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.

27 comments:

  1. Assaults have gone up because cases are being thrown away. This article really sounds like it is pro inmate.

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  2. That statement is false. Cases convictions for the assaults are also up. The article is not "pro" anything, but anti officers getting hurt.

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  3. Unfortunately state administrators refuse to fund the $100,000 needed for the oversight committee study. Yeah, we know why. According to senator whitmire a trained monkey can do this job.

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    1. Rick Perry said trained monkeys can do a "guards" job, not Senator Whitmire... Whitmire is the one who cussed out the director.

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    2. I've heard that statement over and over adnauseum, yet nobody has ever offered any proof that Perry actually said that. Wendy Davis said she bathes in the blood of virgins. I read it on the internet so it MUST be true.

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  4. Cases are being thrown away at Garza east and west

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  5. You would be shocked to see what higher ups ( wardens, majors) allow inmates to get away with. When cases are thrown away it enboldens inmates to try and get away with more : which can lead to officer assaults. You really need to work a Max unit like mcconnel for one day.
    :

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  6. I have worked on 4 different units including an expansion cellblock (high security), nothing surprises me. However, I have never seen a problem with Major or Wardens throwing away a disciplinary case for a Serious Staff Assault. Serious Staff Assaults require an Administrative Review that is examined by the CID Directors. If you have factual information about a Major or Warden throwing away a disciplinary case for a Serious Staff Assault please contact my office at 936-295-5265. I don't agree with TDCJ administration on many issues such as their lack of budgeting, poor recruiting standards, human resource policies, pay, forced overtime practices, or out dated practices. I do believe that CID Director William Stephens would take action against an administrator for throwing away a case on a serious staff assault.

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    1. I will give you a call. It happened to me. I'm fighting to find out why and I'm not getting answers.

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  7. No case should be thrown away period! Wardens should not be allowed to have trusties who are untouchable. remember the cpts boy at cy who killed the secretary!!!!!!!!

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  8. So youve been on four units but are dumbfonded that wardens tear up cases for snitch inmates

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  9. I have never know a warden or major to trash a SERIOUS STAFF ASSAULT case. If you have factual proof of this, please inform us so the matter can be addressed. There is a big difference between minor cases being informally resolved and staff assaults being trashed. Cases for years have been informally resolved, so this does not explain the large increase in staff assaults.

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  10. The reason for the inmates to be acting up more than in the past is because of how the power of the Correctional Officer is being taken away little at a time..... Back in the day when we could do are jobs and feel good about working for TDCJ. Than we took more pride in doing are jobs . But because of the way that TDCJ is headed is causing more lives to be in DANGER......

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    1. You get a big AMEN from me.

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    2. Right on. Officers, and shift supervisors, have seen their responsibility increase as their authority has decreased.

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  11. There was a time when an officer was expected to take care of business on his block. If there was a problem with an inmate we were expected to handle it. If we had to call a supervisor it damn well better be serious. It was all about respect back then. If you couldn't handle your business, you got no respect. And, you dang sure wouldn't last long. They'd send your ass packing, or put you on a picket. But, that was 30yrs ago. Now day's if a convict causes a boss any trouble they gotta call their supervisor to come fix their problem for them. The officers have lost their respect, and ability to solve problems. And, that's not because they don't have the authority to solve problems, because they do have that authority. It's because most unit administration, and their shift supervisors won't allow their bosses to take care of business. They essentially have taken the bosses authority away from them. And, you know that's true when the first thing a inmate asks for is a supervisor.

    When I first started if I called a sergeant for a problem with an inmate I would've been run off the farm, quick and in a hurry. I would have been told to "handle your business, or get the hell out". Or, I would have been told "what do I need YOU for if you can't handle your business". Now a CO can't do jack chit without calling the sergeant or lieutenant.

    So, how does that make the CO look to the average inmate?? WEAK as hell. That's how. And, who do you think predators pray on? Weak individuals. So, if you have a bunch of bosses that are considered weak by the inmate population, what do you think the inmates will do? That's right, more assaults will happen.

    Officers have to know that they have authority, and they have to know when and how to use it. Then, they MUST have back up by their supervisors. Without the ability to exercise their authority, and be supported by their supervisors and administration, the officers will appear weak and be much easier pray. Inmates will be emboldened, and much more aggressive. THIS is why you have seen more staff assaults in recent years IMHO. But, what do I know. I only did 30yrs+ and retired last April.

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    1. Well said and very true Marty.

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    2. How's the fishing been?

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    3. Fishing has sucked of late. Last time I hit the dike I didn't get a bite. But, it should pick up pretty quickly if the water warms a bit.

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  12. When a case is informally resolved, it is still supposed to be placed in the disciplinary box. Last time I checked, policy allows COs to investigate cases. The cases then need to be approved by a supervisor, who either recommends informal resolution or a disciplinary hearing. Either way, the case is supposed to go a grading official, usually a Major, who ultimately decided if it is informally resolved, goes to a major hearing, goes to a minor hearing, or is not prosecuted. Cases are not supposed to go in the trash.

    The problem is, supervisors can't just drop cases that are not properly written in the disciplinary box. I've had to teach a number of bosses how to properly write a case. Some bosses don't understand how to select the proper charge based on the elements in the pleading book. If an inmate plays his radio too loud, creating a disturbance is not the correct charge. Some bosses can't even follow the preamble from the pleading book. After much instruction and hand holding, some bosses just can't get it right. Eventually their cases started going in the trash, as long as the offense was not serious.

    At all the units I've worked at, the admin has stripped even the CO Vs of their authority to investigate cases, and Sgts their authority to sign off on cases. Now we have Sgts responsible for investigating, and Lts responsible for signing off on cases. COs and Sgts lost some authority, and lost some respect.

    Admin needs to start giving authority back to COs, Sgts, and Lts. It's not just about how cases are handled. The problem is much broader than just cases. Cases just happen to be a perfect example of the loss of authority.

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    1. Yeah many times I saw cases where under additional information they just repeated word for word the preamble instead of giving details or at least a brief summary of the incident.

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    2. Yes, I agree. Well said, and it sounds like you've seen some of the similar policies I saw. And, these types of policies don't build a strong correctional work force. They only weaken the front line correctional staff.

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  13. TDCJ started to go down hill when we started hiring welfare trash. No standards in recruiting and lowering training standards is how we got to this point. Officers can't handle their business and now we have unruly offenders requiring more ad seg. Cases get tossed because officers can't even copy the preamble out of a book correctly. Administration sold officers out on pay and gets a $43,000 raise as a reward for covering up the violence, lack of quality in the new recruits, and not asking for better funding. Go to any unit and look at the mobile patrol car, that truly tells you how this agency is ran. No one cares and it's breaking down.

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  14. It sounds to me like the administration department could use a good house-cleaning!

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  15. Never head of wardens majors classification etc throwing out major cases for staff assaults... Also, if an offender is placed in Ad Seg and becomes more assaultive from such, the more it is necessary to keep him in Ad Seg. GTR 637784.

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  16. Between 1992-1998 no one got away with such. If such practices of throwing out major disciplinary cases are happening today, it would be based then on clerical errors etc... Throwing away major cases isnt reality in TDCJ. GTR 637784

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  17. I'm sorry but alot of prisoners get written up for just about anything these days, thanks to them they get sent out to bigger units and placed in more danger.the prison guards treat the inmates like animals, yes, I know prisons aren't supposed to be easy but they're humans and have rights..not all prisoners killed someone or raped anyone. .I hope that things change in the Texas prisons. ..so all you guards that think you're above everyone. ..wake up and quit whining because a prisoner looks at you crazy or doesn't have their bed made right. .God watches everything and if you're a bitch ass guard, You will get yours !

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