Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Are Texas Prisons water hogs ?

From our friends over at the Grits for Breakfast Blog

TDCJ's Clements and Neal units, reported the Amarillo Globe News ("'An intervention' on water usage in Amarillo," Oct. 14) are together the second largest water customer in Amarillo, soaking up 44% more water than the city of Amarillo itself (395 million gallons and 275 million gallons last year, respectively). Grits has written before about prisons as water hogs. While TDCJ is the second biggest water customer in Amarillo, it's the largest in Abilene. In South Texas, the Connally unit had to begin rationing water and closed two wings because of excessive staffing vacancies and a chronic municipal water shortage.

Prisons' vast water use in mainly rural areas is a largely unexplored aspect of mass incarceration, but one wonders if, in the coming years, Texas' water wars might ever contribute to de-incarceration pressures? As water problems which are today viewed as annoyances become more acute, towns like Amarillo may begin to look at who's using up most of their water and decide whether or not the juice is worth the squeeze.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

EX-TDCJ Public Information Officer still awaiting federal civil court date after alleged agency harassment and retaliation

 By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

Michelle Lyons, TDCJ's previously terminated Public Information Officer, has her suit filed against the agency, and is now just awaiting her day in court. Lyons, a longtime TDCJ employee, was ousted after she took a stand against the way the agency was keeping time in her department. Later she was harassed for supplying this website with public information. The same information she supplied the media outlets, and covered under the Texas Open Records Act. This all eventually brought about her constructive termination by the agency she served so diligently for years. Check out the original story as posted by the Backgate back in June of 2012.

 Reprint of the original story posted by a Backgate Reporter;

Ousted TDCJ Public Information Officer Michelle Lyons sits patiently as she awaits her day in federal court after filing a lawsuit against the TDCJ for gender discrimination and retaliation. We heard from Michelle today and she is doing just fine. Her attorneys are working diligently to clear her good name, and to prove that the agency is nothing more then bullies harassing good employees. Something that most TDCJ employees already know and have seen themselves. Michelle sends thanks to all who have continued to support her in her actions against the agency.

Weeks back, The Backgate spoke to Texas Senator John Whitmire regarding a statement he made to a local reporter regarding Michelle Lyons and her ordeal with the TDCJ.  Whitmire stated that he threw Lyons out of a public meeting after she was disrespectful and " popped her gum" while he proceeded with the meeting. A charge that was unfounded after evidence proved that he and Lyons were never in that type of environment together other then at a Senate hearing regarding cell phones, and on that occasion nothing happened. Insiders say that Whitmire confused Lyons with another staff member who did create an issue at a meeting involving Offender families. Whitmire called us at the Backgate to " clear the issue up" but never actually spoke with anyone here. We suspect he realized that Lyons actually filed the lawsuit against TDCJ and that what he said about Lyons was slanderous, so he recused himself of the matter. Recent attempts to contact his office have gone unanswered.

Although Senator Whitmire has typically been of assistance to us here in this forum, it seems he is riding the fence on this issue. We would like to see him do the right thing and set out to find the truth before the state loses millions in law suits over inept administrators in Huntsville. On another note, one of our staffers is one step closer to proving his case of retaliation against the TDCJ after he was targeted after being identified as one of our affiliates here. Attorneys are involved, and we cannot speak on the issue in depth, but it appears that the writing is on the wall with this one as well. These are just two of the stories on the issue of corruption within the agency itself. I am sure there have been thousands of others affected over the years. Well TDCJ, looks like the taxpayers and Legislators aren't amused by the lack of direction and poor management. Time to clean out the attic so to speak.

To see a recent article on the latest with Michelle Lyons, CLICK HERE to go to the Austin Chronicle!
Click HERE to read the lawsuit !  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Houston cop killer gets last minute reprieve


From The Houston Chronicle

 HUNTSVILLE - From his holding cell outside Texas' death chamber, Houston killer Anthony Haynes on Thursday praised God for sparing his life after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped his execution and agreed to consider reviewing his case.

"God told me I wouldn't die on death row," an ecstatic Haynes told a prison employee. "He put things in my path to keep me focused. God proved himself to be faithful. He delivered me from the death chamber. To God be all the glory."

Haynes, 33, had been sentenced to die for the May 1998 murder of off-duty Houston police Sgt. Kent Kincaid. The officer was gunned down as his wife watched after the policeman confronted Haynes in the wake of a traffic incident that police said was part of a strategy to rob motorists.

Whats your take at the Backgate? Are your pro death penalty? Post below. 

Click here for the Full Chronicle Story

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ghost Adventures, Central prison unit episode. Is it really haunted ?

Check out the entire episode of Ghost Adventures featuring the recently shuttered Sugarland Central prison unit. Is it really haunted ? You be the judge.

Monday, October 8, 2012

For The Trainers:

 By Bryan Avila, Backgate Contributing Author

As a trainer, there are many things we need to do prior to any class. These may include reviewing all the course material, making sure we have all the training aids and all the good stuff that we already do. We strive to do the best that we can in the classroom or whatever environment we will be training in that day.

My question to you is: Is that all you do? When was the last time YOU increased your knowledgebase? When was the last time you took care of yourself?

Most of the time we do not think of any of this. We may go to different trainings and learn a few new things, but for the majority of us, that is it. Depending on what type of agency you work for, you may be a trainer in a few areas. In other agencies, you may be an instructor in just about everything.

I'll use myself as an example for both so bear with me. While I was working for Vermont DOC, I was an instructor in OC and Fire Safety. I taught mostly at the facility on a quarterly basis (training was conducted this way) while continuing to work shift the rest of the time. It was relatively easy for me to find the time to read different articles, etc about anything that I was interested in.

Now, working in Texas is a totally different ballgame. My fulltime job is as an instructor. We get to teach everything: CPR, first aid, defensive tactics, classification, restraints, communication, firearms, chemical agents, transport procedures, Safe Prisons (PREA), con games plus anything else that is there. And let's not forget about in-service as well. Finding the time to read something new was a lot harder to do.

Sure, I could do it at home without a problem since I have a computer. I would also be neglecting my family since I am extremely Type A (hey, as instructors, we are all type A personalities. We have to be). I also had my business that I needed to keep up with as well. I would start in on something and forget the world existed until it was complete. I had to find the right balance.

My knowledge was getting stale. Yes, I would know the material that I taught. Yes, I kept on reading the lesson plans to make sure I wouldn't miss anything. I had been looking for a way to learn more and more so I wouldn't feel like a cereal box that was left open for a month. I wanted to challenge myself. It was not a matter of being better than anyone else.

I work with an outstanding group of instructors. Arguably the best. I will have them go toe to toe with anyone else. I just wanted to be better than who I was. I was not happy where I was as an instructor. I was becoming complacent. Not good for me...at all.

I knew about a few sites in which I could get some more training. Some of them free, some of it not so free. Probably one of the best ones I found was for the National Institute of Corrections. They have so many classes that I could do online, at my pace and it would not cost me anything. What an awesome resource for trainers!

The only limitations that we have are the ones that we place on ourselves. I can't blame anyone else for the stale knowledgebase that I had. It was my own doing. My own laziness.

The status quo cannot remain as it is. We must continuously move forward. We are the experts in our field. People depend on us to teach them. Guide them. Help them.

Are we where we want to be as trainers? Where do we want to be as trainers? I can tell you this, I know where I want to be and I also know I am not there. Still have a very long way to go. I have not achieved my full potential. Have you? 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Overt Search for Contraband

By Joe Bouchard, Backgate Contributing Author

Contraband is everywhere. Whatever the form or amount, it is always potentially dangerous in a correctional facility.

An important instrument in the fight against contraband is the physical search. In its most basic form, it is a visual inspection of the any area of control. Two kinds of searches are overt and covert searches. This is a choice that will depend on the circumstance.

During an overt search, staff are not masking the fact that they are looking for contraband. It is not a stealthy sting. The overt search is meant to be seen by prisoners.

The overt search has many benefits. Among them are:

Impression. The overt, or the open search. is partly for show. If you want to allow prisoners to see that you are taking part in the actual search, the overt search is best. It may be that staff will want to paint an obvious picture. The message is that they intend to keep the area clear of items intended for illicit trade. If one prisoner sees the prominent display of examination, then it is likely that the prison grapevine will inform others of such. Overt searches can be timed for peak prisoner traffic times. The desired result is that news of the search will disseminate.

Deterrent. Prisoners may abort or suspend future plans for hiding or trading contraband in a certain place if they see staff combing the area regularly. The well-watched area is not the place to risk valuable goods. The overt search may serve as the inspiration for prisoners to remove well-hidden contraband from the area.

Serendipity. There is always the surprise of finding something unexpectedly. And, the overt search might just produce a clue to some other institutional mystery. By looking for nothing in particular, staff might unearth something that helps solve a riddle that has plagued the inspector for some time.

There are many cautions to consider when employing the overt search. Sometimes it just is not appropriate for staff to make prisoners aware of the search. For example, there may be a danger in prisoners knowing that staff will search a particular area. Or, an obvious search may thwart the time and effort invested in a lengthy investigation already in progress. If stealth is more appropriate for the situation, the covert method of search is preferred.

Also, those that use the overt method should not just go through the motions of the shakedown. If you are searching, you should actually look. You should not pretend to inspect.

Adept prisoners may be able to see through a feigned search. If it is believed that the search is just for show, some may challenge the level of scrutiny. They may test the thoroughness of staff by planting something with little value (sacrifice contraband) in an obvious place. After the overt search, they would arrange to check if the planted item was disturbed.

And, prisoners may reason that if an overt search has been performed, it may take a while before the next time the area is scheduled to be examined. They may believe that areas are not necessarily searched randomly, but in a rigid order.

Despite the cautions surrounding the overt search, it is still an important corrections tool. Any search is time and effort invested into institutional safety for staff and prisoners. Searches for contraband are indispensable in the workday of all corrections staff.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mandatory overtime continues, staff made to drive sub-par state vehicles down south to fill gaps.

 By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

Region III, along with many other regions are continuing to mandate staff members to make the journey from their assigned units to the Beeville area at least once per week to fill staffing gaps in that area. The trips are done in groups set up by unit, and a state issued van is used to transport several Officers at a time down south.

That drive can last three hours one way. The staff are worked on the McConnell unit in Beeville for approximately eight hours and then are relieved to make the dangerous trip back to the Rosharon area.

This day lasts from 12-14 hours. Recently a group of Officers assigned to the Darrington unit in Region III had a mishap on their way back to the Rosharon area when the state issued van they were traveling in broke down near El Campo off of Highway 59 at approximately 8pm. The Officers aboard immediately reported the incident to their supervisor on the Darrington unit and a TDCJ wrecker was dispatched from the Sugarland area to retrieve the van while the staff members stood outside waiting. The wrecker arrived approximately two hours later. Thing is, the wrecker does not transport staff. So the wrecker retrieved the van and left the staff out on the road to fend for themselves in the middle of the night, in uniform that generally represents a target for ex-offenders and such. 

A supervisor at Darrington was charged with getting the staff back but the units van was on a transport to the Jester 4 unit. Those staff members could not be reached for a re-direct to El Campo after dropping the inmate off. So when the van finally arrived back on Darrington, the van was sent to get them. Needless to say the staff members were stranded there for 3 hours. They returned to the Darrington unit at approximately 1am. The issue is that these Officers are mandated to make the trip in TDCJ's well known, Offender maintained transport vans, working long hours, and then being on the road driving back at all hours of the night. As dangerous as it all is, to compound the issues, the mode of transportation is sub-par. At what point does this all become a safety issue for the staff ? And does the agency care about their welfare or just that the staffing needs are met down south ? The hope is that it won't take a serious accident, or some other disaster to change the way the operation is run.

What are your thoughts ?