Thursday, August 30, 2012

TDCJ Vs. Employees on facebook - the sequel

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

I few months ago we did a story regarding the TDCJ monitoring employee facebook accounts, and the resulting disciplinary action they claim is not happening. Well, we have yet another case to report. This time, it involves selective enforcement, a termination, and a reversal based on the actions of a high ranking TDCJ official himself. See what it's all about. You will be amazed at how it all turned out, and why. Stay tuned for the upcoming story by Doug Glass...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hutchins state jail employee cries foul over private home search

UPDATE: 8-29-12

TDCJ has officially supplied a statement to the Backgate acknowledging the incident by stating; "We are aware of the situation and still gathering the facts. Unit staff did assist the officer in looking for the keys at the employee's residence with her consent. The keys were not located. The locks have since been re-keyed." - Jason Clark, TDCJ.

As we understand it, law enforcement has been made aware of the case and an investigation is pending at this point. 


By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

The Backgate received an email yesterday from a Hutchins state jail employee in Dallas. Apparently some unit based keys turned up missing 30 days prior and the unit Assistant Warden, along with his posse set out to the private residence of the employee to do a home shakedown. The employee consented after what she describes as intimidation by the Warden. A couple of well placed phone calls this afternoon verified that the incident actually occurred.

 The group of staff members searched her home for the set of keys. They were not found and the employee denies possessing them. The Office of Inspector General's office, who would normally investigate claims of theft, or misconduct, was not familiar with any actions with this employee. It seems the administration took it upon themselves to go off the unit, to a private residence, and demand entry. Fearing retaliation on the job, she allowed the search. TDCJ has been asked to provide a statement based on these claims, we are still awaiting a response from the media office at this point. We will update this story as more information is available. Jeff Pringle is the Senior Warden at the Dallas facility that holds 2,276 offenders and employs 285 security employees.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Little known TDCJ program gets the word out to teens about the consequences of driving under the influence

TDCJ Photo

Can Deterrence Programs really work and save taxpayer dollars ?

By Kendal Reed, Backgate Website

Growing up in today's society is tough for teenagers. Peer pressure tops the list of issues teens face on a daily basis in Texas. Drugs, alcohol and the quick buck to be made on the street has taken hold of many teenagers, and has them poised for a trip to one of the many Texas prisons located around the state.

With correctional costs skyrocketing, the budget crunch, and staffing issues closing the doors at some Texas prisons there has to be a better way. Right ?? A community approach by TDCJ may save millions in future costs down the road say many criminal justice pundits who are speaking out. TDCJ operated a community outreach program called " Operation Kick It " some years back. That program morphed into the " Life Decisions Program " and is available to community outreach programs, school districts and other venues to spread the word....there is a better way !

TDCJ's posted statement says ; "The Life Decisions Program is designed to allow qualified offenders to travel throughout Texas to inform, educate, and advise the public (specifically young adults) about the negative consequences of poor decisions involving drugs, alcohol, crime, and gangs in an attempt to deter incarceration."

"Formerly known as "Operation Kick-It", the new Life Decisions Program emphasizes the message contained in each offender presentation that your decisions can ultimately determine your outcome in life. The program is now decentralized and operated out of 18 selected units within the six regions of the Correctional Institutions Division."

Can it work ? Many say it does, and after viewing the program for myself sometime back in a High School setting, i am also a believer. The reality of it hits home with some of the toughest kids. The organizer of that particular event included the presence of the Life Decisions Program to the schools annual presentation of the districts " Shattered Dreams " program. That program uses students to act out, and film situations like drinking and driving where students are hurt, and some even killed after indulging in that behavior. Local and state law enforcement participate, crashed vehicles placed on a highway to act out the scenario, and local EMS and even medical helicopters respond. Make-up and fake blood make the scene complete and all too real. The involved kids are taken out of school for a day to simulate their passing. Then a mock funeral is held including participation by the kids real parents who get emotionally involved.

The event ends with speakers speaking on the dangers of drugs and alcohol usage by teens, and how it could possibly end. TDCJ provided two trusty status offenders for the program. Both were escorted down the aisles in full restraints (for effect) in front of the crowd of hundreds in the auditorium as if on display. They themselves are incarcerated for killing someone while under the influence of drugs are alcohol. They told their stories to the captivated crowd who listened intently. Then they are restrained again (for effect) and led away. Can these types of programs help break the cycle of bad decisions by teens ? Should the programs be expanded and be better funded ? TDCJ does not publicize the program to the public. If it's not passed around by word of mouth, or an educator or community leader doesn't happen upon it buried on the official TDCJ website, it's unknown.

If you are involved in, or know of a community based or school district program that could benefit from this type of service, link to the TDCJ program HERE

Battling Contraband from Outside the Secure Perimeter

By Joe Bouchard, Backgate Contributing Author

The fundamental safety tactic of contraband control is part of everyone’s duty. You don’t have to wear a uniform or be inside the secure perimeter of the facility in order to assist in the security of the institution.

Those working outside the secure perimeter can assist in the battle against the adverse effects of illicit goods.

While those outside the secure perimeter cannot fully participate in the physical search for contraband inside, they can perform three particular roles in contraband control. They can feed the information machine, relate tales of contraband from earlier phases of their careers, and look at the work patterns of prisoner porters.

Feed the information machine
. Assisting in intelligence gathering is easy. Mailroom staff are ideally positioned to do this. Staff may receive or intercept correspondence from prisoners that contain nuggets of information. This knowledge would be routed to the inspector.

Tales of contraband
. Some staff working outside of the secure perimeter have corrections experience inside. They are acclimated to how some prisoners may move illicit goods. They may even be aware of specific older prisoners in the system. Staff who formerly worked within the secure perimeter know of the many possible unauthorized activities through experience. Also, cautionary tales and other accounts of contraband can be told for the benefit of newer staff. On the face of it, this does not appear to be as helpful as the actual physical search. But, talking about contraband to newer staff assists in getting them to think about what could happen.

Watching prisoners
. Those outside the gates should scrutinize the patterns of the prisoner porters. Contraband travels between levels of custody and institutions. Lower custody level prisoner porters in your work area may be vehicles for bootleg. They are not exempt from analysis. Ask yourself, does one prisoner porter clean the staff bathroom then another porter enters that bathroom immediately? Is this place a drop and pass location? Is there a loose floor molding or hand dryer that could serve as hiding spot for contraband?

Non-custody staff outside the secure perimeter can be of great value in identifying and reporting contraband movement patterns. Their intelligence gathering can lend the information necessary to stop dangerous enterprises. In doing so, they make it safer for staff, prisoners, and the public. 

Joe Bouchard, writes and presents on many corrections topics. He is a Librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for The Corrections Professional, Editor of The Correctional Trainer and MCA Today, and an instructor of Corrections for Gogebic Community College. You can reach him at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. He is also the author of three books including "Icebreakers III," the third in IACTP's series of training exercises books.

These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy. We would like to thank Joe for his submissions to this website for the employees of the TDCJ.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Warning: phone scam targeting TDCJ Employees


Backgate via TDCJ-OIG

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is warning agency staff to be aware of a phone scam whose targets have included TDCJ offices, inundating them with calls from an unknown source.

The caller is male, speaks with a foreign accent and represents himself as either an attorney or collection agency representative. He indicates that the staff member has an overdue debt and requests the staff member to pay the debt immediately or face legal action. In some cases, when staff refused the demand, the caller cursed them or became belligerent and continued to make calls to the staff members to the point of harassment. In extreme instances the calls come not only to the staff members' work number, but to their home and cell phone numbers as well.

These calls usually originate from an area code within the United States, however, caller identification technology may be circumvented and does not necessarily indicate the actual phone from which the calls are being made.

Do not fall victim to this ploy. If you receive a one of these calls:
  • Do not be intimidated or engage in conversation
  • Record the date and time the call was received and the phone number displayed on caller ID
  • Terminate the call by hanging up the phone
  • Record your observations about the caller and details of what they said
  • Report the phone call by e-mail to:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Texas Tribune story on TDCJ staffing woes includes Backgate perspective

A story just published in the Texas Tribune features issues near and dear to TDCJ employees and their families. Understaffed facilities that may be unsafe and forced overtime issues are discussed, as well as employee thoughts on the employee grievance system. Go check it out. Thanks for including us in the story Emily Foxhall.

Click Here to link to the Texas Tribune Story !

Friday, August 10, 2012

Flack over TDCJ's tracking dogs used to hunt illegal aliens coming to a head

By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

A story and photo posted in the Victoria Advocate newspaper this week of a TDCJ Officer on horseback assisting DPS in a search for suspected illegal aliens just south of Goliad has risen some eyebrows. The Advocate reports that  TDCJ was called in by the DPS to assist in the search by using it's scent dogs to track the group who bailed out of a vehicle that was later found to have stolen plates. Some bloggers out there, along with some Texas tax payers take issue with that. They say it's not the place of TDCJ to assist in gathering up illegals.

TDCJ policy allows local jurisdictions and state law enforcement to solicit assistance where necessary from the TDCJ. It just takes a phone call for approval from the closest Regional Director's office. That being Region IV Director Eileen Kennedy in this particular case. The Advocate story provided an area where public comments were allowed. Below is a comment taken from that area;

"I am one of the landowners that the prison guards with horses and dogs rode on. When I got home today, I noticed our horses not coming to feed. We searched and found our new fence cut. All five strands cut. I didnt mind them on my land looking, I am mad that No One told me they cut my fence. Between all deputies and other law officials and with Goliad being a town where everyone knows you, no note,no phone call...nothing. My husband even talked to a deputy who was sitting on the side of the road. I called sherrif dept and deputies on call were eating and they took my number. I never recieved a phone call back. So here I had lost horses, mosquitos attacking while mending fence and a phone that didnt ring! I find this just pathetic."

-Jenny Johnson-Lassman

What are your thoughts ? Is this moral ? Is it ethical on the agencies part ?

 Click Here! for the Advocate Story and photos !

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Texas humorist Kinky Friedman may take another shot at the Governor's mansion

 By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

Texas singer/songwriter and cigar enthusiast  Kinky Friedman has once again mentioned his interest in being the next Governor of Texas. Friedman had unsuccessful bid for the position in 2006 as an independent.

Friedman says this time he would do it as a Democrat. Kinky hails from Utopia Texas and is a 1966 graduate of The University of Texas Austin where he majored in psychology. Kinky was instrumental in the founding of the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch located in Utopia and has written a book or two.

 He also hocks cigars and tequila bearing his name. We had the honor of doing an exclusive sit down interview with Kinky during his 2006 campaign and what he had to say was meaningful to say the least. To see that interview click HERE. Stay tuned...

TDCJ prisons more dangerous as staffing woes continue on

By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

With turnover at 1 in 5,more Officers left the agency on their own in 2011 then any other year records revealed. This had created dangerous safety issues on most prison units statewide say many employees. Staffing plans, which dictate how many Officers are needed to man the many duty posts within a prison, have been cut to the bone. But that doesn't mean that activities don't get done, it means one Officer may now be used to do the job of three. With TDCJ shuffling offenders from the Connally unit in Kenedy, and even the Dalhart unit due to staffing issues, the future still isn't looking to bright for the agency.

With some units hovering at 60-70 percent of required staffing levels, that means forced overtime for employees. Some being required to work 2 of their 3 regular days off just to keep facilities running. The state paid about $7.5 million for 285,000 overtime hours in fiscal year 2011 as shown by TDCJ's own records. Correctional officers statewide make an average annual salary of about $34,880, some $8,500 below the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Not nearly enough to deal with the desparaging treatment from administrators, and some the most violent inmates in the United States.

With employees leaving at the current rate, the agency will be in real crisis within the next year if things don't change. The agency had got to lose the chip they carry on their shoulder, realize it's 2012 and not 1975 and do what they can to keep the good ones. With legislators again asking state agencies to butcher 10% more from their upcoming budgets, not much more fat can be cut at the TDCJ unless it's from the top down.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Media source wants to hear from you !


If you would like to contact the reporter directly to speak to her, she has provided this email address; the story will publish Thursday so hurry up!

A news media source wants to hear from TDCJ current or former employees willing to speak about TDCJ's turn-around and issues that are creating high turn-over for an upcoming story. Is it the way Officers are treated ? The pay ? The corruption ? Not feeling safe in a shorthanded environment ? We want to hear it from you. You have told us, now tell them. Post your comments below. If you would like to be contacted personally by the reporter to be interviewed please email us at and we will get you in contact.

Connally unit in Kenedy to ship off 320 more offenders due to understaffing woes

By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

TDCJ has reported that the Connally unit in Kenedy will be once again mothballing some offender housing areas due to chronic under staffing issues on the facility. Just a few months ago, similar numbers were moved for the same reason. TDCJ is blaming low staffing numbers on the re-immersion of the oil field boom in South Texas, But the Backgate has learned it may be an issue with the way the Officers are treated in that region, and the uncontrolled massive amounts of forced overtime Officers are mandated to work each week. Others have said it's just not safe to work in such an understaffed environment where the show must always go on. 320 no doubt bottom of the barrel quality offenders will be hopping on buses in coming weeks and headed to a unit near you as the unit hovers around 59% total staffing ! Are more units soon to follow? .... surely more to come ...