Friday, May 9, 2014

Backgate shutting down web version of site

Our website (what you see now) will be closing in 7 days. The message board will still be available and will expand so bookmark that for a direct link. Thanks for your support and help over the past 15 years !

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Governor Perry to US Attorney General Eric Holder - Texas won't cooperate with PRIA standards

By Backgate Staff

This is an excerpt of a letter sent by Texas Governor Rick Perry recently to US Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the feasibility of Texas prisons being able to follow the federal governments mandated PRIA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) standards. I found it myself to be a rather sensible response to a complex issue regarding basic security practices behind the walls.

Here it is...

"Because PREA standards prohibit most cross-gender viewing, TDCJ would be compelled to deny female officers job assignments and promotion opportunities, simply based on their gender. A consultant referred to TDCJ by the PREA Resource Center absurdly suggested that TDCJ solve this proglem by removing security cameras and obstructing lines of sight. That is ridiculous. Doing so would not only be a security risk for both prisoners and staff but also increase the likelihood of assaults taking place, defeating the intent of the law.

PREA also infringes on Texas' right to establish the state's own age of criminal responsibility. That age in Texas is 17. PREA, unlike the JJDP Act, which recognizes each state's age of full criminal responsibility, makes no allowances for differences among the states. PREA sight and sound separation standards would require Texas to separate 17-year old adult inmates from 18-year old adult inmates at substantial cost with no discernible benefit to the state or its inmates.

PREA standards also set specific staffing ratios for juvenile detention facilities different from the state's current rate. While this ratio may be ideal in some facilities, the decision of what constitutes appropriate staffing ratios should be left to each state and to those professionals with operational knowledge. One of Texas' 254 counties has said that compliance with this standard would require them to hire 30 more detention officers. That is an unacceptable cost for a small county with a limited budget. ...

PREA standards also mandate that by May 15, 2014, the governor of each state must certify, under threat of criminal penalties, that all facilities under the governor's control are compliant with PREA standards. Texas has approximately 297 facilities subject to PREA, including 164 lock-up facilities. PREA requires one-third of these facilities to be audited each year, yet no audit tool for lock-ups has even been developed. There is no way that I will certify compliance for facilities that have not even been audited. The compliance and certification deadline is further complicated by the fact that PREA requires states to conduct audits by PREA-certified auditors. There are only about 100 PREA-certified auditors nationwide, and the first of those were not certified until late 2013.

Even if the manifest problems with PREA standards I laid out above did not exist, I cannot and will not certify as true those things for which I do not have the facts.

Washington has taken an opportunity to help address a problem in our prisons and jails, but instead created a counterproductive and unnecessarily cumbersome and costly regulatory mess for the states.

I encourage the administration to change these standards and do so soon. Absent standards that acknowledge the operational realities in our prisons and jails, I will not sign your form and I will encourage my fellow governors to follow suit. In the meantime, Texas will continue the programs it has already implemented to reduce prison rapes"

Rick Perry 

Monday, March 24, 2014

7 Officers Arrested at the Gib Lewis Unit After Alleged Sexual Assault

By Staff Reporter
Woodville, Texas -  As of this afternoon 7 Texas Department of Criminal Justice Employees have been arrested and booked into the Tyler County Jail in Woodville in what is being described by an anonymous source to The Backgate as an alleged sexual assault against an inmate housed at the Gib Lewis Expansion Cellblock. 
The Gib Lewis Unit is a 2,200 bed prison facility east of Woodville and is home to some of over 850 of Texas' worse inmates who are housed in the high security expansion cellblock.  The high tech expansion cellblock was built in 2000 next to the Gib Lewis Unit. 
According to an anonymous source, a security lieutenant, two sergeants, and several officers were called to "E" pod of the expansion cellblock during the night shift on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. 

An inmate was alleged to have threatened to rape and kill the family of a female officer working at the "E" pod cellblock.  Officers allegedly entered inside the cell of the inmate making threats without protective gear, which would be a violation of prison policy. 

Once inside the cell officer and ranking staff alleged to have engaged the inmate in an unreported use of force.  The inmate is alleged to have claimed he was sexually penetrated with an unknown object by one of the officers during the alleged unreported use of force.
The agency public information director Jason Clark, along with the Tyler County Sheriff's Office have verified the following Gib Lewis Officers were arrested and booked into the Tyler County Jail; Lieutenant Darrick Seale (male, age 42), Sergeant Frank Mraz (white male, age 48), Sergeant Claude Kelley III (white male, age40) Officer Andrea Creel (white female, age 49), Officer Joseph Coons (white male, age 22), Officer Jamie Christian (male, age 37), and Officer David Spence (white male, age 32).  Officer Jaime Christian remains in jail tonight and the other 6 defendants are out on bond.

The defendants at this time are facing charges of official oppression, but the case is still under investigation meaning more charges might be brought. 
Agency spokesman Jason Clark would not confirm any allegations of sexual assault, but released the following statement, "seven TDCJ Correctional Officers have been arrested for their actions related to an undocumented use of force on March 19 at the Lewis Unit." Clark stated the case was currently under investigation and was unable to provide any additional information. 

This case brings unusual attention due to most unreported uses of force actions resulting in administrative action only.

TDCJ Releases a New Video in an Attempt to Recruit

Huntsville, Texas -  The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has released a new recruiting video in an attempt to fill vacancies in the agency after losing over 6,000 officers this last year.  The agency remains over 3,200 officers short.  Other Texas criminal justice professionals, such as DPS Troopers and game wardens received a 20% pay increase, while the correctional officers only received a 5% stretched out over a two year period.  

It will take at least a 20% to 25% pay increase to fill these vacancies as the Texas economy continues to grow.  The recruiting video is a start, but pay will be the factor which draws qualified applicants to the agency.  

Why Fewer Prisons Are Good for Texas’s Economy

Marc Levin, the director of the Center for Effective Justice and co-founder of Right on Crime, makes the fiscal conservative’s argument for closing correctional facilities.  Texas Monthly’s Nate Blakeslee highlights Marc Levin and Right on Crime in his article “Why Fewer Prisons Are Good for Texas’s Economy.”

“Levin’s chief message, that incarcerating too many people for too long for nonviolent crimes isn’t a good use of taxpayer funds, has resonated with conservative voters and legislators. He advocates more effective and less costly measures, such as drug courts, which divert low-level drug offenders to treatment programs instead of prison, and more effective use of probation.”

Since 2011 Texas has closed 3 prisons without a single job loss for TDCJ employees.  Benefits and pay have been maintained during economic downturns. 

See Texas Monthly's Interview with Marc Lavin: 


For More Information on Conservative Criminal Justice Reforms Visit:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

New York Times Features TDCJ Patriot Paws Program

Gatesville - In an article in today's New York Times by Sonia Smith, inmates from the Lane Murray Unit are featured in the Patriots Paws program that trains service dogs to perform basic task for disabled veterans. 
Dogs are trained to completed task such as  pulling up bed covers, retrieve a bottle from a refrigerator, pick up a wafer-thin credit card from the floor, and even help with the laundry by dropping soiled clothing in a washing machine and removing items from a dryer. Some can also remove shoes and socks and pull up a pair of trousers for a disabled person.
Training a service dog takes from 18 months to two years and, even with inmate labor, can cost up to $20,000.  In 2008, Patriot PAWS expanded its service dog training program to include a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

As of a 2011 report, of the 21 women involved in the program that have been paroled, the recidivism rate was zero.
See featured article in the New York Times by clicking below:

New York Times - TDCJ Patriot Paws Program

A version of this article appears in print on March 23, 2014, on page A27B of the National edition.

For more information on the program: Click here for Patriots Paws Prison Program Information

Investigation Pending After 63 Year Old Montford Unit Inmate Dies Following Force by Staff

Offender Wayne Benjamin McCoin, 63 (DOB 11-14-1950)
Serving a 99 Year Sentence Out of Red River County, Texas
for attempted capitol murder.  TDCJ # 923939.
By Lance Lowry
Lubbock, Texas - The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Office of Inspector General is investigating the death of a 63 year old psychiatric inmate after he refused orders to be removed from his cell at the John Montford Prison Psychiatric Unit in Lubbock. 
Sometime during the daytime of March 19, 2014, correctional staff attempted to remove Benjamin McCoin, from his cell at the Montford Unit.  McCoin refused orders from correctional staff to be removed from his cell.  A 5 man extraction team was sent into the cell to remove McCoin, who was immediately examined by nursing staff and placed in another cell.
While in his newly assigned cell, McCoin complained to staff about a pain in  his hip and was taken to the University Medical Center in Lubbock  for observation.  That afternoon while at the hospital McCoin collapsed and immediate efforts by hospital staff to revive him failed.  McCoin was pronounced dead at 5:50 PM.
Pictured above is the 94 bed treatment facility.  The unit has a 400 bed trusty camp not pictured.
Violent Recidivism
McCoin was no stranger to the criminal justice system.  McCoin exhibited a history of violence and psychiatric episodes.  On October 22, 1985 McCoin committed an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was convicted of the crime in Lamar County on February 7, 1986, when he was sentenced to 2 years in the Texas Department of Corrections. 
Upon making parole from the Texas Department of Corrections, McCoin returned to Lamar County where on October 31, 1986 he committed his second aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  This time McCoin was handed down a 10 year sentence on January 12, 1987. 
With a shortage of prison beds in the Texas Department of Corrections in the mid 80's and early 90's, making parole was easy, even for some of the most violent inmates.  Parole came early for McCoin who left the prison system and in 1992 became a  ranch hand in Red River County.
Life as a ranch hand gave McCoin access to the tools of the trade.  In East Texas beaver dams are a big problem.  The mud and stick compounds used by beavers can form a structure that can not be removed by hand implements and may be in marsh land that is not easily accessible for earth moving equipment.  McCoin, who was a violent convicted felon, was given access to dynamite to take down beaver dams on the property. 
McCoin was infatuated with his ex-wife Jeanette White.  McCoin allegedly became verbally abusive towards Jeanette and allegedly threatened her.  Jeanette reported the incident to Red River law enforcement.
On September 14, 1992, McCoin learned that Red River law enforcement were looking for him after a warrant was issued for his arrest.  Law enforcement officers went to the ranch looking for McCoin, but were unable to locate him that day. McCoin knew he would most likely return to prison for the third time, since he was still on parole for his second aggravated assault.
Revenge May Not be so Sweet in Texas
While hiding from the law, McCoin devised a plan to seek revenge for his ex-wife filing charges that would most likely mean his return to prison.  McCoin having learned how to use explosives to take out beaver dams, decided now to use the explosives to take out his ex-wife Jeanette White. 
McCoin keeping with his promise of revenge and violence against Jeanette, on the night of September 15, 1992 placed dynamite under the bedroom of Jeanette and her current husband Mitchell White.  McCoin lit the fuse on several sticks of dynamite below the floor of the trailer house.
The dynamite was detonated under the corner of the Whites' bed, turning it over and knocking both of them nearly out of harm's way from flying shrapnel and wooden debris from where the bomb was set under the floor of their trailer house. 
Once the dust cleared it was determined, Mitchell suffered several broken ribs; Jeanette suffered minor injuries. The child, McCoin's eldest son, suffered cuts and scrapes and broken glass embedded in his legs and feet caused by running barefoot to his mother's room to determine whether she was injured.
McCoin's life on the land quickly came to an end, now facing federal explosives charges.  Two days later McCoin was arrested and now faced felony possession of explosives charges.  After the bombing, psychiatrists appointed by former East Texas federal judge William Wayne Justice ruled McCoin incompetent to stand trial.  McCoin spent the last six years at a federal mental institute, and was judged competent to returned to Texas in 1999.
McCoin was re-indicted on state charges of attempted capitol murder on October 14, 1999.  During his trial in Red River County, McCoin attempted to represent himself at trial and at one point was removed from the courtroom during pretrial motions where he rushed 102nd District Court Judge John F. Miller Jr.'s bench in a confrontational manner.  Red River County Sheriff Chief Deputy Larry Spangler and Deputy Terry Reed briefly struggled with McCoin who was carried out of the courtroom by the deputies.
A Red River County Jury quickly found McCoin guilty during his trial and sentenced him to 99 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  McCoin would later attempt to appeal his case claiming to not have been competent to waive counsel.
McCoin while in federal custody had spent several years in a prison psychiatric facility at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (MCFP), in Springfield, Missouri until 1999.  McCoin's violent psychiatric episodes continued while incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  January of 2014, McCoin was transferred by Texas prison officials to the Montford Prison Psychiatric facility which became his prison of final destination. 
McCoin's death after his confrontation at the 94 treatment bed facility will remain under investigation by the Texas authorities.  At this time it is believed McCoin's death is the result of heart failure, but an autopsy is pending in the final cause of death.  His madness may have been his final demise. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Texas Private Prisons Now Required to Disclose Under State's Open Records Act

By Lance Lowry

Austin, Texas - For years private prisons have claimed they could run prison facilities cheaper than public institutions without cutting quality measures, however most companies refuse to comply with the same standards public institutions face with open records request and legal jurisdictions requirements being the same as public institutions.  Private prison companies have helped fund organizations such as American Correctional Association (ACA), who issues accreditations to both public and private prisons.  With increasing dependence from private prisons ACA executives are pressured to keep accreditation standards under terms the private prison corporations set, allowing no real measure for actual standards. 
On Wednesday the 353rd State District Court judge in Travis County may have leveled the playing field  more by ruling that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is a "governmental body" and is subject to the Texas Open Records Act.  This court ruling will require private prison companies to release records that are normally required to be made public by public institutions.  Information such as staffing levels and officer turnover rates may now be required to be released by private prisons that receive state governmental money in Texas.   
In a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News in May 2013 against CCA, the publication sought records on the CCA Dawson State Jail, and argued that "incarceration is inherently a power of government.  By using public money to perform a public function, CCA is a government body."  State District Judge Charles Ramsey agreed in a 1 page order granting Prison Legal News a summary judgment.
CCA in August 2013 attempted to shield itself from public scrutiny by filing a request to seal a lawsuit brought on by 17 Idaho news organization.  US District Judge Edward Lodge issued an order that scaled back the protection CCA sought.  Now the company is facing an FBI Criminal Investigation as a result of its Idaho Operation and understaffing cover-ups at an Idaho prison know as the "Gladiator School." 
An audit of CCA's Idaho operations by the forensic firm KPMG at the request of the Idaho Department of Corrections reveals in 2012 CCA fell short on 26,000 hours. 
The state of Texas last year closed down two CCA facilities and may be expected to cut more with CCA's current performance history.  With CCA's falsification of records in Idaho, the new Texas open records ruling may reveal the same type of cover-ups on staffing in Texas. 
See Prison Legal News Lawsuit:  Click Here

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wall of Gray Scheduled May 21, 2014 for Execution of CO's Murderer

Officer Daniel Nagle
End Of Watch December 17, 1999

By Lance Lowry

Beeville, Texas -  An execution date is set for Texas capitol murderer Robert Lynn Pruett.  Pruett received the death penalty for the December 17, 1999 murder of Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officer Daniel Nagle.  On Wednesday Pruett's lawyers found out he wouldn’t escape the Texas death chamber for the second time after a state district judge in San Antonio ruled DNA evidence would not have changed a jury’s 2002 decision to convict him of killing a correctional officer.
District Judge Bert Richardson, the San Antonio State District Court judge who presided over the hearing in the 156th District Court, set May 21 as Pruett’s execution date.  Attorneys for Pruett plan to file an appeal.  The United States Supreme Court previously rejected the case for review. 
Robert Pruett was serving a 99 year sentence at the McConnell Unit in Beeville on December 17, 1999, when Officer Nagle wrote Pruett a disciplinary case while Nagle was working a common area where Nagle kept watch over a barber shop, the craft shop, and a TV dayroom, all of which opened onto the common area.
Around 3:30 on the day of Nagle's death, the building sergeant, Nagle's supervisor, was called to the chow hall to prepare for the dinner chow. The utility officer was called away from the building, leaving Nagle alone without a two-way radio, pepper spray, or backup.
Sometime between 3:30 and 3:45pm on December 17, 1999, it is believed Pruett attacked Nagle with a sharpened metal rod, about six or eight inches long, with a cloth wrapped around the shaft for a handle.  Offenders in the dayroom watched Nagle get stabbed repeatedly in the throat and head by Pruett.  About 30 minutes later Nagle was discovered dead by a fellow officer. 
Nagle attended a rally two weeks prior to his death in Austin, where correctional officers rallied for a special session to address officer shortages and low pay.  While at the rally Nagle told supporters "someone would have to be killed" before TDCJ got the message.  Nagle at the time of his death was the local union president for the AFSCME Texas Correctional Employee local in Beeville. 
A "Wall of Gray" is being planned to support Officer Nagle's family, friends, and co-workers who will attend the scheduled execution of his murderer Robert Pruett.  The "Wall of Gray" will consist of uniformed officers prior to the scheduled execution at the Huntsville Unit on May 21, 2014 at 6 PM.  Supporters planning to attend the scheduled execution on May 21, should arrive prior to 5 PM.   
For additional information please contact the Texas Correctional Employees Council at 1-800-374-9772.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Busted at Eastham

Staff Reporter
Lovelady, Texas
A former 23-year-old prison guard at the Eastham Unit in Lovelady was arrested on suspicion of taking a $600 bribe from an offender to bring him tobacco in to the unit Wednesday.  
Kevin Vallery was arrested by the TDCJ Office of Inspector General and charged with suspicion of bribery, a second-degree felony, and suspicion of possession of a prohibited substance in a penal institution and was incarcerated in the Houston County Jail where he was bonded out on a $25,000 bond.
Vallery's supervisor became suspicious he was concealing contraband after he notice what appeared to be two bundles in his pants.  Vallery was taken to the Wardens Office where he pulled two bundles of tobacco out of his pants and admitted to receiving $600 from an offender to bring the tobacco into the unit. 
OIG investigators conducted a search of Vallery's vehicle in the unit parking lot, where $600 in cash was found in the center console.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Video is Released of Texas Pursuit and Shootout with Ex-Convict and Murder of Colorado's Prison Director

Decatur, Texas
By Staff Reporter

A video was release by the Montague County Sheriff's Department of a high speed pursuit with Ex-Convict Evan Ebel, who spend almost 8 year in a Colorado State Prison administrative segregation cell before being released straight on to the streets. 
Ebel obtained a semiautomatic pistol from Stevie Marie Ann Vigil, who was sentenced this week to 27 months in prison for knowing transferring a firearm to a convicted felon.  Ebel used the firearm to kill Nate Leon, a pizza delivery driver and the Colorado prison director Tom Clements on March 17, 2013. 
After killing Colorado's prison director, Ebel left Colorado and headed to Texas where Montague County Deputy James Boyd pulled Ebel over for a traffic violation.  Deputy Boyd was shot, but survived.  See the video above of the pursuit that followed shortly or view on You Tube

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Texas Correctional Voting Block Works

Staff Reporter
Austin, Texas
With highly contested and well funded races in place where correctional employees reside, AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees for the second time in history put together a list of candidates and endorsements in these highly contested races.  Correctional Employees weighed in on 10 contested races which will determine the next Speaker of the Texas House, who makes committee appointments. 
Shadow Political Action Committees such as Texans for Fiscal Responsibility ran by Austin political insider Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans targeted some of the Speaker of the House's closest allies in rural areas of Texas.  Here are the results of AFSCME Texas Correctional endorsed candidates:
District 15: Senator John Whitmire WON
District 1: Representative George Lavender LOST
District 121: Representative Joe Straus WON
District 134: Sarah Davis WON
District 18: Representative John Otto WON
District 59: Representative J.D. Sheffield WON
District 71: Representative Susan King WON
District 8: Representative Byron Cook WON
District 83: Representative Charles Perry Won
District 131: Representative Alma Allen Won
District 145: Representative Carol Alvarado Won
State District Court 278: Hal Ridley Won
Correctional employees are able to make a statewide impact in primary races where voter turnout is usually low.  Under state law if no one receives a majority of the vote, the top two candidates head to a runoff election to be held May 27.  These races have an even lower turnout and may determine statewide candidates.  It is important for Texas correctional employees to make their vote and voice be heard in these important elections which may determine the fate of their retirement, pay, and benefits.  Click here to receive a form in the mail to register to vote
Myths about voting:
1)  If I register, I will be selected for jury duty.  FALSE Counties now use driver license list to help pull juries, so get rid of your drivers license too if that is the case.
2)  My vote doesn't count.  FALSE  Everyone's vote counts and voting together in a block can make a large impact.
3)  Politicians don't care if I vote for or against them.  FALSE Some elections are decided by a handful of votes.  Politicians sometimes will spend hundreds of dollars to attract one extra vote.
4)  Public employees groups who are politically active are usually paid more.  TRUE  In the State of Texas Law Enforcement and fire fighters are very politically active in most large cities and make almost twice what most correctional officers make. 
5)  Correctional employees don't vote.  FALSE We do vote and we are making an impact.  Our impact needs to be felt better. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It's Fat Election Tuesday, Get Out and Vote!!!!!

Austin, Texas — For some people today is Fat Tuesday, for others its Election Day, and for the more sophisticated person its Fat Election Tuesday.  Today for the sophisticated Mardi Graser polls open Tuesday March 4th at 7 AM and close at 7 PM, leaving plenty of time to vote before the nighty party begins. 
Voters can find their poll location by going to the following link:  Find Poll Information 
TDCJ Employees can get time off to go vote!!!!!
In accordance with TDCJ PD-49 Page 19:

"An employee shall be granted sufficient administrative leave to vote in statewide elections without any deduction in salary or leave time when the employee’s work schedule would disallow voting during off time.


If early voting or extended polling hours on Election Day offer an employee sufficient time to vote, the employee is not eligible for administrative leave."      

                 - Source: TDCJ Website PD-49

While some people have no ideal who they are voting for, groups such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters have published a guide where state candidates have responded to question on what they stand for.  See League of Women Voters Guide
For Texas correctional employees, the American Federal of State County Municipal Employees (Texas PEOPLE Action Committee) has organized a correctional employee voting endorsement block based on voting history regarding TDCJ workplace conditions, privatization of prison / retirement, increase in employee benefits, agency funding priorities, and legislative / judicial legal experience.  Here is a list of the endorsements made by AFSCME PEOPLE Texas Action Committee:
Texas Senate:
District 15 Senator John Whitmire Democratic Primary (Harris County)
Texas House of Representatives:
District 18 John Otto Republican Primary (Counties: Walker, Liberty, San Jacinto)
District 1 George Lavendar Republic Primary (Counties: Bowie, Franklin, Lamar, Red River)
District 134 Rep. Sarah Davis Republic Primary (Harris County)
District 121 Rep. Joe Straus Republic Primary (Bexar County)
District 59 Rep. J.D. Sheffield Republic Primary (Counties: Erath, Comanche, McCulloch, Mills, Hamilton, Coryell, San Saba, Somerville)
District 71 Rep. Susan Davis Republic Primary (Counties: Anderson, Freestone, Hill, Navarro)
District 131 Rep. Alma Allen Democratic Primary (Harris County)
District 145 Rep. Carol Alvarado Democratic Primary (Harris County)
State District Judge
278th District Judge Hal Ridley Republic Primary (County: Walker, Madison, Leon)
Paid for by the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, 1625 L St., NW, Washington, DC, 20036.  Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.  These candidates are not being endorsed or authorized by The Backgate or its staff.   

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lt. Governor Dewhurst Announces Interim Charges On Criminal Justice

AUSTIN — Lieutenant. Governor David Dewhurst announced Interim Charges relating to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.  "The state of medical and mental health care within the prison system presents an opportunity for Texas to improve a process that could ultimately save money and reduce the rate of repeat offenders while better protecting public safety," said Dewhurst. "Texas has always been tough on crime and these charges can make us even smarter on crime. I look forward to the findings of the Criminal Justice Committee on efforts to make the system more efficient for all Texans."
Lt. Governor Dewhurst issued the following charges to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice:
HEALTH WITHIN THE PRISON SYSTEM. Lt. Governor Dewhurst asked the committee to study the operations of the Texas prison system with respect to the medical and mental health care treatment and the potential cost savings associated with identifying offenders with dual diagnoses and routing these individuals into appropriate services before, during, and after involvement with the criminal justice system. Dewhurst also asked the committee to study the way in which geriatric parole cases are currently evaluated and identify opportunities for reducing costs associated with the geriatric inmate population without compromising public safety.
JAIL DIVERSION FOR MENTALLY ILL. Additionally, Lt. Governor Dewhurst instructed the committee to study and make recommendations related to jail diversion, reduced recidivism rates, and access to services for those within the system who suffer from a mental illness. He also instructed the committee to monitor the progress and implementation of the jail diversion pilot program for the mentally ill in Harris County and determine the best practices to be applied statewide. '
"In Texas, no stone is left unturned when it comes to protecting Texans and their tax-dollars," concluded Dewhurst. "Smart, conservative leadership has proved time and time again that the routine appraisal of our statewide systems only leads to a stronger economy, and we plan to extend that Texas Miracle through every level of state government, including our prison system."

February Press Clippings for Texas Prisons

Here are a few news clippings of interest involving Texas prisons for the month of February 2014:

KCBD Invesatigates Sexual Abuse Claims at Monford

Lubbock - The Montford Psychiatric Unit ranks fourth in the country for facilities with high rates of sexual victimization claims.  The 100-page Department of Justice study reveals sexual abuse is on the rise in America's correctional institutions. In 2011 through 2012, nearly four percent of state and federal prison inmates claimed to have experienced some type of sexual abuse, involving either another inmate or facility staff.

Inmate Charged with Killing His Cellmate at the Michael Unit
Palestine - An Anderson County Grand Jury Indicted Harry Whitaker, 59, of capital murder for the 2012 death of Cresencio Vasquez at the Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony. Whitaker allegedly strangled his cellmate in 2012 and is currently incarcerated on a triple homicide out of Harris County in 1977.

Former Death Row CO / Attorney Talks on Use of Solitary
Dallas - Former Death Row Officer and Former TDCJ Attorney weighs in on the currently conditions on Texas Death Row and the use of solitary confinement. Steve Martin states in an editorial to the Dallas Morning News, "The problem with the current system is that death row inmates have no incentive to behave well, and that endangers prison staff. Misbehavior is dealt with by removing commissary and non-legal visitation privileges, along with property like radios. Meanwhile, compliance with existing security rules gets the prisoner nothing: just more of the same solitary confinement." Martin joins a growing number of correctional professionals who have called for the scaling back of the use of solitary conditions which can lead to offenders acting more aggressive and assaultive towards staff.



San Antonio - Karin Richmond is a former lobbyist, both in Austin and in Washington, D.C.. In 1983, while in her hotel room in Austin, Richmond was brutally stabbed more than a dozen times, her nose cut off, and blinded by her attacker, an employee of the hotel. Richmond successfully fought to change the victim notification systems requiring text alerts and was awarded the President's Commission on Peace Award at St Mary's University.

Greg Abbott Gets the Border Wrong, Prison Gangs are the Threat

 El Paso - While Barrio Azteca and other prison gangs in the state are framed as "Mexican" or "border" gangs, the fact is that many of these criminal gangs are not a product of Mexico, they’re a product of Texas—more specifically, they’re a product of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Barrio Azteca was formed in 1986 as a prison gang in the Coffield Unit of TDCJ. The Coffield Unit is located in Anderson County, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas. As Abbott addressed El Pasoans this week, he added, "Our porous border is allowing ruthless cartels and violent transnational gangs to operate more freely within the state of Texas. "Gangs like the Barrio Azteca, the Texas Syndicate, Tango Blast and countless others are infiltrating schools across the state," he continued.


This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows a cellphone and cigarettes that were found inside a camouflage package, January 25, 2014, near an undisclosed Florida state prison. Prison officials in Florida and nationwide are fighting a different type of contraband being smuggled to inmates: cellphones.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - And while prison officials are trying their best to keep cellphones out, it's not such an easy task. Jamming cellphone signals is prohibited by federal law, and it costs more than $1 million each for authorized towers that control what cellphone calls can come in and out of prisons. Some prisons even have to police their own corrections officers who sometimes help inmates receive contraband.

TDCJ Adds $4,000 Bonus for Some New Hires

Huntsville - The Texas Department of Criminal Justice recently announced it would raise hiring bonuses for correctional officers signing a one-year contract to $4,000 for targeted rural prisons or those in areas where the department competes for workers with the booming oil and gas industry.

DPS adds gang member to Texas 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list

TDCJ Gang Member Added to DPS 10 Most Wanted

San Antonio - The Texas Department of Public Safety is offering a $10,000 reward for information on a Texas gang-member, wanted for failure to register as a sex-offender and parole violation. Benjamin Dominguez, 47, was recently added to the Texas 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list. Authorities say Dominguez has an extensive criminal history and is a member of the Barrio Azteca gang out of El Paso, Texas.

TDCJ Inmates Now Facing Problems Getting Married

Dallas - The road to romance is rarely smooth. But Texas prison inmates wanting to tie the knot have hit a particularly rocky patch after legislators banned most marriages by proxy last year. For decades, inmates have been able to marry their significant others by signing an affidavit to obtain a license and having a third party stand in for them during the ceremony.

TDCJ Director Announces Future Cuts to Some Use of Ad Seg

In a statement to the Austin American Statesman, TDCJ Director Brad Livingston indicates the agency will continue to cut their use of administrative segregation as they have done with the GRAD program and have already lowered the ad seg number to 7,200. In a statement from Jason Clark, the agency revealed last year over 1,200 inmates were released directly from administrative segregation onto the streets.

Two Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Gang Members Plead Guilty

Washington DC - Two members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang (ABT) pleaded guilty today to racketeering charges related to their membership in the ABT’s criminal enterprise, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas. Clay Jarrad Kirkland, aka "Diesel," 35, of Dallas, and David Orlando Roberts, aka, "Chopper," 36, of Houston, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake in the Southern District of Texas to one count of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity.

Victim Impact Statements are not Making it to Parole Board

Austin - KEYE TV has learned that from 2010 to 2013 crime victims submitted between 14,000 to 17,000 statements each year to county officials, but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Victim Services Division reported only receiving around 3,000 each year.

A detention center's door is shown in Baltimore, Md. | AP Photo

Private Prison Racket

While privatizing prisons may appear at first glance like yet another example of how the free market beats the public sector, one need only look at CCA’s record in Idaho to wonder whether outsourcing this particular government function is such a good idea. Last year, a review of CCA’s staff records showed that prison employees had falsified as many as 4,800 hours over the course of seven months; they had understaffed the prison on purpose and fudged records.

TDCJ Contract Halfway House Walkaways Increases

Austin - The Austin Transitional Center, a halfway house where parolees serve the remainder of their sentences out of prison. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice allows parolees to stay in halfway houses if they have nowhere to go after they’re released early from prison. While parolees can only leave for pre-approved appointments like job interviews and doctor visits, the KVUE Defenders uncovered a dramatic increase of parolees walking away from the facility. From 2009 to 2012, walkaways from this Austin’s halfway house jumped from 90 to nearly 400. That’s a 328 percent increase.

Former Exonerees School Congress on Solitary Confinement

Washington DC - Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels had quite the embarrassing moment Feb. 25 when he couldn't give the Senate Judiciary Committee the dimensions of the average solitary confinement cell. Five Mualimmak knows the answer from experience: "It's about the size of your bathroom, and your rec area is like going into the shower for recreation."

How Conservatives Love Prison Reform

 In the early 1990s, then-Rep. Newt Gingrich unveiled one of the centerpieces of his new conservative agenda: putting more Americans behind bars. Today, Gingrich has changed his tune. "There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential," Gingrich wrote in a 2011 op-ed in the Washington Post. "We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it."

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man

New York - New findings in a case being investigated by the Innocence Project uncovered a Texas case which was based on junk science and has recently revealed the DA prosecuting the case may have withheld a plea bargain with a jailhouse snitch during the trial. Mr. Willingham was convicted on charges of setting the 1991 fire in Corsicana, that killed his three children, and was sentenced to death the next year. The conviction rested on two pillars of evidence: analysis by arson investigators, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who said that Mr. Willingham had confessed the crime to him.

 A note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, "based on coop in Willingham." The former district attorney denies withholding evidence and stated there was never a plea bargain. Investigators working with the Innocence Project uncovered the photocopied note while examining Webb's case file which was never released to Willingham's attorneys.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sam Houston State University Examines TDCJ Correctional Officer Stress

Illustration of hands, with one holding the word stress and the other holding the word work.

Press Release Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, Texas

Conflicts between work and family life were the most significant issues that affect work stress and job satisfaction among correctional officers, a new study by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University found.

In a study of 441 correctional officers from adult prisons in the South, the most significant work-home issues experienced by correctional officers were demands and tensions from work that impact their home life; an incompatibility between the officer’s role at work and at home; and family circumstances that place strain on work experiences.
In addition to work-home conflicts, the perceived dangerousness of the job and family support also weighed heavily on job stress, while supervisor support had a significant impact on job satisfaction.
Correctional officer holding cell keys.“Criminal justice careers, particularly those in the field of corrections, consist of unique daily challenges,” said Dr. Gaylene Armstrong, co-author of the study. “The demands on correctional employees are numerous, including monitoring a challenging population in a confined space, shift work, and an ongoing potential for danger. All of these aspects contribute to the challenges of successfully balancing demands between work and family life.”
The study recommended training supervisory staff to maintain an open, yet professionally driven, line of communication with employees about family matters and work demands.
“It is critical for supervisors to take notice of the emotional and cognitive state of their subordinates to ensure a high level of job performance and professionalism,” Dr. Armstrong said. “Not only are desperate or unhappy employees likely to exhibit emotional distress via job burnout, the odds of compromised decision making is also at stake.”
Crossword puzzle featuring synonyms for help.To assist in the effort, CMIT developed a brochure for correctional officers to recognize the signs of stress and to find ways to address those issues. Stress can manifest itself in several ways, including memory problems, anxiety, racing thoughts, moodiness or irritability, agitation, depression, physical aches and pains, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, isolation, or increased use of drugs or alcohol.

The pamphlet offered several ways to reduce stress, including:
  • Exercise regularly and maintain proper nutrition
  • Use meditation and other relaxation techniques as part of your daily schedule
  • Reach out to co-workers, friends and family
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol; the reliefs from such self-medication are only temporary
  • Make a point to do something enjoyable every day
  • Be sure to get enough sleep
  • Use the confidential Employee Assistance Program.

For more information about the study, contact Liz Berger at CMIT at (936) 294-1705 or at

US Senate Holds Hearing on Solitary Confinement / Will TDCJ Dial Back use of AD Segregation?

By Staff Reporter
Austin, Texas 
Tuesday the US Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee held a hearing titled "Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences."  Below is some of testimony submitted to the US Senate Committee:

"We owe it to correctional officers who put their lives on the line every day to do everything we can to protect their safety. Make no mistake, that means that some dangerous inmates must be held in segregated housing. But we also should learn from states like Maine and Mississippi, which have reduced violence in their prisons by reducing the overuse of solitary confinement."

              - Senator Dick Durbin
           Statement by Chairman Durbin

"One of the most stunning examples of downsizing solitary confinement comes from Mississippi. In 2007, Mississippi had 1,300 inmates in solitary confinement while today there are only 300.  This downsizing has saved Mississippi taxpayers $6 million, because solitary confinement costs $102 per day compared to $42 a day for inmates in the general population.   Most importantly, violence within Mississippi’s prisons and the recidivism rate upon release are both down, with violence dropping nearly 70 percent."
        - Marc Levin (Conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation)
                  View Marc's Testimony Here

"No one, no matter how horrible the crimes for which they have been convicted, can endure this lack of stimulation, contact, and activity for very long. I saw men lose their minds. Some screamed at all hours of the night. Some just stared at a wall, even when they could spend their one hour a day outside of the cell. Some were drugged to the point that they seemed nearly comatose. Some tried to save their medications and overdose on them to commit suicide.  I saw men smear their feces in their cells.  For 15 years, I watched the State slowly execute many of my fellow inmates before it could legally put the needle into their arms."
   - Damon Thibodeaux (Former Louisiana Death Row Inmate Exonerated After 15 Years in Solitary)
                                              View Testimony by Damon
"The intended use of administrative segregation was to reduce violence on staff and inmates. Unfortunately a reduction in violence on staff has not been the case in Texas since the state greatly increased the use of administrative segregation in the 1990s.
The overreliance on solitary confinement in Texas may be a direct result of lack of trained and experienced staff. A better-trained and experienced workforce could better manage an increasing mental health population, reducing the overuse of solitary confinement.
Even more alarming is we are releasing inmates into our communities every day, who have spent years in solitary conditions with little or no treatment to correct the behavior which lead to their incarceration in solitary conditions."
- Lance Lowry (AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees) 
The United States Senate on Tuesday heard testimony on the use the solitary confinement with six different witnesses testifying and 130 written testimonies.  The bipartisan hearing was held by Senator Dick Durbin (D - Illinois) and Senator Ted Cruz (R - Texas) that examined the degree to which solitary confinement is used.
Marc Levin with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation testified "many states continue to release inmates directly from solitary confinement, with more than 1,300 such releases in 2011 in Texas alone." In an article by Mike Ward (Austin American Statesman / ) Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman stated "that in 2013, 1,243 felons were released directly from solitary confinement to the streets — including 500 who served their entire sentence and 743 who were released on various forms of parole supervision. Statistics weren’t immediately available on how many of those convicts had come back to prison for new crimes." 
Levin pointed out in his testimony "The average American may understandably wonder, if an inmate is too dangerous for the general population of a prison, how can they live next to me the next day?"
Levin in his testimony recommends enhancing correctional staff training in de-escalation techniques, mental illness, and mental retardation, issues which often lead to solitary confinement.  Levin points out that states such as Nebraska are looking at hiring individuals with degrees in areas of social work who are better equipped to not just respond to behavior, but change it.  Levin further recommended implementing a parallel universe model that creates incentives for positive behavior and self-improvement.
Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who was appointed to the position after Tom Clements, the former director was murdered answering the door of his home to a recent parolee who had been released directly from administrative segregation, testified that "administrative segregation has been overused, misused, and abused for over 100 years." Raemisch recently wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times describing his recent experience where he entered into Colorado's administrative segregation posing as an inmate for a day.  (Click here to see article).
Raemisch announced he would lower the states use of solitary confinement by ending death row administrative segregation, establish a "Transition Unit" with a cognitive course to prepare offenders for transition to General Population, and not release administrative segregation offenders directly into the community. 
Shortly after the US Senate Hearing, Brad Livingston, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced in an article in the Austin American Statesman Texas would continue to seek ways to reduce the use of administrative segregation.  “We’re dialed in on this issue to extend the successes of our treatment programs to this population,” Livingston said. “Consistent with our commitment to public safety, I don’t think the current number of 7,000 is the floor.  I think we can do better.”
Livingston's announcement comes after several states have successfully reformed the use of administrative segregation including successes reported in Mississippi and Maine.  The State of New York announced last week they would reform their use of administrative segregation.  Last month the State of Virginia lost a Federal Court case ruling its use of solitary conditions for death row inmates was unconstitutional.  (See Article Click Here). 
With national legislation in the works and the Federal Courts at play, states will continue to research the issues of administrative segregation and placing inmates in solitary conditions.  States and administrators who fail to remain proactive on the issues of solitary usage may face scrutiny from legislative bodies and courts.    


Friday, February 21, 2014

Reducing Prison Violence by Thinking Outside the Box

By Lance Lowry
Huntsville, Texas
   Prison administrators and correctional unions sometimes go against what the science of numbers tells us on reducing prison violence and assaults on staff. Looking out after the safety of correctional staff should be the greatest concern for correctional administration and the unions that represent correctional officers. Unfortunately corrections is not an exact science and is often driven by unfounded beliefs rather than examining the numbers themselves. Resistance to change in correctional institutions is a common practice seen all across the United States. In the past refusing to change practices in prisons has resulted in riots and staff getting hurt or killed.
   During the last two decades, the United States had an explosion in the use of solitary confinement (Administrative Segregation) for federal, state, and local prisoners and detainees. Today, more than 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States and over 153,000 people are incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If Texas were its own country we would have the highest incarceration per capita in the world. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States holds over 80,000 people in some kind of restricted housing (Administrative Segregation, Solitary, Super-max). Statistics show in Illinois, 56% of inmates have spent some time in segregated housing.
       Originally the use of segregated (special housing, solitary, transient isolation, protective custody) housing in Texas was reserved for inmates that exhibited the most violent behavior, the practice is now being used more frequently to isolate certain gang members, LBGT inmates, all male death row inmates (regardless of prison conduct), special needs inmates, and inmates exhibiting abnormal mental conditions. Some inmates have been locked up in administrative segregation for decades now.
   The intended use of administrative segregation was to reduce violence on staff and inmates. Unfortunately reductions in violence on staff has not been the case in Texas. Serious staff assaults in Texas has risen with the increased use of administrative segregation. Serious assaults on Texas correctional staff has gradually risen over 104% during the last 7 years. In 2013 over 79% of the 499 reported intentional exposures to bodily fluids occurred in segregated housing areas of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. None of the exposure assaults involved regular general population offenders.
   Most inmates in administrative segregation are often confined to small cells without windows, and little audio / visual stimulation. Such extreme isolation can have serious psychological effects on inmates and can lead to increased aggression towards staff, mental illness, self-mutilation and suicide. Inmates in administrative segregation have little social contact aside from abnormal communications involving yelling at offenders in other cells. Lack of normal social contact breeds increased aggression which increases aggression towards staff who may be the only normal social contact this segment of the offender population has.
      In a February 2014 study published in The American Journal of Public Health found that New York City jail inmates placed in solitary confinement were nearly seven times as likely to harm themselves as those in the general jail population. The study found the effects of solitary conditions on juveniles and the severely mentally ill was profound.
   Most correctional officers are opposed to the changes in administrative segregation, fearing a breakdown in prison order and risk to their own safety. Unfortunately the data is telling changes are desperately needed. States such as Maine and Mississippi have substantially reduced the use of administrative segregation as punishment without an increase in prison violence towards staff or other offenders. Mississippi went to extremes and reduced its administrative population by more than 75 percent, which has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in prison violence.
   On the national level the Obama Administration’s 2014 budget request for the Department of Justice, confirms that the Obama administration has failed to see the damage being inflicted on both officers and inmates through increasing use of administrative segregation, seeking to open a second ultra-secure supermax prison within the next two years. Changes are being pushed on the national level with Senator Dick Durbin (D / Illinois) and Senator Ted Cruz (R / Texas) holding hearings on solitary confinement starting February 25th. Both groups on the extreme right (Republican Tea Party) and left have joined forces seeing the cost savings, reduction in damaging psychological impact, and reducing prison violence.
    AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees is taking a proactive stance on reducing staff assaults and the negative impact administrative segregation has on correctional staff. The employees union has broke against the wall of resistance held by correctional officers nationally and is seeking to reduce the growing assaults Texas correctional officials face everyday. The union last session supported legislation to increase studies on the usage of administrative segregation. Unfortunately state administrators refuse to fund the $100,000 needed for the oversight committee study. Complacency , personal attacks, and ignorance will not reduce the violence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
   Proper management of positive and negative behaviors is the key to reducing staff assaults. States such as Louisiana and Massachusetts are going high tech with the introduction of mini-computer tablets as a new management tool that can reward good behavior or be a lost privilege for bad behavior. With new secure computer technology, access to streaming TV can be restricted or modified to insure compliance with treatment programs such as anger management, positively impacting staff with less assaults and aggression by correcting negative behavior. The new technology would allow more education and rehabilitation programs to be delivered to offenders without increasing prison traffic and movement. Use of computer technology such as Jpay systems has implemented reduces contraband and allows better screening of mail. With virtual communications, offenders would be allowed automated mail systems that would allow gang intelligence to archive messages and reduce correctional officer's work load.
   Offenders in administrative segregation areas may receive audio and visual stimulation from use of mini computer tablets, reducing the psychological damages of isolation, that can result in less assaults on staff. In 2013 TDCJ saw a 98 percent increase in offender suicide attempts over a 10 year period. With the Texas prison system now becoming the largest mental health care provider in Texas, these numbers will likely increase unless major intervention is done. In 2012 Texas prison saw a record number of suicides with 36 offenders successfully killing themselves. With diminishing conditions for offenders comes diminishing conditions for staff. Texas needs to be more proactive.