Saturday, September 21, 2013

Have TDCJ staffing issues improved any since our interview with the Texas Tribune just over a year ago?

From The Texas Tribune
By Emily Foxhall

Duane Stuart, who has been employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 22 years, says conditions for workers in prisons are only getting worse. The only thing keeping him in his job as a correctional officer is his desire for the retirement benefits that he will be eligible for after 30 years of employment.

Stuart added that his peers have been voicing concerns that some of the units are becoming increasingly unsafe, especially as staffing numbers shrink and employees are being forced to work overtime.

Several TDCJ facilities built in rural areas have had particular difficulty in attracting and retaining correctional officers. During fiscal year 2011, units in Kenedy, Beeville, Beaumont and Lamesa all had turnover rates above 40 percent. While TDCJ has increased its efforts to bring employees to these positions — addressing staffing issues remains a "top priority" for the department, said TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark — the problem has made headlines throughout the summer.

Read the full Article Here!

Valley gangster gets the needle for slaughtering 4 women in 2002

Robert Gene Garza was put to death in Huntsville at 8:41 PM yesterday for his involvement in the deaths of four women gunned down in their car in Donna in the Rio Grande Valley after almost 11 years to the exact date he committed the crime back in September 2002.

A member of a Rio Grande Valley gang known as the Tri-City Bombers even before he was a teenager, Garza insisted a statement to police acknowledging his participation in the September 2002 shootings in Hidalgo County was made under duress and improperly obtained. Garza was said to be in a leadership role within the gang at the time the crime was committed.

Garza also was charged but never tried for participating in what became known in the Rio Grande Valley as the Edinburg massacre, the January 2003 slayings of six people at a home in the city.
In the case that sent him to death row, Garza was convicted of two counts of capital murder for the slayings of the four women. Evidence showed they were living in the U.S. without legal permission just outside Donna, about 15 miles southeast of McAllen.

As the news of his demise was filtered onto social media sites late yesterday, many people  from the valley commented as to what a great guy he was, what a great "leader" he was and how proud they were to have known him. There were comments about how the girls may have deserved it, how he may have been framed, and how cute he was as a thug.  There were even girls who had wished they could have married him. So, whats the attraction to a cold blooded, gang related killer? Has society, and youth in general really hit their low place? Is it a valley culture that sees these people as heroes, as celebrities ?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

AFSCME union speaks out to Backgate on Prison Heat Lawsuit

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

  After the AFSCME union released a public statement just over a week ago to it's members and the general public regarding it's intention to join an in- process lawsuit filed on behalf of state inmates regarding extreme heat conditions behind bars, there has been some backlash from employees the union itself represents. After we posted the news release, we received dozens of emails in opposition of the employees union joining the suit initiated by an offender organization.

The number one issue with these employees is that they feel the union is now somehow in cahoots with offender organizations. Thereby crossing that invisible "us against them" line in the sand.

We reached out to Lance Lowery, The American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees union counsel 3807 President for clarification on the union's decision to join the heat related suit that asks state officials to provide air conditioning in state prisons to ease extreme summer heat conditions for both employees and offenders. 

Mr. Lowery sent us this email as a response;

"This suit is not about the inmates, it's about the employees who are working in extreme heat.  Thousands of employees are effected by unhealthy work conditions.  We are bringing forth a suit for the employee's, not the inmates.  We are supportive of all litigation seeking climate control to prevent any further unnecessary death or illness for all parties."

"Heat enhances and increases the likelihood for employees to have heart attacks, high blood pressure, adverse effects of diabetes, or even strokes, which employees have died from while at work under hot conditions."

"While we have found there are a few people ignorant of the dangers of work place heat, most employees support our actions to improve work place conditions for employees and prevent unnecessary deaths or illnesses." 

"It comes down to this, we don't want to see anyone else die.  Heat doesn't care if it's victims are wear white or gray.  Poor southern states such as Arkansas have air conditioned their prisons for over 30 years without breaking the state.  Texas is a wealthy state that can pay for better conditions and pay for their employees, but chooses not to.  Upper administrators are rewarded extremely well for keeping the cost low, while the officers are having to put up with the daily fallout and extreme shortage of staff during the summer months.  The number of call ins during the summer time speaks volumes about what the employees support, extreme heat obviously is not one of them. "

Lance Lowry
President AFSCME 3807
Texas Correctional Employees
"We Patrol Texas' Toughest Beat"

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A dozen do not’s – 12 bad corrections habits

By Joe Bouchard
Backgate Contributing Author

Like a dozen doughnuts, these do nots are in a variety. No two are exactly the same flavor. You may like one and loathe another. 

 That is the beauty of variety. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy as many of the do nots as you can stomach. 

  1. Do not lie. This is the original vocational sin and the gateway to disrespect, distrust, pain, possible incarceration, the dark side and possibly even death. For such a little word, ‘lie’ has many implications.
  2. Do not smuggle. Keep unauthorized business enterprises out of the picture. There are many examples of staff who foolishly brought in contraband for prisoners in exchange for a few hundred buck or in the name of ‘love’. Is it worth it for you to possibly lose your integrity, standing in the community and at work, career, future earnings, family and friends, and maybe even your freedom?
  3. Do not advertise your hobbies. Letting prisoners know your political leanings, favorite bands, choice of pet and other interests provides a handle for manipulation. It is true that not all prisoners will take advantage of this information. However, they may still tell others.
  4. Do not bring your family into the mix. Keep family out of conversations, for their safety and yours. Like hobbies, this is a handle for the manipulative prisoner.
  5. Do not automatically say yes. Giving permission to do something is easy because there no confrontation follows. Yet, corrections has staff to client confrontations built in. Quite simply, we have to say ‘no’ at almost every juncture. The reason may be policy driven or a wise discretionary choice. Permission once can come back to haunt you.
  6. Do not sleep on the job.
  7. Do not forget to alleviate stress in legitimate ways. This is no secret; Corrections is a stressful vocation. You need to find a healthy way to unwind or you will eventually become a time bomb. Also, if you do not handle your stress at work, your home life may suffer.
  8. Do not rage. Check your anger and act professionally. If you show anger, you are demonstrating that you have been knocked off your square.
  9. Do not overlook contraband. Forbidden items of all kinds are the building blocks of disorder. What you overlook or permit may hurt you and others later. The item itself may not be the direct cause of pain and injury. However, it may be a link in the chain of events leading to disorder.
  10. Do not forget history lessons from older staff. There is wisdom in experience. One of my colleagues once told me, “It is a good life if you don’t weaken”. Ol’ Cecil was right, as far as I am concerned. To the young cynics and know-it-alls, I concede that times and policies may change. However, underlying philosophies are useful and can transcend time, societal trends, and administrations.
  11. Do not overlook ulterior motives. Sometimes there are evil intents behind a smile or kind words. This is not a battle cry to embrace paranoia. Rather, this is a caution. Things are not always what they seem. 
  12. Do not forsake hope. On the most horrible day at work, there is solace in the fact that this is not a permanent condition.
Advice is a funny thing. Sometimes it seems trite and unimportant. Still, when one looks at it against the background of the mission, the ideas make more sense. Remember that these twelve little do nots form a firm foundation of corrections safety for staff, offenders, and the public.

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

Friday, September 6, 2013

AFSCME union joins inmate suit over heat related issues in Texas Prisons

By Duane Stuart

The largest of the state's Correctional Officer unions, the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, Municipal employees) union, has announced that they will join an already pending lawsuit initiated by offender families and support groups seeking to air condition Texas lock-ups.

The inmate groups claim that the sweltering South Texas heat can hover near 110 degrees in some prisons and that heat indexes (what it really feels like) can read near 120 degrees or better. Some have even contributed a handful of offender deaths to the heat. TDCJ has denied that allegation, and states that Texas Prisons are supplying ice, cool water, and fans for offenders to cool off with and that they have no plans to air condition any prison units. The AFSCME union states that they are concerned about the health and safety of correctional staff that must also be present in that same heat to watch over the offender population.

Union officials stated in a press release that older correctional staff, and staff that may be on certain types of required medications have and will continue to suffer in the extreme heat conditions inside the walls if relief is not ordered. So what is your take on the situation? Keep it clean, and professional.