Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On the relationship between high employee turnover and contraband smuggling at TDCJ

The issue of contraband is back on center stage these days at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after the latest escape was facilitated by a prisoner using an illegal cellphone and communicating through Facebook. Texas prison chief Brad Livingston has responded by calling for a test of cell-phone jamming technology, however the Attorney General has already told the agency that installing jammers on a permanent basis would require a change in federal communications law first enacted in the 1930s. Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison carried legislation to allow prisons to use such jammers last year, but it ultimately failed and there's little reason to believe its immediate prospects have changed.

The biggest source of contraband admitted into Texas prisons, sad to say, are a minority of TDCJ correctional officers and staff who facilitate such transactions with the outside world. This problem is exacerbated by a situation highlighted recently on Grits: The fact that 80% of new hires at the CO I level - that is, entrants with neither military experience nor a college degree - wash out before making CO III, and CO IIIs themselves are hemorrhaging from the agency. So at any given time at TDCJ, there are a lot of relatively inexperienced officers who pretty much already know, or strongly suspect, that they're on their way out and might be tempted by a few extra bucks before they depart. It wouldn't surprise me, in fact, if low employee retention rates turned out to be a primary driver of employee contraband smuggling.

The case also re-raises the debate regarding whether offenders should have access to social media to keep track of friends and family, and I've argued before that the existence of smart phones as contraband changes that equation. If they're going to be on Facebook anyway, as this guy was, I'd rather have such use legally facilitated, tracked and communications monitored. Perhaps someday federal communications law on the subject will change, though for now the cell phone companies oppose it and they have a lot more clout with Congress than TDCJ.

If it's accurate that poor employee retention contributes to contraband smuggling, then arguably the best solution to contraband smuggling may be the same as the optimal solution for budget cutting at TDCJ: Changing policies to allow the state to reduce the number of inmates, close prison units (perhaps including some of those with the worst contraband problems), and reducing the number of staff through attrition to a more stable level so we don't lose 20% of guards every year. Suggested budget cuts from the agency, though, actually go in the opposite direction, closing just one, small state-run prison, shielding guards from initial staff reductions but eliminating recent pay increases designed (ironically) to improve employee retention as well as managers whose oversight might prevent employee misconduct.

Yes, in the future technology may solve all our problems. One day we'll all live like The Jetsons. In the meantime, though, Texas runs a bloated prison system it can barely staff and its failure to stop contraband stems primarily from its own employee and facility management failures, not the federal government's tardiness in changing longstanding federal communications law.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

It just irritates me when their solution is immediately cell phone jammers. How does that solve the other contraband issues? Cell phones keep the issue in the spotlight, with a jammer TDCJ is able to keep the contraband issues quiet. If cell phones are bring brought, so are numerous other items.

BB said...

Scott

Relative to labor quality, it is fundamentally unfair to suggest that this is simply a failure on the part of management. There are factors at play here that are not controlled by the executive administration. From a systems analysis perspective, we get out of it exactly what we put into it.

BB

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BB, perhaps we can start by agreeing it doesn't represent a management "success"?

And I do think there's a failure of management when they fail to advise the Lege that their budget-driven staffing situation is causing such problems and instead blame Congress. Perhaps my expectations are too high.

BB said...

I concur.

At some point in the future we must come together to address the issue of professionalization in Texas Corrections. We have to screen and hire the right people, offer them a competitive salary, and supervise them effectively.

You and I also agree that there are viable alternatives for many of those that we currently incarcerate. We tend to over utilize this option on occasion.

I look forward to the day when we decide to seriously address the problems of high turnover, labor quality and overall quality of life within our penal instititions.

BB

Anonymous said...

Sometimes contraband is a marker for another condition: infatuation. Some correctional officers are drawn to the bad boy and he is the sole object of her sexual fantasies. It's a rush for her when she finally gets hired and gets to walk down the hall and inhale all that criminal testosterone. Contraband is a small thing, an insignificant token of her devotion and subservience.

Anonymous said...

Here is a problem I have observed in recent years within TDCJ.

They hire staff from the same general area as the prison in which they go to work, and they house offenders at the same prison who are ALSO from the same area. So, you end up with some employee's who know, or are friends with, the offenders they supervise because they are from the same neighborhoods.

That poses a serious problem. When an inmate and an officer were friends in the freeworld, the officer is compromised right away. The inmate will use whatever friendship they may have had to manipulate the officer. And, once manipulated, the officer is on the wrong side and a security problem.

It's my understanding that some of this occurs because offenders are placed closer to home so their families have less distance to travel for visitation. And, the practice of placing employee's on units close to where they are from started when the agency was having problems with hiring enough staff. They wanted to try and place staff on units close to where they were from in an effort to recruit and retain staff.

Both approaches are very wrong from a security stand point. Familiarity between staff and offenders is one of the biggest problems we have with contraband introduction.

To reduce the problem in the future our agency should NOT give new employee's a choice in which units they go to work at. Nor should the agency house inmates on specific units for their families convenience, period.

Then, to address the incentive problem with attracting quality applicants should be addressed. Low pay, and ever decreasing benefits, are not going to be incentive enough. I also believe that correctional officers should be required to go through TCLEOSE certification similar to county jailers go through, possibly even more stringent. Right now TDCJ correctional officers have no certification or licensing. We just have pre-service and in-service training. But, nothing regulated by TCLEOSE. Professional officers should have professionally certified training.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

Anonymous said...

The Correctional Officer who work for the state are not all involved in these issues. I think it is funny how the Officer assaults and issues they go through everyday are not in the news. Just the poor offenders plite.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Grits, or may I call you Flo?
Ever see that show "Alice"? Nevermind :-)

I work for the state as a C.O. I'm not going to pretend to know more than you do about prisons. I know different things, but on a lot of issues you've got me trumped. Something I'd like to talk about is the idea of allowing smart phones in prisons. It bothers me to think that these inmates would have the ability to communicate that much more effectively with their accomplices that are outside of the prison. These guys are prisoners, yes, but they aren't stupid. Well, most of them. They can be very intelligent, and even the ones that are not that bright have the sense to talk with and listen to those that are. They would figure out really quickly how to run a code on those smart phones. What I mean is they would be secretive in their communications, and would be able to set things up for themselves, or their cell-mates/associates. I personally think the state made a mistake allowing the phones onto the pods. That's a done-deal, at least until one of them escapes with the assistance of those phones. I believe they'd be removed if it could be proven that they were instrumental in the escape plan. Real-time communications is not a good thing for them, from my perspective.

TDCJ is said to be reactive, not proactive. I thought that was a slam against the agency when I first started, but now I see that is how it's gotta be. They change slowly, like an aircraft carrier turning around. Sometimes you change too many things and all of a sudden you have all kinds of loop holes created. You might-could only change that one thing and then plug the holes, then change another little thing, and plug those. Can't just go all willy-nilly upsetting the balance of things, right? This preface is made to say that it would be great if TDCJ could institute some rockin-good new ideas to fix that contraband problem all lickety-split like. But that's not going to happen. They are going to move slowly, and they are going to piss the C.O.'s off all along the way. Nobody will be happy. Not management, C.O.'s, and especially not the offenders. It's just not an easy proposition.

Marty, I don't know that I would be working for TDCJ right now if I couldn't live in my chosen home. As most folks know, we C.O.'s put up with all kinds of bunk daily. I'm not sure you could ask us to live across the state in a barracks, away from our families. What's the incentive? I like working for TDCJ, but damn, man, it isn't that good. Why not let the offenders pay the price to ease the contraband problem? Move them to the other side of the state. They are the ones being punished, right?

And I do believe that jamming cell traffic in the prison would be a step in the right direction. Just because the agency cannot stop contraband does not mean that it should not work to mitigate the damage that can be done by it.

Michael said...

The contraband issue is complex. First and foremost, the tobacco-free policy implemented by the BOCJ in February of 1995 is a huge failure. Cell block porters("SSI) walk up and down the tiers hollering "thug call" every five to ten feet. The block officers see and know this goes on. Depending on who is working,on any given night on units such as Beto in Palestine, plumes of smoke rolls in obvious sight/smell to anyone within 50 feet. Any projected health benefit of the offender population by reduced smoking is nominal; worse yet, the current prohibition creates a much more dangerous criminal underworld, peddling toothpick-sized roll-em-ups in the dayrooms for $1 apiece or more. Gangs would "front" out hundreds of dollars' worth of this product at a time. In the process of establishing relationships with officers who were, for them, likely only risking their jobs.
With repeal of prohibition after ratification of the 21st Amendment, Al Capone and those like him fell off into oblivion. BOCJ needs to throw in the towel, repeal the tobacco-free policy. Do away with the temptations to offenders and guards alike.

sunray's wench said...

Marty, I agree with you on not putting inmates deliberately close to their families. But if that is going to be a policy then there would need to be further steps to keep family ties intact - as per TDCJ stated policy. Visitation during weekday afternoons would be a good idea, as many people now work weekends. If inmates are not housed close to their families (children too remember, not just doting mothers), then many families would need to stay overnight near to the unit.


I'm not sure about not putting officers in units close to home, but raising the hiring standards may mitigate the need for that.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of things that have contributed to this problem. The main problem, IMO,is the day to day treatment of employees. When I came to work for the state over 20 years ago, it was a good job. Maybe the clientele that we worked with was not always great, but there was the potential for a good retirement with good, solid benefits. Got vacation and sick time monthly and could use the time when requested. Now, it is not that way. Most of our good officers worked a ton of that "mandatory' overtime, which was set up in such a way that you had to accumulate a lot of "comp time"before you actually got paid money. That was the beginning of the end. That was Phase 1 in making sure that all staff knew that they were expendable and that the agency would use them up if needed. You get what you give in this world and if your employer places no value on you, it gets hard to place a value on your job. EVERYTHING came before any personal needs of the officers. The good officers busted their rears to try and do a good job, but the newer officers called in sick because that was the only way to get a day off.
The responsibility for all this is shared by TDCJ executive management and by the legislature. Senator Whitmire is so shocked by contraband. That has been there for years. Maybe he should take a trip to the Prison Museum in Huntsville? It has always been a constant war but he only paid attention to it when it suddenly affected him. Welcome to our world senator. Most officers have few days that don't include at least one threat to them or theirs. If he didn't know that contraband has always been a problem, he should have due to his position.
My bottom line is this. Until TDCJ and the legislature decide that not just anyone can do this job, the problems are going to continue. If our legislators are such good businessmen and women, they should already be aware that you get what you pay for. Instead of cutting pay, jobs and benefits, they should do what any other business would do. If you can't hire quality people, then you need to try and find out what you need to do to accomplish that. I can assure you that taking away from an already thankless job is not the best solution.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many officers we are short now? It is hard to know because positions that were empty were cut. How many more guards are employed by TDCJ now than in 2003-2004 when they said we were like 3000 guards short? Cutting vacant positions might look good on paper, but in reality, it still leaves them short=handed.

Anonymous said...

11:11:00pm, I understand totally. And, that's one reason the agency allows employee's to do that. It helps with recruitment and retaining employee's. And, good officers should notify their supervisor if they come in contact with an offender with whom they've had a relationship in the past.

I had that occur to me once. Saw him in a cell block I was working. I notified the warden the same day. The offender was shipped the next day. I knew him from high school. Unfortunately, we have officers who won't do that. They think the inmate is still their friend, and they're not. Those officers are easy targets for the inmates.

When I first started we weren't given a choice as to the unit we were assigned. You got a letter with a report date for the academy in Huntsville, and a unit assignment. If you wanted the job you accepted the assignment. After working at least 6 months you could put in for a transfer to your unit of choice. The system seemed to work well back then.

I agree with most of the comments that were made above regarding some of the problems. If the agency, and the legislature, fails to appreciate and compensate the staff competitively the problems will continue. If the standards are not raised the problems will continue. If our training is not professionalized and certified with some sort of licensing, the problems will continue.

Folks, one thing I learned early on in my career is that it's the inmates jobs to try and beat the officers. By that I mean they will ALWAY'S attempt to hide contraband. They will ALWAY'S try to get away with breaking the rules. That's what they do. It's OUR job as correctional officers to try and stop them. That's a daily task that we MUST perform without fail. We have to learn how NOT to get beat. We have to learn how to be BETTER convicts, than the convict himself. That takes time, experience, knowledge, and team work. Sadly, we have a lot of young officers with little time in the system, little experience, and very little team work sometimes. Makes for a tough situation. I can't emphasize enough that our experienced, older, officers have got to take the initiative, and HELP the younger staff. The experienced officers have got to pull their boot straps up and take the youngsters under their wings and show them the ropes. Without that help, some of these younger and less experienced officers will become a security problem. If it weren't for the older fella's that took me under their wings back in '82, I wouldn't still be working for the agency.

We got a lot of good officers out there. Stick together, and GET'R'DONE!

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

Anonymous said...

Sunny, as you know, the agency already has policies in place to address offenders who have family that live further than 300 miles from their unit of assignment. Now, I do understand the hardships that this may cause family members. My wife has a cousin who is incarcerated. The young man had two brothers who were traveling long distance to visit him. They were both killed in a car accident en-route to the unit. Tragic for the whole family. So I do understand the hardships that distance causes. But, that still doesn't change the fact that it would be better, security wise, to NOT house them close to home.

Of course, the debate could go on and on about all of this. And, I agree with the poster above who said that there will be no QUICK answers. It will take time.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

Anonymous said...

Geographic distance is not the problem. County jailers state-wide have maintained custody of their neighbors for years. The true problem is the moral, social, cultural distance between 'keeper' and 'kept' that has diminished significantly over the past twenty years. The line between 'us' and 'them' is not as evident to newer staff members, and they cross back and forth over that line with little concern. The future looks dim. God help us

Anonymous said...

For those of you that are encouraging the offenders to be moved further from their families...Do you know what incentive the 3g offender has to behave? Visits with their family. Take it away and you have minimal incentive for that offender. There is no good time credits for them and anything else you take away is meaningless. I am outraged that people like you work with TDCJ with such an obvious disregard for the inmates and their families. You should encourage things that will make them more successful when ther return home, that is part of the job of TDCJ. Maybe TDCJ should stop hiring thugs. I promise you if they will bring it in for their homies here they are already compromised and will make friends from out of town and do it for them. Your compromised COs are not just doing it as a friend - they are making good money.

My husband can not see his child grow up. He will miss his first steps, he will miss his first words, his first day of school. He will miss alot of things. My husband is isolated from us. That is his punishment. You are not there to incorporate more punishment or make it harder on any of us. I am permitted take my son on a one hour drive to see his father 2 HOURS once a week. I am only able to do that once every other week because of the drive and the wait to get in to see him. You are advocating moving him even further from me and our son because you can't maintain morality among your officers? You already have an issue with morals. My husband made a mistake and we are all paying for it. He has regret everyday. It is torture for him to just not be able to be home with us.

You chose to work in your 30k job and you knew the terms when you signed up. If you don't like it go find another job, I don't want you there anyway.

Do you really want a security problem? Make it a policy to ship people far from their homes, see how you like your job conditions then.

Anonymous said...

08:10- I drive 4.5 hours to spend 2 hours with my spouse. He is housed near where his court case originated. He has no family there. His only family are myself and his grandmother who lives in Lubbock. I totally agree with you about the need for prisoners to be housed near their families. Too bad they don't consider that a prisoner might have relocated to another county or area.

sunray's wench said...

The incentive for a 3g offender to behave is to not return to prison once they get out, if they get out. My husband is a 3g offender, and we see each other once or twice a year and have no phone calls - not because of his behaviour but because the system does not permit overseas calls. Lack of visits (he has maybe 3 or 4 total per year) is not a reason for him to misbehave. He hasn't had a case in his whole time in TDCJ (almost 7 years).

You can't blame the Officers for policy made by the Administration.

Anonymous said...

In a perfect world maybe they would behave just because they want to behave. But in that perfect world they would be fed right or at least what the law says they should be fed. They wouldn't have to argue for the food that has been sitting out for several hours, they wouldn't be talked to like dogs. In a perfect world guards wouldn't bring in contraband and blame the families. Lack of visits may not be a "reason" for them to behave, but it sure does make them a lot more tolerant of the abuses that go on. The possibility of a case for defending what is right is not always worth it when your visits are at risk. I know how the guards treat the inmates. I have witnessed it myself in the visitation rooms and they have even tried to get treat me like they were better than me a couple times. I know I have only witnessed a fraction of what the guards say, but what I have seen has been very nasty and uncalled for. I know inmates that tolerate it simply because they don't want the case - due to the loss of visits. But if they did stand up for themselves, just verbally they will get a case and they will be harrassed. I wouldn't blame them. There is only so much you can take and sometimes that visit is what is holding them back.

Anonymous said...

comments from 3/17/2011 08:10am-"For those of you that are encouraging the offenders to be moved further from their families."

"I am outraged that people like you work with TDCJ with such an obvious disregard for the inmates and their families."

"If you don't like it go find another job, I don't want you there anyway."

Mam, I read your entire post, and I can see the frustration and anger in your words. Since I am the one who started the conversation regarding the distance of inmates family and their unit of assignment, I feel your comments are mostly directed at me. So, I would like to address them, if I may.

I want to assure you that my comments were made from a security mindset. They were made in an effort to discuss ways to disrupt, and curtail, the flow of contraband in our facilities. They were not made from a disregard for offender families. They were not made with any ill intent toward inmate family members at all.

As for my job, and you not wanting me there. I'm sorry you feel that way. I love my job. I've been at it for going on 29yrs. I want you to know that I try to be as security minded as I possibly can. While that may be inconvenient, and sometimes uncomfortable for offenders, family, and officers alike, that is how it must be. Good security is never convenient. And, good security is necessary for the safety of EVERYONE involved, including the offenders.

It's a correctional officers job to keep offenders safe. You may not be aware of it, but MOST assaults that occur within the prisons are offender on offender. They are not offender on officer. Good security helps prevent all types of assaults. Good security helps to keep your husband safe, so he can come home to you and his young children some day.

I'm sorry if my earlier comments offended you. They were not meant to. They were coming from an employee who wants to make our agency better, and more secure.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

Anonymous said...

We could also use whips, tasers and chains to secure for the facility. We could start water boarding inmates. Security at all costs is not always worth the price. There is a delicate balance that must be maintained. Most inmates have cell phones because they want more contact with their families. I don't care what hype there is out there about the phones. There are a few using it for illegal activity, but that can be done through numerous outlets, most use them to have that deeply desired contact with a loved one. When you move inmates further from their families the desire to obtain illegal cell phones is going to increase. I understand that you are looking at this from a guard's perspective trying to make it secure, but you must stop and put yourself on the other side too if you want to be effective at your job. I can see my husband every two weeks, if he were moved and I only saw him 3 - 4 times a year the temptation of a cell phone would be far greater. Take away visits or significantly reduce them and the temptation for a cell phone increases significantly. Your demand for the product would increase, not decrease with more distance.

Annon 8:10 and 1:00 PM

Anonymous said...

Mam, anon 08:10 and 1:00pm , I can understand your view point. However, TDCJ has hard line phones that have been installed in all the living area's so that inmates may call their loved ones. They don't need TDCJ permission to use the phones. They are allowed to use them at specific time frames during the day. They don't need a cell phone to call their loved ones. The only reason they might need a cell phone is for unlawful purposes. So, I'm afraid arguing that an inmate will want a cell phone to contact a family member really doesn't hold much water.

I do agree with you that a lot of inmates look forward to their visits. And, I'm sure many would like to live closer to home. And, I agree that our agency has to look at all sides of the issue. Ultimately, the agency administration has to make decisions based on what's best for the agency and will ensure our core mission is accomplished. Sometimes, that may not be convenient for the offenders family members, or the staff. (ie-the searches entering the units, many staff were unhappy with that decision) But, once the decisions are made we all do the best we can to make things work well, and smoothly.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

Anonymous said...

Marty Ley - I guess we have to agree to disagree. You are on the other side and refuse to see this side and maybe I can't see your side. Anyone with any experience knows those phones are not a success. I know the inmates, not just through my husband but through others. I know what a majority are using the phones for. You assume that because they are not using the TDCJ phones it must be for something illegal. You have refused to even open your eyes to it. They must be doing something illegal because they are inmates. For me - the TDCJ phone was an expensive headache that required me to have the extra expense of a landline. The phone constantly disconnects. The phones are usually in high traffic areas, like the dayroom by the TV. You can't hear them, they can't hear you. Not everyone has a phone in their name. When I moved I didn't even bother transferring my landline.

I understand your position and why you view things the way you do, but you do not have a complete grasp on why cell phones are such a problem in the prisons. I know why they can't be there unmonitored. I know if 100 inmates have them and only 1 uses it to commit a crime it is too dangerous of a risk, but you are blinded by your bias if you think it is all for illegal use because they have access to monitored lines.

Anonymous said...

:-), yes you're right. I may be a bit biased. Like I said earlier, I've been in this business for going on 29yrs. During that time I've worked as a correctional officer, a shift sergeant, an STG sergeant, and now a regional safe prisons coordinator. So, security is in my blood.

I don't disagree the inmate phone system is far from perfect. But, it is the only lawful system we have right now. I'd rather see inmates do their best to work with it, rather than risk getting locked up in seg for possessing a cell phone. That would not help the inmate or any family members.

As discussed earlier, our contraband problem is very complex. There are no easy answers. And, it will take a combination of factors to come together in order to reduce the problem. I say "reduce" the problem because you will NEVER totally get rid of contraband in prisons. We've been fighting it forever, and will continue to do so.

I appreciate your comments and insights. Discussions such as this help all of us understand the view points from all sides.

Thanks for your understanding,

Marty Ley

sunray's wench said...

Just because Marty doesn't agree, doesn't mean that he can't see any other side of the argument.

It comes down to impulse control, or the lack of it, in most inmates. We talk a lot on Grits about those who are innocent yet imprisoned, but the majority are guilty of their crime and one of the reasons they are there is poor impulse control. They still have a choice while in prison of saying no to the contraband, or of joining in with others. There are temptations everywhere, and it is not helpful to always take the easy path or facilitate the easy path, because it does nothing to improve the impulse control of the individual.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Texas prison chief Brad Livingston has responded by calling for a test of cell-phone jamming technology, however the Attorney General has already told the agency that installing jammers on a permanent basis would require a change in federal communications law first enacted in the 1930s.

Silly 'solution'. Have the state install its own "cell tower" in each prison. As the nearest antenna, it will capture all signals which can then be recorded, along with full details. The guards and visitors will have to be warned of course.

Anonymous said...

A voice of sanity, that solution would help treat a symptom of the problem. However, it won't treat the cause of the problem, introduction of contraband. And, it brings it's own set of problems to the table.

We need a cure for this cold, or at least an inoculation that will prevent future infection.

Like the cold busters we give at the pill window, it does help you feel better though.

Thanks for listening,

Marty Ley

allen said...

hell all thay have to do is to do like the most do just dont be a crook to start with.im 78 years old and find that it is not that hard to do.put them on the chain gang and see how many comes back

Anonymous said...

The problems will forever be present inside the prison system in Texas. I believe the biggest problem with the contraband issues are with the CO's. I have first hand knowledge of the problems because I lived it. Offenders for the most part are just doing their time and trying to go home. The vile conditions and the way the offenders are housed and treated, it's not surprising that problems between inmate and rank exist. Let's get on the same page here. "Joe Public" has no fricking idea of what happens inside the prison system in Texas. The inmates are treated like "feed-stock" and the CO's are to blame. I spent the better part of the past 7 years being disrespected, strong-armed, and treated as if my life didn't exist at all. Being housed away from my family was the absolute worst. 850 miles away? Yes, and one visit in 2 years, that is unexcuseable. My family suffered the most. I am a survivor and made it out with only the grace of God. I lost my right eye because of the lack of proper medical attention. I blame the CO's and the rank they report to. The whole system is corrupt and I want the public to know about it. I have first hand info on just how bad things are inside the prison system, however, nobody wants to listen. "Out of sight, out of mind" is the feeling I'm getting. Living in the prisons in Texas is harsh and at times, pure hell.

Anonymous said...

I was a correctional offier for almost 7 years. Contraband issues have nothing to do with a convict's proximity to his family, visitation, etc. Because of the continued low salary levels for correctional officers, there will always be someone that is vulnerable to bribery. It starts off with small favors that a CO doesn't see as a big deal, and once a convict has something to blackmail a CO with, it's down hill from there.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for all units, but on mine there is not an atmosphere or conditions like some of the commenters here would have folks believe. Most officers are conscientious and treat inmates as people. Inmates get fed the same basic foods that officers are fed. Sometimes the food is sub par as far as imaginative prep goes, but it is still edible. I work in General Population, so I can't really speak to what happens in the Ad Seg or High Security areas. But I know that we officers work under multiple threats. The threat of physical violence is always present when near inmates. Threats from manipulation and con-games are constant. We don't work at the Hilton. Our customers are not honest folks. After two years of employment, I can say that I've encountered one or two inmates that I would not expect to lie and cheat if it would benefit them. There are probably more out there, but I haven't met them. By and large, these men are child molesters, rapists, murderers, and thieves. They live in an environment that makes them worse. I would have a tough time trusting a person who I knew was previously incarcerated. Prison is just such a different place. There is always deception going on. Always something afoot. Their eyes are opened to all kinds of tricks and scams that they might not have been privy to before. It's unfortunate to think that there are folks who have been wrongly convicted, but the whole system isn't going to change for them.

If you really want to see what it's like, sign up to become an officer. I would think that a lot of folks that have sharp words for the prison system and its employees would have their eyes opened. Like Ted Conover, the author of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing.

http://www.amazon.com/Newjack-Guarding-Sing-Ted-Conover/dp/0375726624

I think it would be pretty cool to see someone do that same thing in the Texas system. You up for it, Flo?

Anonymous said...

TDC needs to transfer all inmates away from close proximity to their families. The pay phone idea was an expensive failure, as those whom no one listens to tried to warn in the first place. Officer ARE DEFINITELY a big issue here. Unit rank ignores warnings and information about inmate infractions and often overlooks them in order to cultivate their snitches. Inmate janitors who have been caught with cell phones and work in the segregation units are not punished and remain working in maximum security areas because they act as snitches for rank. You can't expect the COs to do their jobs when their ranking officers don't care and TDC management wants to ignore certain issues so that they don't look so bad. The good COs get fed up and leave because they are punished if they attempt to make inmates follow the rules. TDC is run more like TYC anymore. COs can't do a thing to control inmates anymore because they will be considered as being mean and disciplined instead of the inmates being expected to comply. Lockdowns are a joke and have been for a long time. TDC stands for TEXAS DAY CARE. There certainly isn't any fear of consequences for their actions anymore amongst inmates.

Anonymous said...

Yes, inmates are separated from their families. In some cases, I'm sure, it's the inmates own fault. Some of them left the state or went to the other side of the state (Texas is a big state) to commit their crimes. Some even came up from Mexico. They should have known that this would cause them to be away from their loved ones once they got caught. Most inmates were smart enough to act locally and save their families all that pain and lonesomeness as well as the long bus trips.

Jammer said...

I think they should allow usage of cell phone jammers as they could help to prevent prisoners from escaping.

Anonymous said...

My father is incarcerated and he tells me that they get a new shipment of foreign guards (mostly from Nigeria) on a regular basis. The majority of these guards cannot even speak English. He has been in prison for over 7 years and has seen wave after wave of these foreigners come through his unit as it is a "training" ground for new guards. It is rumored that these guards also receive US citizenship as part of their benefits for working for TDC. Have you heard anything about this practice? Since Nigeria is notorious for it's unethical practices (such as email schemes, treatment of prisoners, etc.), it concerns me greatly that our country is bringing in people to work in our prisons that aren't much better than the prisoners themselves. If we don't have enough people available locally to fill the positions, then it is definitely time to look at the benefits and make changes necessary to fill out the roster with locally-based citizens. I will remain anonymous to protect my dad.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of Nigerian officers...

TDCJ needs to stop hiring officers who don't have the ability to effectively communicate in English. I am talking about verbal communication.

I am tired of having to intervene when one of my officers calls me, only to find out the inmate simply didn't understand the orders he was being given.

Prison is a place where race and other cultural issues are magnified. The officers from other countries, for the most part, just don't get it. They don't have a clue and never will. With so many of them in the system now, they don't even have to assimilate. They form a clique. They are not Nigerian-Americans. They are Nigerians living in America.

There is an obvious problem with the screening process. Sadly, I am starting to suspect there is significantly lower turnover among these officers from beyond out borders. I worry people in Huntsville are more focused on the potentially lower turnover than the fact that very, very few of them will ever be effective correctional officers.

Prison is about people. People who do not understand the language or culture of a place have no business being employed in a position of authority.