Monday, March 15, 2010

Whitmire: Trusties a weak link in contraband intake

It turns out the incident with the Sugar Land trusty making shopping runs to the Walmart wasn't an isolated incident. According to the Houston Chronicle ("Trust in prison trusties shaky," March 8):
Days after a Texas prison trusty sneaked into a Sugar Land Walmart to buy cigarettes, contraband-sniffing dogs outside Beaumont's Stiles Unit pinpointed a cache of tobacco, 19 cell phones and 18 phone chargers hidden behind a prison food barn. Both cases came on the heels of the discovery of 200 packages of forbidden tobacco and 4 gallons of booze stashed outside the fences of Brazoria County's Darrington Unit.

To Texas Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate's criminal justice committee, the February contraband cases show that recent security improvements at state lockups haven't made prisons secure enough.

Focusing on prison trusties — inmates whose nonviolent offenses, good behavior and parole eligibility have earned them the privilege of working outside prison walls — the Houston Democrat on Monday called for increased surveillance and searches.

“Prisons ought to be the most secure sites in the state of Texas,” Whitmire said, “and that should apply to every type of facility, including those for trusties. People have attitude changes. They relapse. ... There ought to be stiff measures to secure surrounding communities from trusties who go bad.”

At present, most trusty camps — there are eight in the greater Houston area — lodge inmates in barless dormitories in unfenced compounds outside the prisons. During the day, the privileged inmates are permitted to drive trucks and tractors, tend livestock and perform other jobs outside the prison.

The issue of trusty trustworthiness gained public attention in late February when 19-year-old Central Unit prisoner Skyler Steddum was caught buying cigarettes at a Sugar Land Walmart.
A Chron commenter quippped, "What's the world coming to when you can't trust a convicted felon to do the right thing?"

If anybody was looking for a good reason to close TDCJ's Central Unit in Sugar Land - I mean besides the fact that the state needs to save money, the prison is old, outdated and expensive to operate, and it lies in the middle of a development corridor between a local airport and a business park that the Chamber of Commerce crowd wants to build out - this episode might just put the matter over the top.

These other episodes, however, raise security questions about the whole practice of using trusties. On one hand, these offenders are of so little risk that they need no bars to hold them and at the Central Unit, at least, make runs to the Walmart when they please, and come back. On the other hand, trusties are a significant source of contraband smuggling, possibly even related to smuggling a gun to an inmate in a recent escape attempt. The risk-reward ratio of keeping these prisoners at TDCJ units is seriously screwed up. But that still happens because, if we possessed some mutant third hand, on it we'd find the crux of the problem: TDCJ has throughout its history operated on inmate labor and trusties perform functions that would require staff if they weren't fulfilled.

I admittedly don't know much about current trusty uses and practices, but with Sen. Whitmire on the case I suspect we may learn more as his Senate Criminal Justice Committee examines TDCJ security issues headed into next session.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just a fact...some trusties are "suspected" gang members.

You can send files, email those units and they still have them as an outside trusty.

sunray's wench said...

There is no real reason, except for the laws on when an inmate can be paroled and the need for unpaid labour within TDCJ, for Trusties to be housed in TDCJ at all. They would be better off in small hostels where they could work for the community - still dont have to pay them, but they could be picking up litter, digging drainage ditches etc.

But these are "non-violent" offenders, who apparently should be released at the earliest opportunity because they dont need to be in prison, right? They still dont follow the rules though.

drizzle said...

Witmire was on the Austion radio (Limbaugh flavor) today... he said the good bills were almost always DOA because state senatores don't wan't to be "soft on crime."

LBJ would spin in his grave if he knew what is aired on KLBJ AM.

TDCJEX said...

Sunray I would be inclined to agree with you on housing trusties in some sort of hostel where the will have to live like a person in the freeworld budgeting etc out side of the perimeter fence and have them learn useful skills that can transfer to a decent job reducing recidivism.

On the so called non violent offender issue . I think we are on the same page . In prison and out those who are or would be so called “nonviolent offenders” tend to be the people lest capable of following basic rules.

It is just politically safe to talk about them as possible candidates for all kinds of “reform “
In reality per DOJ stats violent offenders in particular homicide are least likely to re offend and are usually the least troublesome in prison . That was my experience. Now we have a damned if you do damned if you don't mess .

That all being said if drugs were legal those who wanted them could get them just as those who want cigarettes and alcohol now which are much more harmful to society than all illegal all drugs combined . Imagine them money we would save although another topic I for one an sick of paying taxes to lockup potheads .

This whole “tough on crime” and use cops courts and prison to solve every social problem lead to this Gordian knot if a legislator so much as mention reforming the broken (in) justice system they are called soft on crime No matter how much sense a idea a might have .

TM said...

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Anonymous said...

Whoa! Why is Whitmire assuming the contraband found belongs to a trustee? I would be more inclined to say it belongs to a guard who is making big bucks on the side. Of course, if the guard is caught red-handed with the contraband he/she is allowed to leave their job (often in a hurry) but not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Many of us have listened to Whitmire blow smoke for years. He does little or nothing to make the changes necessary for TDCJ to operate like a real prison system. Neither Whitmire or Livingston or Obama for that matter, is going to stop contraband in Texas prisons. I do, however, believe they might put together a collective effort and stop the trustees from shopping at the local Walmart.

sunray's wench said...

If you know anything about TDCJ units, then you will not be surprised that Whitmire believes the contraband belongs to a Trusty. They have too much freedom for a prison, but not enough for the free-world. The more I think about it the less I support the idea of having Trusties the way TDCJ have them. Either let them go or control them properly.

Anonymous said...

TDCJEX, how would the trusties learn to "budget properly" in a hostel environment if we don't pay them anything for their labor? What are they supposed to budget?

Texas is the ONLY state in the country that does not pay inmates SOMETHING, however small, for their labor. Texas is also one of the stingiest states when it comes to supplying inmates with the most basic of personal hygeine items. Inmates receive, upon arrival, a paper sack containing a small bar of state soap ("motel" size), a baggie with a bit of baking soda, a broken tooth brush, and a black plastic men's comb (regardless of gender or hair length). That's it. No deodorant (in a state with temps frequently topping 110 degrees and no A/C in the prisons, and where many work outside all day on the "hoe squads"). No shampoo (inmates are told to wash their hair with the bar of state soap). Toilet paper is provided at one roll per week if indigent--if you need more than this, too bad. Feminine Hygeine supplies are given out at the rate of 10 pads per month, once a month. If you need more, or if your cycle starts early before the next handout day, too bad. Inmates are told to "stuff toilet paper in yer panties" by gruff male CO's. If you ask another inmate for one, it's "traffick and trading". If you ask for a squirt of shampoo--same thing.

For inmates who are indigent, not only are they denied dubious "luxuries" like lotion, actual toothpaste, or a pair of shower shoes to keep from picking up athletes foot--they are denied even shampoo, deodorant, and adequate personal hygeine materials. Yet, we should not pay them even the slightest penny for their work, because, by golly, "if you don't like it don't come to prison"?

There's a big difference between luxury and basic human needs--TDCJ provides neither.

Sorry for veering off topic but the comments about budgeting made me think of this.

Anonymous said...

Oh-----and if you've never tried to comb through thick, long, curly hair that has been washed with nothing but "state soap" with a man's plastic pocket comb, you are in for a treat! Even if the inmate gives up and decides to get it all cut off, they must wait months for an appointment in the "beauty salon" to do so. Meanwhile it is physically impossible to keep such hair neat and well groomed with such a device, which breaks almost instantly. Without conditioner (or even shampoo) the hair tangles mercilessly and without the ability to comb through it, quickly begins to "dreadlock" and appear unkempt and wild. The only solution is to "borrow" and put yourself and the lender at risk for a case.

Anonymous said...

Texas prisons are indeed dependent upon Trusty labor to keep their budgets low.

The idea that only a non-violent offenders can become a Trusty is false. Becomming a Trusty depends on the skills a prisoner has and the needs of the unit.

I agree The contraband found was more likely to be from staff than a Trusty.

Whitmire needs to place the blame squarely where it belongs. Stop trying to run a prison on a budget so tight that the prison is not secure!

Anonymous said...

Grits, I appreciate the information you and your readers provide, but almost every time I read a story, I end up crying - either because I am so mad or so sad. We need federal judge WWJ back or Amnesty International to make Texas do the right thing. This "lock 'um up and throw away the key" is treating human beings worse than most animals!

Anonymous said...

Okay, we get it Grits, you want them to close Central. You sound like a broken record ... is that all you have to talk about??? blah blah blah.

Mark # 1 said...

Anon 6:40 - why the troll concern over Central? Undoubtedly your shrine-hero Gov. Goodhair has friends who will benefit from Central's closing. When it comes to money for connected friends, don't bet against the house. As for the other contributors, the appalling conditions described for the indigent are shameful. Where is the Christian theme from the good folk of Texas--which prides itself on being the "Buckle" of the Bible Belt? Would Jesus treat a man like a dog?

sunray's wench said...

@ Anon 6.25 ~ I dont normally answer anons, but if these truths make you upset, please tell other people! The only way to get things like this to change is for those Texans who are not aware of the conditions to be told, and shamed, into demanding change.

Offenders convicted of violent crimes can become Trusties, it depends on their security classification and their behaviour while incarcerated. There are also "indoor" Trusties who are well behaved but whose sentences mean they are not permitted to be outside the fence.

TDCJEX said...

Anon 4:30

I well aware that TDCJ does not pay prisoners. The funds they get usually come from family and friends in the freeworld. I did not have time to go into a long explanation at the time.

With more time I might have added that TDCJ should allow or better yet when the economy is better require some sort of employment Colorado has something like this for some prisoners I know exactly what you get from the state called “state issue” . This is so politicians and bureaucrats with political ambitions along with a few “anti crime types IE a Andy Kahan can say how tough they are on crime. I know a lot about TDCJ for that mater as my name might imply .Yes I did serious time in TDCJ. I can talk about things that would make all but the most cold hearted or sadistic minded person sickened . I could probably move all but a few to tears If I wanted to and had the platform

Yes They do risk a traffic and trading case to get items they need for hygiene . If t he get caught . Though bosses often “do not see” petty things being traded unless they are what is called a robo cop or the one of the prisoners involved in known to be involved in serious trouble . Units would havea tough time operating if prisoner did not engage in trade and traffic as TDCJ calls h the case

TX should pay prisoners for their labor considering with out convict The 112 units would not be able to operate.
Sunray is correct almost any one can become trusty .Some might not be able to work out side the perimeter fence .Some can even drive TDCJ vehicles ! The world has not ended and most have few problems.

Sunray: I agree fully with you about informing and educating people about the abuse I of human beings called torture if it is a nation we don't like by the way ,. That educating others helps. Though I am finding that very frustrating people either do not care on other forums don't want to hear it or it is not allowed on of all things a forum allegedly set up to help to help deal with having a loved on in prison It is not until the abuses that go on routinely on every TDCJ unit effect a person do they both care and believe that horrific abuses occur on TDCJ units

I have in many places public and private both online and in person explained that bosses and rank bring in the overwhelming majority (I estimate 98% )of contraband and how it is done . But once again no one wants to believe that those we give great authority to abuse it routinely with impunity very rarely is a boss or rank held accountable for introducing contraband some are walked off , some transferred to another unit or position such as perimeter tower . Until bosses and rank do the same time as any one else caught with contraband it will never stop .

Doing the math if every one who is dealing with or has dealt with the results of having a loved in in the TX (in)justice system and TDCJ it is a large number if they were politically active they would be a voice to be listened to . They also should pick their battles the food admittedly not so great , is the least of your concerns in TDCJ. The TX (in)justice and prison system needs to be torn down and rebuilt it is FUBAR as my father who served this country honorably calls it

True most contraband does not belong to a trusty but a dirty boss or rank and who ever has paid to have brought in that is a whole very long discussion . It is rarely a trusty . Most trusties will not risk getting caught with contraband . The boss and trusty usually are working together with other dirty bosses and specific prisoners who are the recipient of the contraband and some of the huge profits . It takes more than one person to move contraband

Mark #1 is also right .

I have on many occasions described the cruelty and brutality of TDCJ No one seems to care . Until it is them or a loved one that is part of the problem people wrongly think it wont be them .

Boyness said...

I would humbly suggest that BRAD LIVINGSTON is THE weakest link in contraband intake. Of course, no one, not even Whitmire, wants anyone in TDCJ to take responsibility for our joke of a prison system.

Michael said...

It doesn't matter how much so-called "security" they employ, contraband will continue to be a problem so long as (1) inmates are not provided shampoo, toothpaste, and/or deodorant; (2) they are not paid anything for a living wage; (3) do not receive real incentives, like a promotion to a better job and/or parole; (4) hiring standards remain low; and (5)guards remain underpaid. Give me direction of the department for 5 years and I guarantee recidivism will decline significantly, as will assaults on officers and contraband. All one needs to do is look at what Illinois did after the Richard Speck incident. Btw..., last year Illinois reported its lowest rate of recidivism in the state's history. January couldn't get here soon enough.

Anonymous said...

"Anon 6:40 - why the troll concern over Central? Undoubtedly your shrine-hero Gov. Goodhair has friends who will benefit from Central's closing. "

Well, yes, he would benefit. But in other ways it makes sense to close Central. That way, everyone's happy.