Monday, April 30, 2012

Is TDCJ violating your privacy rights by requiring you give them your facebook password ???

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

Well, looks like TDCJ may be requiring employees to present their personal facebook or other social media site account passwords to the administration as so some snooping can be done. We received word today that employees around the state have run into bullying and threats over their personal facebook account access. The TDCJ contends that employees cannot have ex-offenders, family of ex-offenders, or even friends of friends of ex-offenders or their families on their facebook/Twitter friends list. An offense under this rule (rule #42) could spell termination with no chance of mediation for that employee. Although we understand the issue with ex-offenders or even ex-offenders families, how can it be proven you were aware of who was who ?

  How can you know that the high school friend from 1985 you have not seen since then has a brother or sister that was once in prison ? Or may even once were themselves? Were does safety and security meet with common sense and violation of your rights ? Well, we will obviously be looking into this more closely over the next week or so. We will seek clarification by TDCJ, and see what the TDCJ unions, State Lawmakers, and even civil rights attorneys have to say about the practice. Facebook administrators have released a statement that read that they (facebook attorneys) would sue any agency or employer that required employees to turn over there passwords as it violates there own terms of service with their members. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And The Hunt Is On !

By Bryan Avila,  Backgate Contributing Author

One of the most crucial aspects of working in a correctional facility is the search for contraband. We all know that it is there. But where is it? The hunt for contraband is just like a game of cat and mouse. Offenders have it and they don’t want us to find it. We want it and don’t want offenders to have it. So how do we find it? By getting down and dirty.

One thing that we must always keep in mind is that offenders are going to hide the contraband in the most disgusting places they can think of: inside the toilet, in trash, dirty and soiled clothing, and any other place that would make a normal person say “I am not going to put my hand in there!”

I never ceases to amaze me how many officers forget where to look. Before we even start working for corrections we already know how to shakedown a cell or a common area. We just didn’t realize that we knew. Think about all the places that you hid things from your siblings, parents, and spouses (gifts, etc) that you did not want them to find. The next thing that surprises me is that officers don’t use the proper gear when searching.

Think about gloves for a minute. What good is a pair of non-latex gloves going to do for you if you come across a needle or razorblade? The only thing that those gloves are good for is not getting your hands too dirty. Make sure you get a good pair of tactical Kevlar gloves. There are many brands out there and the small expense is worth it’s weight in gold if you never get injured. You can always put on the non-latex gloves over them for searching toilets and other disgusting things. DO NOT LET THEM WIN!

When searching an area, always use the same pattern that you have for yourself. Start at one end and work your way around. It does not matter if you go left to right or right to left; top to bottom or bottom to top. ALWAYS USE THE SAME PATTERN. This will avoid any confusion on what is left to do if you have to stop for any reason.

DO NOT forget food items! They love to hide contraband in containers and then make them look like they have never been opened. They are really good at doing this. Use spoons or tongue depressors to search things like peanut butter or fluids. Do not look with big things in mind (cell phone, weapons, etc). Instead, look for the smallest things that you can think of. If you search in this manner, you will find the big things as well as the small things.

Make sure that you crawl under beds, over beds and move things around. If it comes apart, take it apart and look in it. If it looks strange, take it! You can always give it back later if you have to. Do not take the shortcuts that a lot of officers like to take.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. Where would I hide it? 2. Am I satisfied with the job that I did? 3. Do I know my agencies policies and procedures to know what they can have? 4. Do I know what they can purchase from commissary?

If you can answer those questions honestly to yourself and are satisfied with the answer, you will be in great shape.

And most importantly, BE SAFE!

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. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Poll: Why are employees afraid to report wrongdoing ?

By Marcus Williams, Backgate Website

A recent poll conducted by the Backgate asked current employees of the TDCJ to vote on whether or not they felt safe and comfortable reporting corruption and wrongdoing to their administrators on the unit. Of the nearly 100 votes received, nearly half of those polled (46 %) stated that they would not feel comfortable reporting employee corruption at any level on their assigned prison units.

When asked to comment on why they would not feel comfortable, many voters commented on the poll itself or the Backgate message board that they did not trust the administration, or did not feel that it would make any difference.

Some said they would report corruption, but directly to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) or to off unit higher level administrators. What this says it that TDCJ employees are not reporting corruption or illegal criminal acts carried out by their co-workers because they do not trust their administrators. One comment describes how upper level administrators on some units have been caught in sexual relationships with employees, and that those employees were involved in corruption but were "untouchable" by administrators due to that employees relationship with the administrator. Others expressed doubt that some administrators even cared about ongoing wrongdoing on their facilities and label employees "problematic" when they report wrongdoing.

Whatever the reasons, true or concocted, employees do not feel comfortable or safe in reporting wrongdoing and corruption. Is it the longstanding internal inmate based attitude of "no snitching"that causes employees to overlook corruption ? Or is it a sign of a deeper issue within an organization when it's employees are afraid to speak out against corruption, or wrongdoing out of fear of retaliation, inaction or being labeled a troublemaker ? The agency can conduct training sessions, make videos for employees to watch, or talk about it at annual inservice classes, but until it practices what it preaches and takes a stand against those actions or attitudes that prevent employees from coming forward, the biggest correctional organization in the United States will remain deeply rooted in the dark ages.

 In all fairness, there are hundreds of great professional administrators beating the hallways everyday to rid the agency of corruption, and doing their best to improve the image. But as long as there are those bad, egotistical, unprofessional administrators out there operating,allowing corruption to ferment,  the general overview in the eyes of front line employees will remain negative.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Backgate Site Poll: Would you as a current TDCJ employee feel safe in reporting unit corruption ?

 By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

It's been an issue for years, and it's only getting worse say some employees. Can you trust your unit administration to handle accusations of corruption in a safe and professional manner without putting you in the line of fire ? Would you report you're co-worker if you saw him/her engaged in a kiss or hug with an offender ? Would it be worth becoming involved ? Would you rather report your accusations directly to your unit OIG investigator ? We will explore these issues in coming weeks right here in this forum. If you have any input please post your comments below. Just keep them civil, and clean.

Also, please take a minute to take our site poll in the column to the right !

Friday, April 6, 2012

TDCJ cell phone seizures up even as millions are spent to use offender phone systems

By Marcus Williams, Backgate Website

The offender phone system installed in Texas prisons has raised $14.2 million dollars in revenue for fiscal year 2011. From that, the State of Texas took a cut of $ 5.7 million in commissions stated a TDCJ spokesperson who spoke to the Backgate. Those commissions go directly into the crime victims fund, or the State's general fund after certain annual percentages are reached within the crime victims fund.  Embarq, which is the company TDCJ chose to install and maintain the phone system within the agency, won a seven year contract with the state in 2009 to provide all facilities with offender phone service. According to Wikipedia,  Embarq was the largest independent local exchange carrier in the United States, serving customers in 18 states and providing local, long distance, high-speed data and wireless services to residential and business customers. It had been formerly the local telephone division (LTD) of Sprint Nextel until 2006, when it was spun off as an independent company. Embarq produced more than $6 billion in revenues annually, and had approximately 18,000 employees. In 2009, it was purchased by CenturyTel, which rebranded as CenturyLink after the merger.

The company became involved in providing prison phone services several years ago and is currently contracted by several states to supply prisoner phone services.  The company touts;

  • The system will allow inmates up to 15 minutes per call to friends and family who are on approved list of visitors.
  • The system gives a warning message one minute before being disconnecting the call.
  • The call can be made from 7:00 AM - 10:00 PM
  • Calls are limited to 120 a month
  • The calls to crime victims or the victims' families will be not be allowed.
  • International calls and calls to cell phone, calls to 800 numbers businesses, pay phones aren't allowed.
  • The service is not available for inmates with disciplinary problems, gang affiliations or those on death row.
  • The service provider takes voice prints of each eligible inmate as a security check for phone access
  • Friends and relatives of inmates can register on a Web site: . The people registering will be notified by phone once they are approved for receiving calls.
  • The People on an inmate's visitors list are required to submit a copy of their telephone bill and a copy of their driver's license for verification and validation.
  • Calls to an inmate's lawyer of record, protected under attorney-client privilege, would not be monitored or recorded.
Is the system full proof ? Well no it's not. TDCJ touted the system in the beginning as it tried to sell the legislature on the deal that the phones would cut down on the number of illegal cell phones entering Texas prison facilities and cut down on employee corruption. The phone system was completed in December of 2010.

From January 2011 through December 2011, TDCJ reported a total of 274 cell phones as being intercepted (confiscated prior to getting into the prison) and a of 630 confiscated after they made it inside the walls. In just the first two months of 2012, (Jan-Feb)15 cell phones were confiscated prior to getting inside, and 94 were confiscated after making it in the secure facility. In all fairness, TDCJ has done a great job stopping and hampering the incoming flow, but has the the offender phone system slowed down the number of cell phones getting into our prisons ? The numbers don't lie. Offenders are recorded and monitored while using the Embarq system. They cannot make drug deals, arrange gang hits, or conduct illegal activity on the Embarg phones without some level of detection. Cell phones can be purchased from a rogue employee for as little as $200. That offender can in turn "rent" that phone out to other offenders and triple what he paid for the phone in just weeks. That accompanied by the lack of prosecution for these employees, makes it a lucrative venture behind the walls. Until the supply factor is removed from that of the demand, it's only going to get worse.

So whats the silver bullet that will eliminate these issues you ask ? Well that's a hotly contested debate that's sure to rage on for years to come as the quality of employee the prison system hires continues to dwindle.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Let the charade begin

 From Backgate Staff,

Just how low have TDCJ staffing numbers statewide gone? Are staffing plans cutting needed positions to beef up numbers? Just how safe is it going into the hottest and most violent time within the prison system - SUMMER- with fewer staff ?