Friday, June 28, 2013

TDCJ's refusal to answer open records request from Backgate on staffing issues may have opened a legal can of worms

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

Two months ago the Backgate Website forwarded a request for staffing numbers to the TDCJ open records office. The request asked for simple numbers on current unit staffing numbers, overtime usage numbers, and vacancy information. TDCJ denied that basic request and forwarded it to the Attorney Generals Office for an opinion on the legality of it's release. Over the years we have often requested the same basic information through official means and been granted full access to those numbers. This time the TDCJ claimed that the information, if released, put staff in danger on Texas prison units where under staffing was an issue in that if the offenders or outsiders saw the real stats that it could create safety concerns.

The AG's office bought into the diversion and denied the request as well. So why was TDCJ hiding staffing information all of a sudden? What had changed from all the other times the same information was requested, and granted with no issue? Are staffing issues so bad now that basic information on the numbers are now made secret to the general public and agency employees ? Or maybe it's the millions being spent on overtime, most of which being forced upon employees. Either way the actions of the state have made several attorneys and legal analysts out there sort of curious to say the least.

TDCJ has long since made available only what they feel the public need to know, now whats covered under Texas law. The Backgate has been at the forefront of exposing the corruption of the few that walk among some of the most professional correctional professionals on the planet, and has learned how the open records policy works first hand. As i have always said, it's when a government agency tries to cover up truth, hush whistle blowers, and operate in the shadows when they ignite public interest and appear to be corrupt. Open the doors and show the employees, tax payers, and Legislators whats behind the curtain to alleviate all question. More to come...

Retired TDCJ Warden who oversaw executions speaks out

AP Photo - C.T. O'Reilly
From The Huffington Post

FORNEY, Texas — Charles Thomas O'Reilly supported capital punishment when he oversaw his first Texas execution. And he still supported it after his 100th.

In six years as warden of the Huntsville Unit, the prison that houses Texas' death chamber, O'Reilly supervised about 140 executions – more than any other warden in state history.
Now retired, he reflected on his career this week as the nation's busiest death penalty state as the state executed its 500th inmate since resuming capital punishment in 1982.

Link to the FULL STORY HERE !

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ledge offers nod to close two Texas prisons

CCA Mineral Wells Facility
By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

The Texas Legislature has approved the closure of two Texas prison lock-ups saving an estimated $97 million over a two year period. Both prisons, which are operated by CCA ( Corrections Corp. of America), can house a total of 4,316 inmates.

The closure will affect the employment of  658 employees. Local officials in Parker County, home of the Mineral Wells facility,  have voiced strong concerns for the loss of those jobs and it's potential affect on the community.

Unfortunately those concerns were overlooked. The Dawson facility has long been eyed as a potential target for closure after what a local Dallas TV station reported as " Questionable Deaths" that occurred inside the jail, along with a string of other operational issues over the years.

Does un-air-conditioned Texas Prisons equal cruel and unusual punishment for inmates ?

By Doug Glass, Backgate Website

The Grits for Breakfast blog has explored some thoughts that the Texas heat may present a form cruel and unusual punishment for Texas Prison inmates. Some Texas prisons have been known to reach upwards of 120 degrees inside during the summer months. This was the basis of a lawsuit filed in 2011 regarding the death of an inmate that was alleged to have died of heat related issues in an East Texas prison. Numerous employee heat related issues have also been common place over the years as referenced by TDCJ's own office of risk management. So should Texas prisons be cooled ?

Read the Grits for Breakfast Blog story here!  

Prison and Pre-school Parallels

By Joe Bouchard, Backgate Contributing Author
School is out for summer. One ritual that we see every May and June is the painted cars of graduating seniors. With a little time, imagination and washable paint, many motor vehicles are transformed into rolling art work, complete with phrases of the day and classic quips.

A common phrase that can be found on these painted cars is “Thirteen years in Prison!” Naturally, a graduating eighteen year old would never really know what it is really like to spend over a dozen years in a correctional facility.

But are there similarities?

Corrections professionals, have you ever had a good professional chat with someone from early childhood education? If you ever do, you may find that there are many compelling parallels between the two occupations.

Before we delve into the similarities, I issue this disclaimer: The following is not intended to disparage students, educators, corrections professionals and offenders. This does not suggest that corrections equals education. It is simply an interesting look at corresponding elements.

Recently, an early childhood education professional showed me a cleverly disguised thumb drive. It was a teddy bear key chain that could have been easily brought in to a facility, loaded with dangerous information. She showed this to me because she knows of my interest in contraband control. Her find was insightful and made me realize that she understood the central goal in corrections is security.

I told this teacher of my methodical daily sweep of the prison library, leaving out no detail of how I search. I also explained other safety activities, including how I search the shelves, absorb staff observations, and read body language through the day.

I was surprised to learn that she conducts a sweep of the room each day for the sake of safety. “But these are pre-school kids,” I said.

She told me that it does not matter. She has a responsibility to keep the classroom safe. Otherwise, a hazard-in the classroom could derail the lesson plan and cause injury and liability.

First of all, broken toys are hazardous. In the same way that most corrections agencies deem any broken item as contraband, splintered toys need to be removed. The difference lies in the application of the derelict item. In prison, a broken eye glass arm could be a poking weapon. In school, the worry is not about a weapon, but that the item allows children to hurt themselves.

Choking and poking hazards are all around the classroom. It takes time and a keen, experienced eye to sweep the room of dangers. Also, some teachers assess how many toys are in play during play time. Too many on the floor can cause overstimulation or an occasional instance of theft. Too few toys may prompt fights over scarce resources. Just like in corrections, teachers need to know what items are out and how they are used.

Toys can be weapons when hurled as projectiles by a frustrated student. Inside the walls, we assess how common items could hurt us if they became airborne. Both teachers and corrections staff should be aware of common items used as missiles.

The playground, our equivalent to the yard, must be searched each day. Teachers look for holes in the fences and hazards on the ground. Some dangerous items that can be found are broken glass, hypodermic needles, animal droppings, shell casings, and more. Outside the fence, one can find feral animals and sexual predators. The perimeter needs to be scanned to keep the playground secure.

Just like in prison, body fluids are a concern. Most educators are trained to treat body fluids as potentially infectious. At the end of the day, gloved teachers and assistants bleach and clean surfaces. During the day, care of the children may require contact between the professional and body fluids. Therefore, the teacher who helps a child blow her nose should don gloves.

Students have been known to bring in items that are inappropriate for the setting. Some may bring cigarettes, lighters, cell phones, minicomputer tablets and even toy handcuffs. On occasion, stories in the national news tell of an elementary school student with a gun in his desk.

And like our jails and prisons, the education professional has to be aware of outside hazards. Strangers may randomly wander in the schools. A vengeful parent or disgruntled employee can wreak havoc. And closer to corrections, an absconder could hole up in a school and possibly take hostages. The education process should be an open, inviting place. However, just with any open window, anything can come in.

It is my hope that children continue to have fun in school and make it safely to the day when they can paint letters on their car. This is made possible by education professionals who lay the base line of safety before the day and the instruction begin.

To be certain, prison does not equal pre-k through 12 education. However, both corrections and education are alike in the need for a secure environment. Without safety, the best education plan in the world cannot be fully used.

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

Thursday, June 6, 2013

So what happens to all those contraband cell phones recovered by TDCJ- OIG anyway ?

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

OIG receives literally hundreds of recovered contraband cell phones a year from units all over the state of Texas. When no one is charged, where do those phones end up ? Stay tuned for the upcoming Backgate exclusive story. You just may be surprised.

Question of ethics and positive influence, or personal business?

By Michael Williams, Backgate Website

So the question has been submitted to us via email probably a hundred times over the years. Is it ok for a warden to sleep with subordinate staff on his unit or facility and not face some sort of repercussions ? Is it personal business or an administrator using his/her position and influence to gain something sexual from
staff ? Can the act(s) create a hostile work environment for other staff members on the unit/facility?  IS it professional ? We have heard both sides of the issue, whats your take and why? Post below. Remember, keep it civil and professional.