Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Buzz straight out of Austin ?

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

As the Legislative session rolls on in Austin, there have been some high profile stories posted in the Austin American Statesman regarding the TDCJ. Mike Ward, who reports for the Statesman and has often been critical of the agency, posted a couple of pieces that caught our eye. First, Senator Whitmire, Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair, wants to know why the Region III Central unit that was shuttered over a year ago is still being manned with staff, and hasn't been bulldozed to the ground yet. TDCJ says it's a slow process and attributes the delay to the construction of a new agriculture warehouse and distribution center which will be the new distribution point taking over for the one still located and operating on the Central prison unit property. Hold your horses Senator Whitmire, these things take awhile.

Another eye catcher we saw also deals with Senator Whitmire. He wants youth (17 & 18 yr olds) currently incarcerated in the former TYC (Texas Youth Commission) now better known as the TJJD (Texas Juvenile Justice Department) that are violent or habitual rule violators to be housed in adult prisons. This will add to the nearly 200 "youthful offenders" housed already in adult lock ups. We did a story on this topic months back. You can find it by entering keywords "youthful offenders" in our site search box. Read our story to see why this may not be a good idea after all.

Leadership: Breaking from the pack

By Bryan Avila, 
Backgate Contributing Training Author

There will always be people that will tow the company line. Although this is a necessary evil sometimes, at what point do you break from the pack? What if you are a person in a position of authority?

Hypothetical situation for you to contemplate:

Your supervisor is talking to you about a task that was due on a certain day. During this conversation your supervisor tells you that his supervisor knew nothing about a project. Your supervisor also informs you that his supervisor informed his supervisor (3 rungs up from you) that he knew nothing about it.

As you start to tell him that his supervisor was present during the assignment of the project and a conversation about it that took place afterwards, your supervisor tells you that he does not want to hear about it and that his supervisor is always right and will always do the right thing. Now, at this point you are completely flabbergasted at the fact that your supervisor does not want to know all the facts, only what he wants to hear. Do you keep your mouth shut or do you stand up for your beliefs?

This scenario has played out many times over the years and will always continue to play out. Unfortunate as it is, some people are just like that. What can possibly lead them to abandon their principals (assuming that they had some to begin with) just to fall in line with everyone else? Is it the possibility of a future promotion? Is it that they may not want any type of conflict? I am sure that the answer will vary from person to person.

I am going to paraphrase here from a great book that I read years ago: Every Man a Tiger by Gen Chuck Horner, USAF Retired. The true virtue of an individual is the ability to make decisions when everyone else is unwilling to make one. The true testament of an individual is the ability to make a decision that you know is right even when everyone else thinks that you are wrong.

This passage from his book has stuck with me throughout the many years since I first read it and I am reminded of it every time someone either refuses to make a decision or is unwilling to make the right decision because they do not want to be seen as going across the grain.

I believe that it is truly sad that so many of our so-called leaders these days lack the intestinal fortitude to make a decision, albeit the right decision, for fear of either being wrong or having a complete lack of integrity and succumbing to the pressure of the popular opinion.

These “leaders” (in some cases they are barely a manager) have not found their own voice yet and do not truly believe in what they say. How can we trust, follow and believe in a leader that does not believe in themselves?

It can be argued that having the ability to lead is something that we are either born with or can be taught. Others believe that you can’t teach leadership. If we truly look at ourselves, we will find that we are all leaders at some point in our lives.

I believe that having the ability to lead in a successful manner boils down to having the ability to look beyond oneself and see the bigger picture on how we are affected by the circumstances around us as well as the effect that not acting will have. We may be thrust into a position of leadership and never had wanted it, yet be more successful than someone that wanted it in the first place.

Acting on behalf of the greater good is something that we may not want to do but may have to do. The most effective leaders of our times, past and present, all had something in common. They truly believed in what they were doing. They believed in their message even though they faced a great opposition from society. They knew what had to be done and were willing to do it. They took the bold step and continued their fighting for the plight with their values, morals and ethical beliefs intact in the face of adversity, whether we personally agree with their message or not.

These leaders were willing to listen to what others had to say, especially their critics and understand their point of view even when few wanted to understand them and their point of view. They were able to ask others about how they are viewed and accept the criticism in order to improve themselves.

The type of leader that you want to be should reflect who you are and not what someone else wants you to be. You have to be able to articulate what it is that you want and how you are going to get there. Be true to yourself. When you believe in yourself and find your inner voice others will believe in you and willingly follow.

What type of leader are you? Do you even have a voice?

Editor's note: Corrections.com 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. 

Ex-agency PIO Michelle Lyons Vs. TDCJ, a true David versus Goliath affair continues

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

There has been new information just obtained regarding the lawsuit filed by Ex-TDCJ Public Information Officer Michelle Lyons against top TDCJ administrators. Lyons was "constructively terminated" after reporting alleged internal corruption within the agency, then singled out after emailing us here at the Backgate about some of those details. We are in contact with Ms.Lyons and we will be posting the details here in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Will increasing drug arrests once again overflow Texas prisons ?

By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

Arrests for drug simple possession have increased 32% over the last decade, and about 90% of all drug related arrests are possession based and not for distribution, says a recent article in the Texas Tribune. In 2011, 27,000 offenders were in Texas prisons for possession of drugs, while only 16,000 were serving time for distribution. So what does that tell us ? Well with the Legislature cutting or under funding diversion programs and rehab facilities for drug users that means MONEY. Ana Yáñez Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, stated that the recent dip in prison incarceration numbers would soon rise again if some thought didn't go back into diversion programs for users.

So whats more expensive ? The diversion programs or the prison stay ? Well we all know the answer to that question. With budget cuts for schools, and state programs still looming this Legislative session as they did last, it could be wise to weigh the two options carefully. Some even ask the question, should we even be spending our time concerned about putting drug users in jail in the first place ? States like California, and even now Colorado allow personal use of marijuana for medical reasons. Is a full recreational usage bill right around the corner ? Either way, if something doesn't change, the state is projected to once again exceed capacity by 2014. We will be watching closely at how the Ledge tackles this issue this session.

TDCJ Employees needed to assist with college study on prisons

 By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

We posted this notice awhile back and had issues with loading the replies we got into the system to be forwarded to our contact. The study is still seeking TDCJ employees who have ever been assigned to Ad-Seg or death row and are willing to answer a series of questions about that experience. We cannot reveal the author of the study at this point, or the college in question, but it's going to be used for an upcoming publication on criminal justice and how the environment affects employees.  If you are interested, or want to re-submit your last questionnaire, please email us at admin@thebackgate.org, and use the subject line " questions ". We will forward you the questions and allow you to submit them anonymously to the study group.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Employee union posts link for real time Legislative updates

The AFSCME union has asked us to post the below link so TDCJ employees can have access to see real time updates during the 83rd Legislative session now underway. Note: We are not affiliated with the union, but will pass on anything helpful or informing for TDCJ employees. Go check it out and stay connected.

Click Here to check it out !

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

After staff hardship, Mandatory overtime at McConnell now said to be only voluntary

 By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

We have recently learned that TDCJ has now classified it's overtime situation at the Beeville McConnell unit as voluntary only. The Backgate covered the issue several times over the past few months where employees from several regions were mandated to travel long hours and work mandatory overtime on their regular days off. Some traveled up to 4 hours from their home units to make the trip, and many employees were disciplined for refusing to go. After what we believe to have been the media coverage and outside pressure, the TDCJ dropped the mandatory requirement and have been recruiting volunteers from all over the state. Whatever the case, it's a great thing for the employees and their safety.

To see those stories we covered over the past few months regarding McConnell and staffing woes there just type in key word "McConnell" in our search box.

Texas 83rd Legislative session is now in session

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

As many may know, the 83rd Legislative session has now begun in Texas. State Senator, and Criminal Justice Committee chair John Whitmire says closing two more Texas prisons is on his agenda. With staffing levels lower then ever and the state's population of felons slowing he thinks it's time. Look for other potential run ins involving the TDCJ to spring up as well as the session drives on. The Texas Juvenile Justice system will again be under scrutiny after continuing issues at the youth lock ups. Some have suggested that the TDCJ absorb the Youth Commission and assume control of those facilities. We'll see.  Raises for Texas Correctional Officers ? Well, don't hold your breath although the AFSCME union has placed the topic high on their agenda of issues with state legislators once again this session.

The union also stated that they were tackling the following issues during this session;
  1. Privatization of ERS Retirement
  2. Cost of living pay increases 14% (3.5% for each fiscal year 2012-2015)
  3. Sick Time Benefits / Vacation Benefits
  4. Reduction of Health Care Benefits
  5. Work Place Conditions and Safety
  1. March 21st at 9 am meeting at the TX AFL-CIO Auditorium at 1106 Lavaca Street, Austin TX. We will be briefed, then we will move on to the capitol to meet with politicians. Then at 12 Noon, there will be a Fallen Officers Ceremony on the South Steps of the capitol. Please show up for this vitally important ceremony.
  2. May 16th 2013 we will again meet at the TX AFL-CIO Auditorium at 9 am, be briefed, then on to the capitol.
Other topics for this session are to include expanded concealed carry bills for Texans, immigration, and of course school financing. You can follow the session via video feed from the Texas House of Reps website by CLICKING HERE! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

TDCJ employees awaken New Years Day to less money in the bank

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

For those of you who don't routinely check your bank account after each state payday to see that it's all there, well it won't be. As part of a last minute U.S. Congress agreement early New Year's Day, Americans will now give up another 2% of their hard earned dollars in Federal taxes.

Many employees who don't keep up with the latest national news awakened to find from $50-70 bucks missing from what they were accustomed to receiving each month. And it's here to stay! Happy New Year !

Check out this link to how it all happened in Washington.