Sunday, May 26, 2013

Will TDCJ find it even harder to fill empty vacancies after current ledge session ?

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

With what looks like a mere 5% pay raise on track for TDCJ employees in the next budget year, and with only 1% of that going in employee pockets after a hike in retirement contributions, will an already sour hiring and retention rate go further south ? With the price of living going up at a rate that the state of Texas can't seem to match in employee compensation benefits, along with new retirement requirements that mean new hires will have to work until they are 62 years old to gain full retirement just may equal more vacancies.

 For instance, 19 year old employee hired on after September 2013 will have to work approximately 40 years before being eligible for full state retirement benefits. A move that obviously punishes younger employees that may wish to make a life long career with the agency. With growth continuing in private sector jobs, TDCJ may find itself in a pickle by this time next year. More mandatory overtime, more danger to staff forced to work short handed, and more taxpayer money spent to fix a seemingly simple issue of staff retention and comparable pay.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

TDCJ Officers to see around 1% pay raise if all goes well

By Lance Lowry, AFSCME

With the Texas Legislature releasing its finalized budget this last week, correctional officers question why their pay raise was only half that of other statewide law enforcement.  Lance Lowry President of the Huntsville American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, which represents Texas Correctional Officers, stated Monday that the State Legislature is treating correctional officers as the ugly stepchild of the Criminal Justice System.  Texas Correctional Officers will only receive  a 5 % raise over two years, while all other state law enforcement will receive a 10 % raise.  Lowry states with the raise split up over two years and an increase in retirement contributions, correctional officers will only see a little over 1% increase in their actual pay this next September. 
Lowry has attempted to address with the legislature the increasing staffing shortages which plague Texas prisons.  Staffing levels have fell to almost half the required officers at several Texas prison units.  Lowry states the current proposed increases fails to cover inflationary cost of living over the last two years and the legislature is being unrealistic on their attempt to address chronic staffing demands now in the thousands.  With energy production increasing dramatically in South and East Texas, Lowry states most officers can make twice as much in the energy sector and expects staffing to only get worse.
In the late 70's and 80's the Texas Prison System was plagued with chronic under funding, which resulted in the Federal courts taking over the prison system.  Lowry states the legislature and state leadership have signaled again they are incapable of properly running their prison system and states history is repeating itself.
Lowry states while most correctional officers are out of sight and out of mind, they do one of the most important jobs in our criminal justice system.  The job is hot, dirty, extremely dangerous, and is one of the most stressful jobs anyone can incur Lowry states.  Prison officers receive little recognition unlike police who are exposed to the public everyday.  Lowry states there is a clear wall of silence shielding correctional officers from the general public.
In February, 17 former prison guards were indicted by a federal grand jury after a 4 year investigation authorities dubbed Operation Prison Cell.  The guards are alleged to have help inmates commit crimes from behind bars at TDCJ's McConnell prison in Beeville, including bringing in drugs and cell phones to coordinate crimes outside the walls.  Lowry states while the majority of correctional officers are honest, the poor pay, lack of experience, and work conditions make prison officers more susceptible to corruption.  Lowry states current politicians making the decision were short sided by not treating correctional officers with professional respect.  Lack of loyalty and commitment creates an atmosphere for corruption.  Lowry states it's not hard to look south of the border and see what a low wage criminal justice system gets you.
Lowry states every time he visits the Texas Capitol he is haunted by the words of AFSCME's former Beeville Union President Daniel Nagle, who stated in 1999 while on the Texas Capitol steps, "Someone will have to be killed before they do anything about the shortage of staff in Texas prisons."  Two weeks later Officer Daniel Nagle was killed at the McConnel Prison Unit in Beeville by Inmate Robert Pruett who now awaits execution for the murder. 

Presumed Compliance and Training

By Bryan Avila, Backgate Contributing Author

Have you ever heard of presumed compliance? No? Well let me give you the cliff notes version: In the article “The Theory of Presumed Compliance” by Tony Blauer, he states, and I’m paraphrasing here, that based on our position of authority, we automatically assume that everyone is going to comply with our orders and be nice about it. When they don’t, we have a feeling of indignation at the fact that “how dare they!” not comply with what we told them to do. As a result of the presumed compliance, we allow our skill set to deteriorate over time and when we have to act we tend to fumble for a response (or at least it’s not as sharp as it used to be). Yes, he put it much better than I did but at least you get the gist of it.

Ask yourself this: When was the last time that you practiced your responses to various situations? Drawing your OC from your holster? A weapon? Anything? Some people would answer that it has been a while and although it is a shame, it is not uncommon.

Have you ever thought how long it takes you to react to a situation? How long so you think it will take you? After years in the law enforcement and corrections field I still remember what I was told when I first started in the academy almost 20 years ago: An average person can close a 21’ gap in less than 1 ½ seconds and it will take you at least that long to see the threat, recognize the threat and say “Oh SH*T!”

This same theory I have put into practice on many occasions. I will have one person stand 21’ away from the other. I will inform the “attacker” that they are to charge towards the officer when I say “go.” I tell the officer that as soon as they see the “attacker” start to move, they are to draw their OC and simulate spraying. I will also time how fast the “attacker” crossed the 21’ mark. Needless to say very, very, very few people ever get their OC out in time to even remotely simulate an OC deployment. Most people fumble while drawing their OC from the holster. The usual reaction that I have seen is that at least they start moving out of the way which is better than nothing at all.

Hick’s Law states that for every additional response that you have to a situation your reaction time increases by 58%. It is imperative that we train continuously in order to DECREASE our reaction time and have our reaction be a learned response vs. something that we have to think about.

In order to understand how we process information and our reactions, we have to look at how we come to decisions. Imagine this: You are driving down the road during rush hour traffic and you know that your exit is coming up. In order to get to your final destination you can take one of 2 exits. As you approach the first exit, you see that traffic is backed up onto the off ramp. You decide at that point that you will take the next exit since it will still get you where you want to go.

What just happened was this: As you are driving you saw the traffic backed up on the off ramp. The visual input went straight from your cornea to your thalamus where it kicked it forward to your frontal cortex. Your frontal cortex (where you make your informed decisions based on what you know) then sends the appropriate response to your amygdala which in turn executes the selected response.

Now let us look at a different situation: You are driving during rush hour traffic when someone cuts you off. Without even thinking you slam on the brakes, flip them off and yell out “F*** You!” What just happened was this: The stimuli went straight from your cornea to your thalamus where it was quickly redirected to your amygdala bypassing everything else and an automatic response was kicked out. The thought process was virtually nonexistent.

Why did this happen? Because of the learned response that we have developed to situations. We are either reacting based on learned responses (and these responses have been repeated over and over again where they are now automatic, almost involuntary) or we are making decisions based on what we know.

Now what does all this mean to us? It’s pretty simple if you really think about it. Offenders know when they are going to come after you. You only find out about it when it starts to happen. Do you have the time to stop and think about what you are going to do as a response or are you going to react with an appropriate response to the situation (and peeing yourself is not one of them)?

When you CHOOSE not to practice your responses on a continuous basis (and mental practice is almost just as good and the physical practice) you may very well be CHOOSING to leave the building via ambulance during your shift.

Bottom line…dust off the cobwebs and practice. The choice is yours as to how you leave the building. We all know that they will not always comply so don’t assume that they will. 

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.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

TBCJ chairman tries to get his sister in law appointed to the board he chairs ? Say it aint so.

Wow, say it aint so. How unethical is that ? Should Bell Resign ??

By Mike Ward, Austin American Statesman

"The union that represents prison guards in Texas on Friday called for the chairman of the prison system’s governing board to resign for trying to get his sister-in-law selected for a spot on the nine-member board. Lance Lowry, president of the Huntsville-based Texas Correctional Employees Local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Gov. Rick Perry — who nominated Annette Raggette to the prison board, then withdrew her name Wednesday amid the controversy — should ask for Bell’s resignation. Lowry also asked for Travis County prosecutors to investigate whether any state laws were broken — whether nepotism laws cover board appointments and whether Raggette may have falsified a government document when she answered a question on the application form, and specified she was not related to any state official."

Should he resign ? 

See the whole story HERE !

Cell phone detection: A simplified approached

By Joe Bouchard, Backgate Contributing Author

There once was a man who was frustrated by flies in his house. The flying menaces buzzed him while he slept and pestered him as he watched television. Enough was enough! He was frustrated and had to do something. He called in a few experts.

The first expert sponsored electronic bug zappers. He proposed that there should be one in every room. The man voiced his distress over a high cost “You can’t set a price on piece of mind” said the expert.

The second expert excelled in arachnids. She suggested that nests of spiders should be placed in every room. Her motto was “let nature do the work for you.” Even more frustrated than when faced solely with flies, the man asked about the discomfort he would feel with a house full of spiders. The arachnid specialist said, “But that would get rid of the problem. Don’t you want to get rid of the flies?”

Expert number three advocated a complete gassing of the house. The man followed this advice and abandoned his house before the fumigation began. This was the nuclear option, but the man was desperate. Eventually, the air cleared, revealing the tiny corpses of many flies. Despite the strong measures, somehow more flies returned after a week.

Expert number four, after hearing the tactics of the three predecessors, simply picked up a news paper and swatted the nearest flying insect. This was an inexpensive, direct solution.

He then told the man to keep a lid on the trash can, fix the holes in the screen, and look for other entrances. “As long as they can get in,” said the pragmatic expert, “you will have problems no matter what solution you utilize. Isolate all possible entrances and you have the solution.”

Flies are simply a nuisance. Cell phones are dangerous. Of course, comparing apples to oranges is like comparing insects to technological wonders. Still we can learn a few things from this parallel.

There should be no doubt in the mind of any corrections professional that cell phones are dangerous inside the walls
. They can record and send sensitive data. The common cell phone serves as a communications hub for criminal enterprises. In addition, cell phones get smaller and smarter as time passes. It is increasingly easier for prisoners to conceal them.

Technology does not have to be our master. In fact, we can make it our servant. There are many ways to detect and block cell phones. We can even train dogs to help find the electronic menaces in our facilities. The innovations are great and varied. I personally believe that they should be explored. However, I believe that the technical solution is only part of the strategy for safety.

It is time to remember our chief strength as a profession. We should place an emphasis on blocking phones from coming in to the facility. We need to recommit to finding and fortifying all entry portals. This, partnered with a technical or canine method, will remove dangerous contraband and enhance safety.

Really, there are three basic ways that contraband enters our jails and prisons. It is something I call E.V.i.L. origins – a mnemonic that means Employee, Visitor, and Let in[1].

Employee – As corrections professionals, we wish that staff corruption did not exist. Unfortunately, a small percentage of our colleagues dabble in the illegal trade. Whether bought, maneuvered, or coerced, employee mules in the service of offenders deal a grievous blow to the structure of security. Cell phones continue to be a hot commodity that compromised staff introduce to the facility.

Visitor – Most people who have do not quite grasp the reason for so many rules in the operation of a correctional facility. Despite this, many visitors each day comply with instruction from staff. However, as with employees, there are a small number of visitors who circumvent the rules and introduce contraband into the facility. Visitors may also understand the dangers of contraband in the hands of offenders and continue to ignore rules and break the law.

Let in – This is a large category. Contraband that is let in is hidden from detection as it enters the facility from the outside. This can be as nefariously clever as small bits of narcotic laced crayons used to create a drawing that is sent through the mail. The hollowed legal brief is a popular vessel as well. Camouflage arrows filled with drugs and shot into the yard is a strange but documented occurrence. Let us not forget the cell phone that escapes detection in a new commitment’s anatomy.

All of this is not to say that electronic, canine and chemical cell phone detection methods are ineffective. In fact these complement our basic entry blocking strategies. And it may belabor the obvious to suggest that we look harder. Still, though it appears simple, the EViL search is really a methodical way of uncovering contraband.

Realistically speaking, we will never completely eliminate all cell phones from reaching willing and dangerous hands. But, without the efforts, we simply allow peril to mount. The technical solutions are like utilizing complex mathematics for problems that need complex mathematics. There is room for these and they should be explored. Yet, we should never forget the simple arithmetic. Sometimes, components in any solution are simpler than originally thought.

TDCJ denies Backgate open records info on unit short staffing based on obscure rule

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

The Backgate submitted an official request for records approximately 60 days ago requesting current information on chronic serious unit under staffing on TDCJ facilities state wide that may present safety risks to staff and the general public. TDCJ denied the request and sent a request to the Texas Attorney Generals office asking that the information be denied in whole due to an obscure rule that enables the agency from releasing information publicly that may jeopardize staff safety or unit security.

 TDCJ contends that the release of basic staffing information on any TDCJ unit presents a risk to staff and the facility in that the offender population will see we are short and create havoc on units lacking staff statewide. Doing this merely paints the agency as withholding vital information to the public that may show just what TDCJ staff members are required to endure due to staffing shortages hidden by the agency. In the legislative season, it can only be taken as an attempt to shelter legislators and the public from the truth about just how unsafe our prisons have become for everyone. The Attorney Generals office has sided with the agency and blocked the release, but were not giving up so easily. Our own Attorney contacts have become involved and will soon press for full disclosure.

Seems as though a publicly funded agency would have to answer to the public right?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

New proposal by ledge protects TDCJ retirement for current employees

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

A house bill designed to change retirement requirements for thousands of TDCJ employees among others has been altered to exclude current employees. The previous bill would require many current employees to work until age 62. Below us an excerpt explaining the bill in detail courtesy of the TPEA.

Representative Callegari will offer a floor amendment which grandfathers all current state employees from being subject to any of the eligibility changes that were outlined in the original bill. This amendment would also include employees whose retirement benefits are under the LECOS program. Furthermore, it establishes the new provisions effective only for employees hired after 9/1/2013. His amendment increases employee contributions to 7.5% (8% for employees under LECOS) in each year of the biennium, and requires 0.5% of each agency’s payroll go towards shoring up the fund in addition to other potential funding changes. This amendment represents a significant improvement, because the bill as it came out of committee would penalize many state employees who had planned to retire before the age of 62. Representative Callegari needs your help telling his legislative colleagues that you are in support of his amendments to HB 1882.

Please click here to find your Texas State House Representative and call or email them to tell them, “I am a state employee (or retiree) and I would appreciate your support for the amendments to HB 1882 by Representative Callegari that would apply any new pension eligibility requirement to new employees.”*

The Callegari amendment is consistent with TPEA’s proposed alternative, and we are supporting its adoption. The state contribution rate is not included in his amendment because it will be determined in the state budget currently being debated in the budget conference committee. We believe the Senate will take up action as soon as the bill is passed by the House. Although these developments are positive and will significantly help to address the unfunded liabilities, they will not be adequate to provide sufficient funding for a 13th check or a COLA for current retirees. However, the increased revenues significantly improve the prospects for a future annuity adjustment.

It is very important that your communication is respectful and professional. Representative Callegari has worked closely with TPEA and other groups to find solutions to these issues and to preserve the retirement program for current and future state employees. Any adversarial communication is unproductive and unwarranted.

Once again, click here to identify your Texas State House Representative and communicate with them now in support of the Callegari Amendments to HB 1882.