Monday, January 04, 2016

Two calls for greater prison oversight

Today we find two important calls for prison oversight. First, in the New York Times, Grits contributing writer Michele Deitch coauthored a column with Michael Mushlin from Pace Law School titled, "What's going on in our prisons?" Though the article specifically focuses on New York State, their arguments for external oversight of prisons resonates across US jurisdictions:
The State Legislature should follow the A.B.A.’s guidance and establish a monitoring body with unfettered access to prison facilities, staff, inmates and records in announced or unannounced visits.

The monitor should be empowered to examine and report on all aspects of a facility’s operations that affect inmates, including, for example: medical and mental health care; use of force; inmate violence; conditions of confinement; staffing practices; inmate discipline and use of solitary confinement; substance abuse treatment; educational and rehabilitative programming; and re-entry planning.

There also should be an independent investigatory body that reviews complaints and allegations of wrongdoing, including inmate grievances, abuse claims, denial of access to health care and inmate deaths.

At the same time, the prison system should enhance its own internal accountability measures, such as its decision to electronically log complaints to monitor accusations of staff misconduct.

But in light of recent events, the public is unlikely to be satisfied with a prison agency’s pronouncements that everything is fine or trust the vindications of staff members accused of abusive behavior. Only independent monitoring and investigations can provide that level of public accountability.

The costs of this oversight would pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars paid out in lawsuits stemming from unconstitutional practices and the untold costs associated with ineffective programs and unnecessary use of solitary confinement.

Designed correctly, an oversight body can provide an early warning system about patterns of complaints against certain prison employees, assess the appropriateness of discipline meted out to staff members, address concerns about inadequate health care or protocols for dealing with mentally ill inmates, highlight programs that are ineffective, point to areas for improved staff training, and identify policies that need to be adjusted. A monitor could also identify practices worth replicating at other prisons.

The awareness by prison staff that a monitor could show up at any time would check employee misbehavior. The culture of a prison changes when outsiders shine a light on its operations and conditions.
Meanwhile, our pals Cate Graziani and Doug Smith have an op ed in the Houston Chronicle titled, "Better state jail oversight can prevent suicides," That article concludes:
high suicide rates cannot be attributed solely to mental health disorders. The units in TDCJ with the highest rates of suicides and suicide attempts are also some of the most populous and dangerous in the system: Darrington, Robertson and Clements have higher incidents of use of force, sexual assault, solitary confinement and violence. Furthermore, data reveal that units housing women, who represent approximately 12,000 individuals in TDCJ and the fastest-growing prison population, had some of the highest suicide rates in the entire system.

Why should the public care whether prison conditions are safe or lead to hopelessness? The vast majority of people sentenced to prison will return to the community. Hostile and traumatic conditions interfere with rehabilitation, which is a serious, long-term public safety concern. Further, the same environment that creates drastically high rates of suicide and suicide attempts also fuels high turnover rates for correctional officers. In 2013, TDCJ reported a 20.6 percent turnover rate across all positions, while correctional officers had an even higher turnover rate - 24 percent. Staffing shortages, like those experienced by the McConnell and Connelly units in South Texas, contribute to more violent environments and can inhibit suicide prevention efforts.

All too frequently, we have seen what happens when public institutions, from state agencies to public schools, lack independent, external oversight. They fail to achieve the efficiency that comes from increased transparency, and often identify abuses far too late. Texas has implemented external oversight for the state's juvenile correctional system, but TDCJ continues to operate the largest prison system of any state without independent oversight.

Texas must acknowledge its duty to protect the rights and well being of those under the supervision of its state agencies. Implementing external oversight of the adult corrections system will help policymakers and agency staff create safe environments for those who live and work in prisons and state jails, with benefits to units, Texas communities and families.

29 comments:

Margaret Moon said...

Media and ambitious politicians have convinced the public that there is no rehabilitation, especially anyone convicted of a sex offense (sex offenders have the lowest reoffense rates except for murderers and some of them had no victim). Because of these myths former offenders should be treated to eternal punishment. This is perpetrated by those who get votes and/or make a living from Draconian laws and the prison system.

txbombshell said...

I disagree with you. Margaret Moon, vehemently, about sex offenders. It is one of THE most underreported crimes, especially when the victim is a child. Doubly, maybe even tenfold, when it is a family member.

Mark M. said...

Whether this particular criminal offense is "one of the most underreported crimes"--besides the issue that there is no source cited for this opinion--has nothing to do with the assertion by MM that sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rate except for murderers; an assertion which regular readers here know is an actual "fact" which is supported by frequently-cited and reputable governmental sources. Everyone is of course allowed their own opinion, but not their own facts. The "new math" assertion is likewise of mysterious origin.

Anonymous said...

Moon is correct and these politicians like Whitmire and the governor have placed a scare in us people. The sex offenders all should be in different categories and people have different cases. Treatment is to help them to get thru any mental issues,but it seems that the Governor and Whitmire are using our State tax money to continue with health care for all sex offenders.Why is there only a secret prison facility for sex offenders? We as tax payers have been paying for Medical and to keep these people locked up,while Marsha and Whitmire and Mr.Abott all get paid to run a unconstitutional secret prison. We need these people out of Office.I hope all the people vote these people off and Lets get people who care! Us Tax payers have paid Alot of Money to the Treatment therapist for the sex offenders since 1999 and yet nobody has completed such program,When are we going to say Thats Enough?

He's Innocent said...


Anon @ 09:23.......

Clearly you are not an SO, nor directly connected to one on the outside. ALL SO's on the outside pay for their own treatment. They pay anywhere from $30 to $45 a session here in the Austin metro area. This is weekly for most, PLUS a monthly independent session with the therapist, often at a bit higher rate. Add the yearly polygraph at about $350. Add the yearly renewal of your driver license at about $25. Add any probation or parole fees.

This mandated "therapy" is not always a good idea, it depends upon the type of offense. You take a 19yr old who had a Romeo/Juliet relationship, stick him in therapy with other guys who have violently assaulted someone, or perhaps had an ongoing abusive relationship with someone, they can then "teach" this young person some new lessons. This person who had a consensual relationship with someone a couple years younger must go through the "lessons" in the books written by Matthew Farrar ($50) and reveal ALL of his sexual history. He must report on his sexual fantasies. He must report any contact with minors. (Yes, a kid passing you in the aisle at HEB counts as an encounter) Where is the therapy in this?? It is all hellfire and brimstone, not therapy.

Now, I concede that some of these folks benefit from therapy. Others it is quite debatable.

However, what you clearly do not know is who pays when the treatment is on the outside. It is the SO and his family. This on top of the SO who cannot get work because of the conviction. Its a tax on his freedom. It is a tax on his family's financial stability. This, after he has likely already served a prison sentence. When does the punishment end?

Should you doubt my knowledge, you can go back in comments on this blog and find more comments from me regarding SO issues. My spouse served ALL of his 3 year sentence for a crime he did not commit. He did not download those three images. We think he got it from Limewire where he was downloading music - we will never know. We will never know because the law of Texas states mere POSSESSION of images is a guilty verdict. The statute literally allows for NO defense to possession of images. Imagine THAT happening to you. Someone else can put those on a device of yours and suddenly you are the pervert. You are headed to prison, with a life long gift courtesy of the state in the form of life long registration and permanent Social Death. Not only to you, but ALL of your family. I cannot babysit my own grandchild without the explicit approval of the courts due to this issue. Nice, right?

So please, do hear MM. She knows of what she speaks. Lest not you judge unless you are willing to be judged yourself.

From Dallas said...

GFB: this is one of your best article I have read so far. Simple, to the point. It addresses a dire need. It answers the many, many prayers of inmates and their families. It also reflects the feelings of some active correctional officers or some ex-COs who quit in disgust.

Numerous changes are needed. IMO, oversight is one at the top of the list.
The time has come now implement it alongside with whistleblower protection.

Will Texas rise to the occasion?
It is for posterity to judge. For now, we can only hope.

P.S.) When it happens, it will be of little value to the many who have suffered the permanent and dire consequences of abuse, neglect and corruption at the hands of TDC. Those who have lost their lives will not be here to see it happen. May they rest in peace.

txbombshell said...

Mark M, if it's unreported at the time it occurs, it's not really going to be factored into the so called recidivism "facts". Have you heard of the Catholic church? The cover up of countless sexual abuses committed by countless priests?
And your reference to what "regular readers " know is an actual fact...don't the same "regular readers" also know that "reputable " and "governmental sources" are often an oxymoron?
Hence the repeated outcry for third party, independent review OF governmental entities, like TDCJ. It's hypocritical to latch on to only the things that "you" want to be true and facial, yet skeptical of similar sources/entities when it fits your agenda.
Mark M.are you any relation to Mary M (oon)?

txbombshell said...

*correction* true and factual. ..not facial ...grrr

A Waco friend said...

There is a lot of difference between a teenage sexual encounter, a serial child rapist, a man seen taking a pee in the woods in a park and charged with indecent exposure (as if he were trying to show his stuff to some child), a person who is convicted of having images on a computer, the party who creates images of children being raped and sells them, and a person who traffics children for sexual abuse. We need to get rid of the one "sex offender" label and standards and have different labels and restrictions on the different offenses.

I have a client who had sex once with a teenage cousin at 18 y.o., without force, admitted it and plead. Over 20 years later, he cannot get and keep work because he must register for the rest of his life; employers refuse to go beyond the fact that he is on the registry. And the cost of getting off is outrageous and very iffy regardless of the offense.

George said...

@txbombshell

It's evident from your comments that you truly are ignorant about the facts that Margaret Moon mentioned in the first comment. There is no credible evidence that points to citizens who have been convicted of a sexual offense having a high percentage of recidivism. Do you know what recidivism actually means?

No one here is debating that many sex offenses go unreported. What most here are saying that once someone is sentenced for a sex offense and serves time for such that the likelihood of them committing another sex offense is extremely low.

A recent study released by the California Department of Corrections showed that less than 1% of parolees released as sex offenders went on to commit another sex offense. A Department of Justice study found a bit higher rate at around 3% but none of the studies show that citizens released from prison or probation with a sex related offense are the huge threats to society that the politicians and media want to the general public to believe.

There are benefits, from the politicians and medias point of view, to have boogey men running amok among us. Mention the protection of children and you have the public willing to accept anything, and they pretty much have.

Most citizens that have the "sex offender" label on them are not monsters, most are dealing with restrictions that are unwarranted and most have families in some shape or form that also have these restrictions placed upon their lives as well. The children of registered sex offenders deserve much better than what the state has placed upon them and their parents --- it is all about children right? What makes the children of registrant any different from your child or the politicians child or the news reporters child?

As I stated, you are ignorant of the issues but you don't have to remain ignorant. If all you want to do is argue for arguments sake then that makes you even more ignorant. The people that frequent this blog and comment on issues dealing with registrants are some of the most informed you will ever meet. Don't make a fool out of yourself.

Peter.Marana said...

These are relevant conversations pointing the volatile mix of fear and politics. I would point out that "sundown towns" (no blacks) existing throughout the country into the 1960's and that this same panic drives most SO policy.

Evidence has next to no value when elected officials are desperate to appear tough on crime and the SO issues are the most extreme example of this exploitation. You may not know this but Texas, when compared to the entire rest of the country, has an incarceration rate that is 36% higher. This "premium" is 80,000 inmates at a cost of $2.0 billion or 40,000 new teachers - pointing out real world opportunity cost. Is the great state of Texas really inhabited by a more crime invested population?

And how do you square the fact that 93% of offenders were known to their victims - family members, neighbors, teachers, coaches, clergy and yes, even law enforcement (FBI Incident-Based Report System Report 2012). Given this national fact, what purpose do residency restrictions or the registry itself serve? SO policy is really an example of modern day lynching - no evidence just fear.

All criminal justice policy should be based on community safety, efficient use of resources and minimizing recidivism, and not tribal emotions.

txbombshell said...

I agree with a Waco friend that there may need to be different levels, labels rather than just "sex offender". There was an earlier mention of the "romeo,juliet" relationship, for instance. Some states look at the gap in ages as a determining factor in statutory rape cases, not just the legal age of consent. If your client was, say 30, and the cousin (ick) that this 'consensual' sex occurred with was 15, yes, that is still problematic. But even so, not as much as the 15 year old that rapes a 4 year old.
@ George...you are an angry, abusive little man and you should seek help.

tiapa said...

@txbombshell

There are concrete statistics on reported sex offenses and recidivism. There are no concrete statistics on unreported sex offenses because, well, they are unreported. Margaret Moon is talking about "Draconian laws and the prison system" and how they affect reported sex offenses and the convicted, their families, and the community. She is not talking about unreported crimes. How you reduce crime and how you handle those convicted are two totally different projects.

Determining punishment for a convicted sex offender based on unreported crimes is ludicrous. How many drug dealers, drug users, murderers, speeders, thieves, vandals, etc. have not been caught or reported? How would you count them? Moon refers to concrete statists while your data is based on, to quote you, "Doubly, maybe tenfold...". I don't understand how a researcher can count unreported crimes. If a researcher learns of a child sex crime do they report it? Not doing so is a criminal offense.

A person in prison or on parole is responsible for their crime and their crime only. To base the treatment of that individual on a supposed number of unreported like crimes and the public hysteria generated for political gain is almost criminal in itself.

You are right to worry about unreported crimes and what can be done about it. To reduce unreported crime ad to reduce crime itself is a noble project. But you must keep it separate from those that need to return to society. Putting a sex offender on parole and effectively block access to jobs, family, and places to live and travel does nothing to reduce recidivism. It also blocks the parolee or sex offender registrant from most social contact. So much for community supervision.

I could go on and on but I'm sure you get my point.

txbombshell said...

@tiapa I do understand your message. However, the statistics can only be considered so concrete, when it's readily acknowledged that there is a big variable, (the unreported ) that can't be quantified.
The spin on statistics varies. Victim's Rights, Child advocates statistics, for example.
And, I swear, I am NOT an Alex Jones groupie, but governmentally produced statistics... well. Again, this thread started as one regarding the need for oversight.

Anonymous said...

I just nearly threw up. My son is in the Clements Unit.

Anonymous said...

Yep, looks like Grits is out of town since he hasn't had time to tell folks to stay on point. When the boss is away the blog topics and the comment sections get, high-jacked, this time it's by the pro & con SO community. Damn it, George please create a blog solely for the Pro & Con issues relating to all things Sex so we can have our GFB back. Fwiw, I don't read Defending People (anymore) due to the author writing about his achievements and back patting in the revenge porn area. I don't read Simple Justice (anymore) due to the author writing about rape and college three times a week. The authors' themselves chose to concentrate on these sex related topics in which invites others interested in sex related topics to read and chime in. Grits, posted a blog posting written by others relating to - calls for more prison oversight and boom the Pro & Con SO took over and regular readers turned the page. Thank you Margret Moon and Co.

txbombshell said...

@Anonymous 12:13:00 thanks, and sorry that I allowed the single agenda interest to drag me in. Here's something that might help bring it around to the true fox. TDCJ is trying a new approach to the mentally ill inmates. Creating more specialized treatment, housed within two units. In the buildings used as all purpose ad seg. In units that, as of this date, have no cameras installed in those buildings. Am I the only one that sees potential problems? While I know which units were selected, I have no idea who made the designation, and what the decision making process entailed.

Larry Coffin said...

First of all, Sexual offenses, such as sexual abuse of a child and rape, have absolutely nothing to do with sex. It is an indicator of deep-seated emotional issues that manifest themselves in a sexual manner, many time because the offender was sexually abused themselves.
At this time, there are two prison units which have the sex offender treatment programs which are Hightower and Goree. The Hightower unit has a 4-month sex offender education program for low-risk offenders, a new 9-month program, and an 18-month program for the ones deemed more likely to offend. The Goree unit houses an 18-month program.
I was incarcerated in TDCJ for 20 years, and I consider that time spent in prison a God-send. It was because the God that I worship allowed it because it was what I NEEDED. I had to practically beat down the doors of the psych departments to get help, due to having made up my mind to leave there a better person than when I went in.
At the time I left prison in July 2011, all the time that was allow an inmate for counseling in the psych dept. was 15 minutes. And that time was normally reserved for the inmates who were on the "psych case load" for their monthly check in to assure there were no problems with the meds and see if there were any changes in mental status, i.e., worsening of condition, other mental problems that the patient may be having. 15 Minutes is not much time for someone having mental health issues.
At any rate, the help that I got in there was due to keeping the apple cart upset and almost forcing them to give me the help I needed.
Dental care is a joke. If you have a cavity, no problem. They fill it. You need a root canal or any other procedure to save the tooth, no problem. They just reach in and jerk it out. Dentures? forget it!!!
When I went into the system in 1991 there was substance abuse programs on every unit. Now there are NONE!!!
There are no programs to get one ready to hit the streets again, get them ready to go back to the free world.
While at the Allred unit, we would have lockdowns that lasted 5 to 6 weeks. During that time, we were locked in our cells 24 hours a day with very little to eat. The lockdowns are generally for "shakedowns" where they go through everything you have looking for contraband. That occurs generally twice per year.
In August and September of 2010, there were 5 deaths on my unit, all were either heat related or denial of medical care.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. But I will say that sex offenders DO have the LOWEST recidivism rate other than murder, but yet the laws get more and more tough so that the politicians can get the votes after scaring the crap out of the mindless, vulnerable, and ignorant public.

txbombshell said...

@Larry Coffin sorry I'm not going down that rabbit hole again. This thread was about the need for oversight, NOT sex offenders. But, congrats on surviving Allred, Richard Wathen, and Arlene Franco. The worst of the worst.

Larry Coffin said...

Didn't mean to place any emphasis on SOs. I was only mentioning that along with all the other abuses and "Don't give a damn" attitudes that run rampant within the TDCJ. I suppose I could have been more clear as to relating to the need of more oversight in general. Their general rule is, "The officers would never lie, but inmates always do" and they get by with it because no one is looking over shoulder.

George said...

@txbombshell

The old pot calling the kettle black if you ask me. You are the one that sounds angry. You make comments here as if everyone should agree with you and then get butt hurt when they don't. You can try that Donald Trump style of bullying with someone else because it doesn't fly with me. Did you get your poor little feelings hurt because I called you ignorant of the facts? And while I certainly may need help with a few things, voicing my opinion and standing by what I say aren't any of the things I need help with.

@anonymous 12:13

Nobody's twisting your arm to read and make comments on this blog. If and when Scott sets the parameters concerning what is open for discussion or not, then I'll continue to comment as I see fit. Just as you, period. That's a form of bullying and trolling too. TYA if you don't want to read differing views and opinions, and, yes about SO issues in particular. How SO's are dealt with is within the realm of criminal justice and that's what this blog is focused on.

Anonymous said...

Back on topic - I'll state the obvious: TDCJ needs an independent oversight agency. The Ombudsman's office is a joke. The medical liaison's office is equally ineffective. The Ombudsman's office doesn't actually investigate anything. They just take whatever the officers say and report it back. Similarly, the medical liaison's office simply looks in the computer and if they see an entry they report that the inmate is getting adequate treatment. I don't think they even bother to read what is in the record. Both offices are completely useless.

txbombshell said...

Yes anonymous! About the Ombudsman office! I made a similar observation on another thread,but took it one further... they ask questions of the family members, turn it over to the accused wrongdoers in question, to let them know where the holes are in their stories, so they can shore them up! Debra Booker comes off as empathetic on the phone. PFFFT
Then, she forwarded my email to the regional director, Jason Heaton, to "investigate " the Allred staff!!
Heaton then forwarded it to the very major that was the issue! She was so surprised when i arrived for a visit, while she had my husband pulled out, the email in her hand, questioning him about it!! True story.NJ

Anonymous said...

Yes, txbombshell - that is what I meant when I said they just take whatever the officers say and report it back. The officers investigate themselves and the ombudsman's office just reports whatever they say. There is no real investigation done. The medical liaison just looks to see if there are entries in the medical record and, if so, assumes that means the inmate is getting adequate treatment. As an example, I complained that an inmate was not getting treated for her symptoms which included mania and psychosis. There were only two medications on their "formulary." One was not working and the inmate had, in the past, serious adverse reactions to the other. The inmate asked for a different medication but was told only those two were available. This is despite the fact that the written policy permits the provider to prescribe medication not on the formulary when necessary. However, the unwritten policy is that they never do that. Here's the kicker: In the records it was documented that the inmate refused medication. There was nothing about the reasons she refused those two medications or the fact that she asked for a different medication. Yet, the medical liaison saw no reason to investigate and simply stated that because there was an entry in the record she had received adequate treatment. As of now, there is absolutely no one overseeing TDCJ, not even internally.

txbombshell said...

Anonymous, not surprisingly, I have had a similar experience with a medical liaison at unit level. So little concern from a professional aspect, about doing their job well, and devoid of empathy on a human level.
I have found that written communication is the best way to get any response, though.
There ARE some with a better intent and approach, but it's finding them and bringing it to their attention that is difficult.

Anonymous said...

If there's anything to the SOR, why are so few pedophile cops ordered to register? Less than 1% from what I can tell. https://www.facebook.com/PoliceOfficersRapingKids.

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Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with TDCJ is not the oversight, but the funding. Each year THOUSANDS of TDCJ employees are disciplined. TDCJ has one of the largest Internal Affairs Divisions in the United States. Transparency on issues and funding are major problems with the agency. Many times issues are ignored due to the lack of funding available to properly address those issues. Lack of training and applicant vetting are issues that result in many problems in the agency. You get what you pay for in the end. If you don't screen out applicants who have a history of making poor decisions, than you get employees who will continue to make poor decisions. TDCJ needs to become a proactive agency and not a reactive agency.

txbombshell said...

Determining whether applicants have a history of poor decisions is next to impossible, and what would be the parameters for defining poor decisions? That could be somewhat subjective. With privacy laws being what they are, it's extremely difficult, sometimes impossible without court order, to get info from previous employers. It is standard to provide hire date, end date, job title. Certainly no details about things that they did, negative or positive. This is protecting the employer from potential lawsuit, and protecting the privacy of the employee. So, then, do the poor decision making abilities be based on... credit card debt? How many divorces?
I'm not arguing the concept, in a perfect world. But, the practicality in the real world.
Playing devil's advocate, so to speak, there needs to be solid practices for removal, once they are employed and found to be bad apples.
Then, the good ol boy effect can't be overlooked or denied. And before anybody starts in on Texas bashing,nepotism, in its various forms, exists EVERY WHERE! God Bless Texas, and God Bless Bob Bullock :)