Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More issues plague the TDCJ.

Again the TDCJ is in the news, still over the Cell Phone debacle that has brought down several of it's own. The problem still persists says the Tyler Paper in their news story published on Feb. 26th. (see below).

When will the TDCJ learn?

The number of good CO's I am sure greatly out numbers the bad. But the hiring practices of the TDCJ in the last couple of years has made this situation worse than ever.

Over crowding, the rush to incarcerate and keep incarcerated offenders in Texas will only serve too further expand this and many other problems facing the TDCJ and it's personnel. Until the State Of Texas (and many others) realize that the system of Justice is broken, and it can no longer continue to function in it's current model, these and other problems will continue to plague us.

It is a fact that, and a very well known and proven one at that, that the TDCJ can not meet it's minimum staffing levels nor provide the Tax Payers reasonable return of the dollars expended by the Division. At the current rate according to reports I have read in the last few weeks, the cost of keeping a single inmate for 1 day equals that of having the same inmate on Parole or Probation for 17 days in Texas. "Our" elected officials need to go back and take some remedial math classes.

That coupled with having an alarming 1 in 22 adults either in or under TDCJ/BOPP supervision, and crime still rising should tell the story of just how inept and up to the task the system as a whole is. The CO's are as much victims of this system as the inmates, their resources few, the pay amongst one of the lowest in the country while having the second largest Penal system in the Country, places them at risk not only on the job, but off as stress related illness is sure among many of their complaints.

The voices of those within the system CO's Administration etc have got to reach Austin, they know best just how bad the system is. In the mean time, they are working with one hand tied behind their backs and now having to keep an eye on their own not just the inmates.

Until the TDCJ, can first house all it's inmates within it's own units, with the current level of staffing, reduce all of the safety concerns of over crowding and bring the budget to a reasonable and responsible number, we will not see any changes. Building more prisons is not the answer, they can not properly staff what they have and neither can the centers providing rented space. The answers are right in front of them, data from countless sources point to Community programs, education and prevention, rehabilitation and a strong and reliable Parole and Probation system.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Judge Keller isn't as blind as Lady Justice should be!

The following article appeared on chron.com, a Local Houston Chronicle news paper and further story details are on Grits For Breakfast.......

It spells out just another of the many ills facing The Lone Star State's legal system. While we try to focus on issues that directly affect the impact of inmates of the TDCJ, there is definitely a direct connection to the Courts.

I am appalled at Judge Keller's actions, and further more the actions of all 9 Judges who participated in the Vote described in this story. Has Judge Keller decided that she can remove the blindfold of Justice in the state of Texas? Or is she serving another political agenda? Do pollsters in her district (s) show a high support for the death penalty?

While duly noted in the Article, it is normal for informal discussions between the Judges to take place, should an informal Vote be sought without the presence of the defense's argument? What if that argument is valid, and merits the appeal be granted? Did the informal vote prejudice the Court before hand? You decide, but in either case, her removal from the Bench should be, and must be done swiftly.

We will never know the truth here I'm afraid, Mr. Richards was executed that night without his Attorney's being allowed to file the motion.

The Story:

Vince Leibowitz, a reporter for a blog called Capitol Annex, reported this week that several judges on the state’s highest court for criminal matters want their chief judge, Sharon Keller, to resign.

Keller has been charged by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with violations of the judicial conduct code in connection with her alleged refusal to keep the court clerk’s office open for a last-minute appeal for a death row inmate, or to inform the judge assigned to take last-minute appeals that the inmate’s lawyers were attempting to file one.

Now Keller must face the equivalent of a public trial and could lose her office.

Leibowitz quotes his source as saying the judges, at least some of whom would have to testify, feared more media scrutiny could hurt their re-election chances.

Their concern is justified. A good portion of the public might be alarmed to know, for example, that the judges acted a bit like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.

“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

Life rarely imitates art exactly. As usual, it was a little more complicated.

Convicted murderer Michael Wayne Richard was set to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Sept. 25, 2007. That morning the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case called Baze v. Rees challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

According to the formal charges by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Judge Cathy Cochran at 11:29 a.m. e-mailed to Keller and her other colleagues an Internet link to the Kentucky Supreme Court decision that was being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The document then says that in “early afternoon” the court’s general counsel, Edward Marty, “began drafting a proposed order for the court in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal based on Baze. The Honorable Judge Tom Price drafted a dissenting opinion in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal and circulated the dissent to the other judges.”

What the document omits is that the judges first took an informal vote. I have it on good authority that the tally was 5-4 to turn down Richard’s appeal.

They made up their minds without waiting for the arguments of Richard’s lawyers.

David Dow, the University of Houston Law Center lawyer who headed Richard’s defense team, called the procedure “outrageous.”

“It’s the equivalent of them sticking their fingers in their ears,” he said. The judges may well have felt confident they could anticipate the arguments, and they didn’t want to wait until late in the day to begin taking up the matter.

Robin Norris, an El Paso lawyer who was a staff attorney at the Court of Criminal Appeals for 10 years ending in the mid 1990s, said it was common for judges to discuss such matters informally in such situations. He said he never saw an actual informal vote taken before papers were filed, but didn’t think there was anything “improper” about it, so long as a formal process took place when the papers were received. Norris may be right, but it doesn’t promote the wise, deliberative image a court wishes to project.

Footnote: Dow’s team was not able to submit its appeal for Richard, who was executed that night.

Two days later Dow swapped Carlton Turner’s name for Richard in the documents and asked for a stay of execution on the same grounds — the pending Supreme Court decision.

The Court of Appeals denied it on a 5-4 vote. Price dissented, joined by Judges Paul Womack; Charles Holcomb; and Cheryl Johnson, the judge assigned to handle Richard’s appeal.

The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals and ordered the execution stayed.

But the Supreme Court later upheld lethal injection. Turner, like Richard, has been executed.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Money Factor!

While reading through my morning list of blogs I found a post today on Grits for Breakfast

It points to a pod cast that states the obvious but at least the point is being made throughout the policy making sections of Texas Government.

Time for reform is here, the State is seeing the light not for the humanitarian factors but for monetary ones. However the means, the ends will be justified. Maybe there is an upside to this downside economy we are all dealing with.

Thanks go to Grits for the original posting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You feeling it yet? Bet your loved one has.....

The Texas heat, man is it a coming! While today boasting a balmy Low to Mid 90's across areas like Huntsville, Houston, Dayton, with a feels like on the brink of Triple digits. And Gatesville nailing the 99 degree marker with feels like 101, it sure must be gettin mighty warm in them prisons. It's been a strongly heated (pun intended) discussion on some boars for the last few days. Inside temperatures reach upward of 105 to 110 degrees in the middle of the day in indoor areas at some facilities. All the while the dead of silence surrounds the HVAC systems at TDCJ facilities. Why is this? Well we all know the old mighty dollar isn't fairing so well, and W's old friends in TX aren't helping do much about the cost of energy either.

What the TDCJ fails to understand, or maybe refuses too, it that the upfront savings cooking the inmates might be, the back end is gonna cost them a pretty penny. While I have heard the arguments, and trust me I have heard some fairly ridiculous excuses, most of them revolve around the same thing, just slightly candy coated. MONEY.

It's even almost a point to laugh about when you red the TDCJ's preparedness plan....
Subject: Summer Heat Preparations 2008

It is that time of year when employees and offenders will be affected by extreme heat conditions. As a reminder, due to the potential for extreme heat conditions in upcoming months, it is imperative that everyone take precautions to help reduce heat-related illnesses. Administrative Directive 10.64, "Temperature Extremes in the TDCJ Work Place", and Health Services policy B-15.2, "Heat Stress" should be reviewed by staff for general awareness. Unit training should be completed by June 1, 2008. It is very important to ensure all training has been documented in the employee's file. Pocket cards with tips for recognition, treatment, and prevention of heat-related illnesses are available for units to order from the Prison Store. Wardens need to ensure all correctional employees are provided with or currently have pocket cards.

On May 27, 2008, staff from various departments (Offender Transportation, Health Services, Risk Management, Laundry and Food Service, Environmental, and Plans and Operations) met to review and discuss issues regarding precautions and actions taken last summer and to discuss actions for the upcoming summer. Following, you will find a list of precautions/ actions to be implemented starting June 1, 2008 and ending October 1, 2008. If the need arises, implementation may begin prior to June 1, 2008.

Ensure employees and offenders are aware of the signs and treatment for heat-related illnesses by conducting training. (oh trust me by now they know)

Provide additional water. Ice should be provided if available to employees and offenders in work and housing areas.

Restrict outside activity (work hours) in accordance with AD 10.64.

Ensure all staff and offenders working in areas of extreme heat (i.e., field, maintenance, yard squad) are provided frequent water breaks. (plus the previously obvious statement)

Refrain from transporting psychiatric in-patient offenders to another facility via chain bus.

Transport offenders during coolest hours of the day. (can't argue with that logic)

Screen outgoing chains to ensure that the selected mode of transportation is appropriate.

Allow offenders to take fans when being transported off the unit for medical appointments. (ok, either they have battery operated ones for use on the way or, you are telling me that there is no A/C in the area used to treat inmates for heat related injuries or illness?)

Utilize INFOPAK report (IMS042) listing offenders with heat-sensitive medical restrictions (includes but not limited to offenders on psychotropic medication).

Load and Unload transfer vehicles as quickly as possible. (Security at every back gate is the first priority, but we must always be aware of heat-related issues when buses occupied by offenders sit for any length of time. Every reasonable effort should be made to ensure buses get in and out of the back gate in a safe and expedient manner.)

Transfer vehicles parked for more then 15 minutes are required to place a fan, previously purchased, on the vehicle. Units should ensure that fans, extension cords, etc. are in place and available when needed. ( a fan? to keep a BUS cooled while it's parked in the Texas sun, that is paramount to using a spoon to shovel the snow off your drive in the Winter)

Store paper towels on transportation vehicles to be wet down to utilize in emergencies. (transportation) (provided they don't forget the water)

Water coolers on buses should be refilled at various times during the day to maintain water at appropriate temperature. (transportation)(oh don't worry the driver's going to make sure the water is fine for him)

When utilizing fans, air should be drawn through the structure and exhausted outside. Take full advantage of the fresh air exchange system and/or prevailing winds to assist in the movement of air as applicable. (does HVAC mean anything to them at all?)

Increase airflow by utilizing blowers, when and if appropriate, normally used to move hot air in the winter. Attach ribbons to vents to ensure blowers are being used appropriately. Ensure all maintenance to blowers has been completed. (well we all know a bad blower just sucks, sorry had too)

Allow additional showers for offenders. (this brings up the issue of the water temps being excessively high, another post will follow on that)

Allow offenders to wear shorts in dayroom and recreation areas.

Make water available during meal times. (they don't normally?)

Make sure window screens are clean so as not to restrict airflow. (just how dirty do they let them get?)

Remember that offenders' fans should not be confiscated due to property restriction during this time. Fans should only be confiscated if they are considered contraband. (i.e., they have been altered.)

Fans will be allowed in all custody levels (to include administrative segregation and disciplinary status). Offenders with fans stored based on these restrictions shall have their fans re-issued for the time period specified in this posting.

All offenders shall be permitted to purchase a fan if they do not have one.

Ensure that the fan re-cycling program is in place, allowing the permanent issue of a fan to an offender who has been indigent for the previous six months on a first-come, first-serve basis. Offenders who have significant medical needs, based on a condition or medication that is negatively impacted by the heat, shall be given priority. (of course this and the 2 previous statements only apply if they have electrical outlets, which most State Units do not)

Wardens are encouraged to coordinate with their Food Service Department to ensure their ice machines are working properly. (they don't normally maintain these?)

Authority: Rodney Cooper, Deputy Director
Prison and Jail Manangement

Well thank you TDCJ for the precautionary measures. While some of these may help, the rest are really a band-aid on the problem not a solution. Plain and simply, one death caused by over expossure to heat could potentially cost the TDCJ, The State of Texas and it's Taxpayers much more than the cost of running currently in place HVAC systems at a minimal level. No one os saying they need to cool the place down to 70 degrees, mid 80's would more than solve and prevent any issues or complaints. Here is a thought, you know that area where the Staff has been having to wear their Jackets cause they keep it too cold.. OPEN the DAMN DOOR!

Not only does the TDCJ fail to recognize the immediate health issues the rising temperatures will undoubtedly cause, they never address the fact that it is also a safety concern. Prolonged exposure to the heat will cause stress and aggravation among the inmate population, aggravation that in turn can easily turn into violence, against other inmates or TDCJ staff itself.

Maybe the fact that we spend all the money trying to put as many people in prison as we possibly can (over 172,000 in 2005 in Texas) leads to too many shortfalls in other areas, not to mention the normal wasted spending in all areas of Government. Let's spend some of the taxers payers on lowering the population through rehabilitation, education and reform, improving the Parole and Probation systems, and reducing the number of non violent first time offenders getting exorbitant sentences. Investing in renewable energy resources to provide power to the Facilities, overall everyone comes out ahead.

Recently in the news one of Texas' many Oil tycoons announced he was investing some $200 Million on building windmill Farms in Texas. Hmm, let's see here, a lot of land surrounds Prisons, land that will only be used to build more, and bigger prisons, which will exacerbate the already growing Budget of the TDCJ. Let's think for a second, Public/Private partnerships, the State allows the Windmills on TDCJ owned in land, in exchange for power from those windmills to provide electricity for the nearby prisons. Win/win?

You be the judge, do you want to continue to pour your hard earned dollars into an already obviously failed system, or get more for you buck, help the environment, treat humans like human beings, lower energy costs across the board and provide work in areas that need it?

Wise up Texas... it's not only about "prisoners" the impact is far reaching.

I'd like to thank the folks over at Grits For Breakfast (http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/) for mentioning this blog in theirs today. Keep up the great work, not only does the blog provide me with great inspiration, but it sort of makes me hungry too!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Help and Resources

One of the biggest challenges I face as many do who have someone incarcerated, is doing something about what their loved one says is going on behind the walls. While I for one am not the type to believe much that is said from the TDCJ in general, I have had results, when I have dealt through the proper channels. PTO, has been more than a life line for me personally, the information and friends I have found will be sources of inspiration for me for years to come. Nowhere will you find kinder more knowledgeable folks than through the pages of PTO.

That being said, you MUST do all you can to ensure TDCJ if following the rules, the laws and conducting business in a professional manner. The smallest thing you can imagine has much greater repercussions for those incarcerated. Something as simple as being out of toilet paper (this did happen for more than 3 days), you or I will go to the store and get some. What can your loved one inside the walls do? Not a damn thing, they ask, they're told the Unit is out, they try to buy it at Commissary, they are told they are out, all the while they can see a full box in plain view for the Staff's use.

Ok so it's TP right? It's not about TP, it's about the basic human rights, it's about health concerns, it's about hygiene. That is just a simple situation gone way wrong, but as I said, what could they do? nothing but We, as family members, friends and as Citizens can do plenty.

The TDCJ created the Office of The Ombudsman, precisely for this reason. Of course as Voters our voices are also heard through "our" "elected" officials. While we all know politicians in general are worth the chair they sit in when it comes to responding to our complaints, some, and in Texas there are some, are actually crusaders of the Democratic process.

So next time there is an issue you feel violates your loved one's rights, as basic as it may be, do something, write a letter, make a phone call. Here is some contact information.

Ombudsman Coordinator
General Issues concerning the agency’s operation and policy and procedures.
P.O. Box 99, Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
(936) 437-8035 (936) 437-8067 fax

TDCJ-Correctional Institutions Division
Ombudsman Office
Issues from the public relating to secure facilities (prison units, state jails, and substance abuse felony punishment facilities), and any specific concerns regarding offenders confined in these types of facilities.
P.O. Box 99, Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
(936) 437-6791 (936) 437-6668 fax
**Bilingual Staff Available - Se habla Espanol**

TDCJ-Parole Division Ombudsman
Issues from the public relating to parole supervision. May also respond to concerns from offenders on parole or mandatory supervision.
P.O. Box 13401, Austin, TX 78758
(512) 406-5795 (512) 406-5858 fax
Agency Toll-Free Telephone Number:1-800-535-0283

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Welcome Friends

This is my very first attempt at a "blog". I am the husband of a Texas Inmate. Through these unfortunate set of circumstances that are now a part of my everyday life, I have come to learn maybe too much about the TDCJ.

As many other ordinary citizens, American's, do I never gave it much thought. Thought of the "system"? No, with so many other things that affect our lives every single day, economics, family, careers etc., who has time right?

Well, now I know first hand, I know because I've been thrusted into first hand accounts and experiences shared by many of us American's who have loved ones incarcerated for one reason or another.

No longer can I, turn a blind eye because it doesn't "affect" me! It does, and it affects you, all of you, relatives, friends and ordinary Citizens. If you have someone in the system, it affects you personally, emotionally and impacts your daily life. If you don't. it affects you, in taxes at a very minimum.

I do not intend to take away from the views or rights of the victims of crime, they too are affected, the poorly run systems don't do a thing to rehabilitate or reform and thus nothing is done to prevent or reduce crime in our Nation.

I'm not sure where this will al lead, but I know I am and will continue to be a better American because of it. I realize the importance of accountability from Government and all of it's agencies. I realize the importance of preserving basic human rights. And I recognize the power and freedom of the First Amendment, and plan to fully embrace and exercise that right.

So here we go.....