at 100% even though no one was there to run them. The numbers of vacancies in the Region, as in all Regions, do not account for employees calling in sick, or out on extended sick leave status. The numbers of staff actually reporting for work are even less then represented by the open vacancies. Staff reports claim that Category one positions, those positions where someone must always be there to man it as per agency policy, are going unfilled as staffing is spread thin to carry out daily tasks. TDCJ could neither confirm or deny those accusations.

The Connally unit in Kenedy holds 2,848 offenders from G1-G5 status. G5 being high security. Connally unit staffing plans call for 557 Correctional Officers.  The McConnell unit in Beeville holds 2,900 offenders and their staffing plan calls for 564 Correctional Officers. McConnell also houses G1-G5 status offenders in addition to an Administrative Segregation area. No unit based staffing numbers were included in the report from TDCJ but those two units are said to be bearing the brunt of the Regions under staffing issues. When questioned as to why staffing levels may be so low in the Region IV area, Officials stated that oilfield jobs were on the rise along with other manufacturing in the area and that TDCJ was in direct competition with those industries.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Are TDCJ numbers on immigrant non-citizen employees correct ?

Texas Senator Kel Seliger, Amarillo
By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

 In 2009, State Senator Kel Seliger (R) from Amarillo, went on record as being opposed to the practice of TDCJ hiring immigrants on temporary work visa status in the United States. At the time of his remarks in 2009, TDCJ employed 30 immigrant workers, with the majority coming from Nigeria and other African countries. The number now is predicted to be far higher and estimated as high as 50, although a TDCJ spokesperson provided a statement that stated there were now only 26 immigrant employees working under immigrant visa status in the agency.  Of those 26, the "majority" were said to be assigned to units in Region III. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Department of Labor, who also document immigrant workers, have both received official information requests from the Backgate and reps from both federal agencies state that documentation is being processed to provide accurate numbers.

The Backgate reached out to Senator Seliger last week about the potential increase in hiring of immigrant employees by TDCJ, and was also advised of the lack of cooperation provided by the TDCJ in providing those numbers to the general public. Senator Seliger is expected to provide the Backgate a phone interview this week. Details of that interview will posted here. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Five Career Lessons for Success

By Tracy Barnhart
Backgate Contributing Author

As a correctional officer, tell yourself mentally now and then “I will survive any situation I get into because I am trained for it,” “I will never give up, I am prepared for any situation I fall into because I train for it as a Professional Correctional Officer,” “I will never give up.”

We don’t want to give up in situations and think, “It looks pretty bad, I’m not going to make it,” we want to say and think “I will survive this, doctors can patch me up and I will be back to look at this guy again.” We don’t use words like: try, and I think, or I hope. We never say, “I will try to survive this”, or “I think I will survive.” These are negative words and trick our minds into thinking we really will not survive. We WILL survive. Seek out knowledge no matter what the cost. Never allow a conversation you engage to end without you becoming aware or learning something that you did not know before the dialogue.

  1. Focus on what you can do to improve yourself instead of on your opposition:
    “The responsibility for preparing men and women for battle should never be taken lightly. What you say and do, or fail to say and do, may be the difference between winning and losing. More importantly, it may be the difference between living and dying.”
    I have made this statement hundreds of times and this is why I continually strive to get as much job specific continuing education and training so that the information that I provide is the best, most up to date knowledge that I can offer.
  2. Failure is not an option or is it: Every human being can learn from defeat; in fact, it often makes us stronger. This is not a new or radical concept but one that has been time tested by every great warrior who ever lived. One of the greatest warriors of all time was Attila the Hun, who commented on both defeat and change. On defeat:
    “Sooner or later it will happen, if you recognize you’re losing in the fight or negotiations don’t deny it. Face it and take immediate action to minimize your opponents gain and get back to your cause. Learn to pass through your misery. Think about what happened and why but don’t dwell on it. Consider all the potentialities of battle and negotiations before entering into them. Rehearse them in your mind. Think of the consequences that may result from your actions. This will allow you to be better prepared for the worst to come.” On change: “No radical change is easy. Radical change is only necessary when we fail to learn from our past.”
    Attila the Hun

    Contrary to popular belief correctional officers are human and do make mistakes. Officers get amped up during a stressful situation and after the adrenalin dump, things seem foggy and in that fog of war, mistakes will be made. So why can’t we train with that in mind? It is better to train for the possible sting of defeat, then not to and meet it for the first time in the institution. To put it in better terms, the founder of SEAL team six, Richard Marcinko, had this advice to say on the subject.
    “Never Assume Anything - plan your tactics as if everything would go wrong. Why? Because things always go wrong. Mr. Murphy is always coming along for the ride. Rule two: never give your opponent a break, which translates to keeping your opponents off guard, never allowing them to get ahead of you, either physically, mentally or tactically.”
  3. Learn to laugh at yourself: If you stumble in life, get up and keep trying, what you may find out that it is not sexy or prestigious to be a correctional officer. Do not become lax but temper that situational awareness with a tongue and cheek mentality. I still do things that, at the time, seemed reasonable until the true results presented themselves. We are going to make mistakes and though it seems sometimes that we are programmed to see failure and mistakes as incompetence, you will learn a lot more from a failure than you ever will in a success. Tell a joke, prank your co-workers, and establish that bond of brothers. The ethos of being a warrior is disappearing within our agencies; unit esprit de-corps built around “bonding” between warriors is now disparaged as an irrelevant concept and one that only serves to rationalize politically incorrect behavior and policies.
  4. Step out of your comfort zone: Change your routines; keep inmates guessing about you and your ability. Let’s look at the Martial Arts for example… Does the study of martial arts actually allow you to defend yourself from attack? You often hear stories about people who have studied a particular martial art in depth, only to be soundly trounced when they actually got into a real fight. Thus, there is a legitimate concern among many those martial artists who walk around with a dangerously false sense of confidence that is not based on any real fighting skill.

    Asking martial artists whether their fighting style is effective is never a reliable means of answering your questions. Most martial artists are convinced that their style is more effective than any others are. Indeed, few human activities have more claims that are grandiose and that are made on such weak evidence than those of the world of martial arts.
  5. Stay Optimistic: See the glass as half full, believe me, when I say, there will be enough negative talk that will pierce your ears everyday inside the institution. I have never seen so many highly paid professional individuals that absolutely hate their jobs and are all looking for another work location or career. This only leads to anger and resentment. Then the God Complex takes shape. This is where you feel superior to others for some reason. Doctors are often accused of having the GOD complex because they see themselves as Gods saving and sometimes-ending lives.

    A God complex is a psychological state of mind in which a person believes that they have supernatural powers or god-like abilities. The person generally believes they are above the rules of society and should be given special consideration. The vast majority of the law enforcement and corrections officers in this country perform their very difficult jobs with respect for their communities and in compliance with the law. Even so, there are incidents in which this is not the case.

    “I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea. So I ask you; when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn’t miscarry or that their daughter doesn’t bleed to death or that their mother doesn’t suffer acute neural trauma from postoperative shock, who do you think they’re praying to? Now, go ahead and read your Bible, Dennis, and you go to your church, and, with any luck, you might win the annual raffle, but if you’re looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17, and he doesn’t like to be second guessed. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God.”
    Alec Baldwin, MALICE (R) (1993)
Now I am not saying go get crazy on competitive training and martial arts preparation, but the point is that we as correctional officers need to keep positive attitudes especially when it comes to our survival.

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

Life is short, Break the rules, Forgive quickly, Kiss slowly, Love truly, Laugh uncontrollably, And never regret anything that made you smile. Every sixty seconds you spend angry, upset or mad, is a full minute of happiness you will never get back. author, Tracy Barnhart, is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures. He has established courses on verbal de-escalation, Criminal behavior analysis, Use of force, and ground fighting and take down techniques for law enforcement and Corrections.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

NEW !.. UTMB pulling the plug on TDCJ contract medical care.. transition underway.

UTMB Galveston/ TDCJ Hospital
By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

According to the Galveston Daily News, UTMB has begun the process of transferring offender healthcare back to TDCJ. UTMB says negotiations have been ongoing for months but as of January 31st, that's all done.  Dr. David L. Callender, president of the medical branch, let the staff know that the transition has begun to transfer the health services to the corrections department. The university has been subsidizing care for inmates out of it's own coffers and states that it can no longer afford to do so.

Those involved say that it will cost more to find a new contractor and to set that system up then it would to just settle with UTMB on a new price. The Texas taxpayers will foot the bill on the transition said one UTMB administrator. For those of you that have been employed by TDCJ for awhile, you may remember the level of care given by the 2nd rate fly by night doctors and nurses the then TDC hired to handle it's medical needs. Court action will surely follow if we ever got into that position again.

UTMB provides inpatient and outpatient medical care for about 80 percent of the 156,000 prisoners in the Texas system and employes hundreds of employees that could be affected on dozens of prison units.

More to come....