Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Some TX prisons are only 62% staffed; trustees doing guards' work

Yesterday's hearing offered interesting insight about how TDCJ uses "trustees" to perform duties in the prison that one would traditionally associate with guards - even running errands in TDCJ trucks outside of the prison grounds.

Chairman Whitmire asked why trusties aren't more frequently considered good candidates for parole? Parole Board Chairwoman Rissie Owens replied that often people plea bargained to a lesser offense and the BPP doesn't think they're as low-level as they're classified. (That view was echoed recently by a writer at the Back Gate.)

That begs the question, though, of why they're trustees with special privileges in the first place if they're more dangerous than the classifications indicate? That question remains unanswered. Only TDCJ could tell us.

TDCJ Chief Brad Livingston implied a more mundane reason why so many trustees remain incarcerated - chronic understaffing at Texas prisons. Prison units with the worst problems retaining employees, said Livingston, are presently operating at 62% staffing capacity. He didn't say so outright, but his comments seemed to suggest that in some cases trustees are filling roles that might be filled by guards if TDCJ could hire enough to staff its facilities.

Whitmire pointed out that of 6,200 inmates currently classified as "outside trustees." 5,700 are already parole eligible. If these people are trustworthy enough to be allowed outside-the-prison privileges, reasoned Whitmire, it's highly likely they're prepared for parole.

He speculated that the reason these trustees weren't paroled more readily was that TDCJ improperly relied on their labor at the expense of their rights, that in fact they were being punished for being model, trustworthy inmates. Nobody from TDCJ had a great answer to that argument.

If it's true, it's pretty grim. And it also means Texas could be shorthanded by up to 5-6,000 guards and support staff, instead of the 3,000 we hear discussed more routinely.


Quismada said...

Also consider that these inmates doing the work of guards are working for free because Texas does not pay inmates for their labor. My question would be this, "if these inmates are indeed doing the work of the guards would they not be what used to referred to as building tenders?" I thought we covered that issue with the Ruiz lawsuit. Today we either call them SSI's or recently they were called janitors. The fact still remains that these trustee status inmates are denied parole and doing the work of those employees normally paid by the state. I suggest that if we are going to use them in guard positions, and keep them incarcerated, we should at least pay them the going rate for a guard.
Speaking of guards, some of the newest ones I am seeing working in High Security areas are so young they are still getting zits on their faces. They have no life skills yet but we are tossing them in with what TDCJ terms the worse of the worse.
And now we shall wait for the next report from Grits for Breakfast which by the way is one of the best sites I have been on lately and one that says it like it is in Texas.

Anonymous said...

"Chairman Whitmire asked why trusties aren't more frequently considered good candidates for parole? Parole Board Chairwoman Rissie Owens replied that often people plea bargained to a lesser offense and the BPP doesn't think they're as low-level as they're classified."

My question is... when did Rissie and the BPP become the judge of jury of these people? It isn't her job to decide whether their classification is correct. It sounds like to me, she has crossed some line and made herself more important that need be!

Anonymous said...

I agree with quisada. May the federal goverment shoukld come back to texas and take another look at what they are doing. they were here for 10 years and TDCJ did right. But as soon as they leave its back to business as usual.

Anonymous said...

Off point but related, last year I had a client that was accused of possession of a controlled substance. The DA refused to dismiss even though the co-defendant signed an affidavit to that effect. Fearing a huge enhanced sentence, the client chose to accept county time on a reduced charge and rely on the parole board to see the truth. At the revocation hearing, we showed the evidence we would have tried with a West Texas jury. Both the hearing officer and the parole officer voted to reinstate. The file was then submitted to the reviewer in Amarillo who then recommended revocation. Only two of the three parole board members read the file and when both agreed to follow the reviewer's recommendation, the third member never got to read the file. My client was revoked and remains incarcerated. I wrote the Board and the Governor. Neither responded. Here was a case that the folks in the field with the actual knowledge of the facts ruled for the parolee and the Board disregarded their expertise and knowledge. There's no reason for such bogus revocations and it gives great credence to the perception that TDCJ needs to keep inmates incarcerated to make up for the State's failure to employ sufficient numbers of guards, etc. The truth is, Texas is creating a welfare class unheard of in history by keeping people locked down doing jobs for the State. The State Jail is as abusive. No good time credit allowed by in Plainview, Texas they have even been used to maintain the greens at the golf course. So, the City doesn't have to pay a non-inmate to do the job and the inmate sees it as his/her only way to make it through their stay in state jail. The system is broken, from top to bottom.

Quismada said...

I beg your pardon 800 pound gorilla. Inmates, whether doing a guards job or just doing their time, are always at risk. It can come from another inmate or a disruntled guard, but let me assure you that retaliation is alive and well in the state of Texas. It has been my experience that guards who are attacked by inmates brought the behavior on by mistreating and abusing the inmate. Remember,you can only beat that caged animal so many time before it bites.

Anonymous said...

Rissie Owens has overstepped her job duties; she is not the queen she pretends to be. Also her husband should not be working in the same deparment or for the same department she is. I have never worked anywhere that allows family members to work for even the same company. One of them needs to find another job. No wonder the prison system is so screwed up.

There are thousands who do not belong in prison but are used for their job skills and kept for that very reason.

If some knew the truth, the Inmates are doing jobs for the bosses and the bosses all have a business outside of their prison job and use the Inmates to do things for them and profit from what is done by the Inmate. This is totally unacceptable!! Also is against policy. To keep someone behind bars because he can perform a job that no one else can, not even the boss, is totally wrong and there is a need for a good look at what is going on.

Maybe the Feds do need to come back and make TDCJ straighten up their act. I for one would welcome them with open arms.

Anonymous said...

It is about time they are bringing this issue to the for front. They are working those guys so hard yet they continue to deny them parole. Not all the guys out there took a plea that is a bunch of bull. My husband is a trusty and has been for awhile, and he was denied his first parole, simply because it was his first time up. They didnt even review his file, got it on Monday and was done Wendesday morning. Hopefully they stay on top of this and change it soon and very soon.

Anonymous said...

What gives BPP the right to over rule what the judge decided in his or her case?

If the judge allowed the inmate to plead out to a lesser charge or for less time, then it was his call to make.
At least the judge has MET the offender. At least the judge has spent time getting to know the case and the every little detail of the incident(s). The BPP does not EVEN meet these inmates, but yet they think they know them better than the judges or the prosecutors? COME ON! The interviewing PO does a summary and barely has a 30 minute conversation with the inmate, and they submit a file (which is not accessible to anyone including that inmate) and 2 or 3 people decide that they know better than the judge or the prosecutor and that they should not be paroled?
My other problem with this is that they use the 'reason' of 'prior criminal history' as the reason for denial or set off. Didn't the JUDGE and the PROSECUTOR know about this prior history? They took into account those factors and decided on that persons punishment. Who are the BPP to change that punishment? The judge knew that they would be eligible for parole in a certain amount of time, but evidently, the BPP thinks our Texas Judges are completely irresponsible and can't punish people correctly.

The BPP isn't anything more than a picket fence that needs to be taken down and redone from the dirt to a new paint job.

Anonymous said...

The accused are told that they will be eligible for parole at a certain time in order to induce them to accept a plea bargain even if they are innocent! They are held in jail until they agree to a plea because they cannot afford bail and the public defender cannot afford to defend them properly. They are not told that the BPP does not follow their own guidelines. They are not told that by accepting a plea, the BPP will hold that against them in a parole review. They are not told that if they do well and become a trusty, it will make no difference to their chance of parole. They are not told that the Criminal Justice System in Texas is a failure...........

Anonymous said...

Working here at TDCJ for more than 15 years, i have to say that alot of what you guys are saying is true. I have worked many years on and off at rusty camps, and i know that the place couldnt run without them. TDCJ places those inmates there that have specialized skills. Carpenters, electricians, AC repair people, etc. that were doing those skills when they got locked up. More often than not these dyas , a trusty status inmate doing say a 5 year sentence may do 4-1/2 of it, even with no discilinary history, just due to thier skill level. And in nearly every case, the charges that those inmates are charged for are for petty felony crimes.

I would also agree that retaliation from TDCJ is a real issue for employees as well as inmates. That is the principle reason that most of our staff, and members who vent use suedo names when posting. Where theres a will, there is always a way to get ya.

As far as Ruiz, well, it never really left TDCJ, even after the litigation was done. The building tender name changed to the SSI (staff support inmate). And those inmates picked up where the others left off, minus the violence that the building tenders presented to other inmates back in the 70's - 80's.

And TDCJ staff is getting younger, sometimes recruiters are at high school events, chasing potential recruits. TDCJ has even begun actively reruiting from other countries as well. There are work ads visible in african countries looking for staff to come to the USA to work. The number of african staff members has sky rocketed. That leaves another issue to task, most speak broken english, have never held a weapon, and have just recently learned to drive, and gotten a drivers license. it poses a risk on the units.

Truth is, in todays TDCJ, staff will turn to trusty inmates before staff to take care of issues staff should be doing themselves. That is due to some of the inmates actually being better educated, and better skilled at some task then TDCJ's average right out of high school 18 year old kid that just got the job.

TDCJ doesnt conduct any drug testing for employees other than the initial one to get hired. I personally know probably 8-10 people on the unit i work at that i know for sure are drug users, and sometimes dealers. We nned to test. I have been told by some admin. types high up that they dont because they know they may lose another 1,000 -2,000 employees statewide , and therefore create more of a vacuum.

The answer is more treatment for inmates, we need to stop warehousing, and offer real help, and social services. We need better starting pay for TDCJ staff, that way we can weed out the bad ones applying, and require more education, and a better background. (TDCJ's background takes hours, not days). If we offer professional pay, we get professional people. The average employee ay any given Wal-mart is payed only slightly less than a new TDCJ employee.

We need to overhual the parole system. Fire the entire board, recruit people who care. And parole those who deserve such. Outsource the outside work some trusties are doing, or pay them fair wages as a reward for thier work.

It starts with the public, the taxpayers of Texas. Write or call your legislator. TDCJ staff see thiers a big problem, but as long as the TDCJ upper admin, and the legislators sweep it under the rug, it will only worsen.

Thanks for the use of the soap box...

Max Ross,
The Backgate Website

Anonymous said...

As with most state agencies, TDCJ is corrupt in that the "Good-ole-boy" syndrome is alive and well. Witness Mr Owens as a director and Mrs Owens as a director. No violation of nepotisim because one does not supervise the other. Do they really think that state employees are that stupid?? Then they expect respect....... Jeezzz

Anonymous said...

I hereby volunteer my services as a Parole Board member. You dont have to pay me, I'll do it for free. I live overseas, but that doesnt seem to be a problem as I wont have to meet any of the offenders, and I dont understand much of the TX criminal justice system so I should be just fine. And I seem to have the necesarry conflict of interest going as well, as hubby is currently staying at a TDCJ Hotel.

Just one thing: I'll be letting a few folks out on parole ~ will that be a problem?

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could find enough qualified guards among the boarder crossers.

Anonymous said...

Not all Judges know the defendent, they work with the DA and make a decison on whatever the DA decides and some Judges influence the Jury to go along with the DA. Juries are not being educated enough to make a logical decision and if jurors were picked who have some knowledge of the laws then they would realize that who ever has the best actor as a lawyer or in some cases the best liar, is usually who wins and you are not innocent until proven guilty in Texas anymore, just the opposite. Judges like to brag about winning cases or they would rather people plea bargin, then they get to go home right after the lunch break, that is if they work the sytem fast enough.

Anonymous said...

sounds to me like the trustees should join the lawsuit against the Texas parole board being filed by lawyer Norman Sirak

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