Sunday, April 15, 2007

House Corrections bills would shuffle agencies authority

As of today there are 44 calendar days left in the 80th Texas Legislature, so this is likely the final week that bills can receive a first hearing and still have a chance to pass. There may be a handful of exceptions - legislative priorities of the leadership, for example - but for the most part if bills haven't been heard in committee yet after this week, they simply won't have time to make it all the way through the process. After this week, most of the important committee action will occur on house bills in the Senate and senate bills in the House.

But for now, House committees may fruitfully still hear House bills. I'm behind in this week's committee previews, but let's run though the highlights, for starters, of tommorrow's Texas House Corrections Committee agenda.

Revamping TYC, Creating Inspector General
Probably the most hot-button issue on the list is Chairman Madden's HB 2807, which would revamp TYC's inmate population by disallowing judges to sentence misdemeanants there and maxing out youths length of stay at age 19. I discussed the bill in more detail earlier when it was posted on last week's agenda but wasn't heard because of delays on the House floor.

In related TYC news, the committee will hear Rep. Turner's HB 3639, which creates an office of Inspector General over for both TYC and TDCJ that will "review departmental policy and procedures, conduct audits of investigatory practices and other audits, and conduct investigations of the Departments." Investigations could be initated at the request of the agencies, a member of the Legislature, or on the Inspector General's own volition.

Don't backtrack on probation funding reforms
Rep. Homer has proposed HB 3526 which I think should be vetted quite closely and probably just killed outright. Here's the deal: In 2005, the Legislature approved extra funds for probation departments that created special sanctions systems for probationers using research based best practices. Departments that didn't want to implement progressive sanctions systems couldn't apply for the money. Rep. Homer's bill would allow those funds to be used for "expansion of an existing program that is operated by a department, not otherwise described by this section, and designed to reduce recidivism among individuals that participate in the program."

But the point of the new funds was to get departments to change how they're doing business, not to reinforce old habits. The language about programs aimed at reducing recidivism sounds good, but the truth is most such programs don't work well without the research-based progressive sanctions methodologies that TDCJ's probation grants promote. I'm sure the counties would like to get paid for what they're already doing, but the Lege should stick with the system they created last year and give it a chance to work.

Strengthening TDCJ employee grievance process
Rep. Alonzo's HB 2673 should be a welcome bill for TDJC employees. It requires the TDCJ board to establish a "Professional Standards and Labor Oversight Committee," and mandates specific reforms to the employee grievance process that would ensure timely action and a process for appeal and forbid retaliation against those who complain.

Her name is RIO and she dances on the sand
Rep. Turner's HB 3637 would transfer control of Project RIO, which stands for Re-Integration of Offenders - the main employment program for ex offenders in the state. I definitely approve of giving control to TDCJ, and have argued before that parole officers should have the same authority to grant employer credits for hiring ex-offenders whereas the Workforce Commission contracts that duty to a private company that gets a finders fee.

Researching communicable disease prevention in prisons and jails
I'm happy to see Rep. Coleman's HB 2526 make it onto this week's Corrections list. That bill would establish a research center at a Texas medical school that will "focus its efforts at preventing and reducing communicable diseases in inmate populations at correctional facilities and in those populations that are most likely to come in contact with inmates in a correctional environment." That's a key, understudied area of research and I'd be glad to see a Texas university take leadership on the subject. As I write this, AIDS is the number one killer in Texas prisons, and both TDCJ and local jails have major problems with staph infections and other preventable diseases. It'd be a great mitzvah for an academic center to develop research-based approaches to solving these problems.

UPDATE: See coverage of the hearing here and here.


Anonymous said...

This is part of Turner's Office of Inspector General Bill-
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? SERIOUSLY???? SIX YEARS BETWEEN AUDITS??? Hey genius- have you heard of the statute of limitations for offenses? Have you thought about people dying, people leaving, people setting up another "f^%K up and move up" system like the ones in place now at BOTH agencies in that time frame? SIX YEARS between looking at what is going on and then maybe stepping in? You have got to be freakin kidding me. Then, let's throw in the last part where the head IG gets to determine what is confidential and what is not and can disclose it if he/she wants to. Who ever that person becomes- IF YOU ARE STUPID ENOUGH TO DISCLOSE ANY CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION- ESPECIALLY REVEALING A REPORTER- WITHOUT A JUDGES OK, THEN YOU ARE FAIRLY WARNED THAT YOU WILL LAND IN COURT AND LOOSE ALL INTEGRITY OF THIS SYSTEM.
I sure didn't see any mention to where the new investigators would be housed. I sure didn't see any mention to who would be handling complaints on the new Inspector General personnel themselves. I sure didn't see ANYTHING IN THIS NEW LEGISLATION THAT SUGGESTS THIS NEW OFFICE IS GOING TO DO WHAT IT IS INTENDED TO DO.
Oh, and the first part of the bill states that the new office will "audit" the agencies themselves (TDCJ & TYC policies, procedures, etc.) EVERY SIX YEARS. I guess by the time an audit rolls around, the Senators and Representatives will have had time to leave office, hide under a rock (or sip Pina Coladas in Cancun) while being happy with themselves for being SUCH AN INTERGAL PART OF SUCH A MAJOR OVERHAUL. You idiots. You're about to create another one for some other Senators to deal with SIX YEARS FROM NOW.
An audit should happen EVERY YEAR- PERIOD. You want us to believe in this change- then you had better pull your head out of your ass (or who ever else's rear end it's in) and look at what you are about to create.

(2) The Inspector General shall audit each correctional institution at least once every six years. These audit reports shall be provided to the Legislature and shall be made public. The requirements of this paragraph shall be phased in by the Inspector General so that they are fully met by July 1, 2010.
(2) The Inspector General shall audit each correctional institution at least once every six years. These audit reports shall be provided to the Legislature and shall be made public. The requirements of this paragraph shall be phased in by the Inspector General so that they are fully met by July 1, 2010.
(b) Upon completion of an investigation or audit, the Inspector General shall provide a response to the requester and the parties to any specific incident under investigation.
(c) The Inspector General shall, during the course of an investigatory audit or investigation, identify areas of full and partial compliance, or noncompliance, with departmental investigatory policies and procedures, specify deficiencies in the completion and documentation of investigatory processes, and recommend corrective actions, including, but not limited to, additional training with respect to investigative policies, additional policies, or changes in policy, as well as any other findings or recommendations that the Inspector General deems appropriate.
(j) All identifying information, and any personal papers or correspondence from any person who initiated the investigation shall not be disclosed, except in those cases where the Inspector General determines that disclosure of the information is necessary in the interests of justice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The way I read it the audits every six years are for each UNIT, not each agency. Since TDCJ has >100 units that doesn't seem like such a long timeline for a thorough audit given likely resource limitations, etc. My reading is each unit will go through a scheduled every-six-year audit, and also be subject to investigations in the interim based on complaints initiated by the agencies, legislators, or the IG itself.

I certainly agree with your final point, though, that it's a bad idea not to apply the Public Information Act to IG investigations. The IG should not get to determine what is or isn't confidential - that's the Attorney Generals job. There are already public information laws in place governing complaints at these agencies, and IMO it would be a mistake to diminish public access to such information any further. best,

Anonymous said...

I will have to strongly disagree with you Grits that 6 years is "timely" for any audit- even if the bill says each facility. The facilities are where the abuses take place and the cover ups begin there. If you don't catch them early, then web of "friends protecting friends" begins. How I read it is every six years for the agency itself and for each facility. Either way, that is six years before someone will HAVE to officially step in an administrative way. It just begs for excuses and other "things" to come along during those 6 years to be able to overlook things. And, you are assuming that the investigative staff will be looking in the meanwhile. If they are as busy as the prior investigators have been- they aren't going to have time. Mean while, time frames for any legal actions expire, unethical practices continue and the situation repeats itself. They wanted to create legitimacy with this overhaul. Then why not do it where it actually LOOKS like someone is watching and will step in IN A TIMELY MANNER. They are crying about the two years it took for the sexual abuse in West Texas to come to light? Put the proposed system in place- is six years going to be too long? It's just plain and simply a farce. There is NO REASON not to have the systems audited yearly- especially when the Lege is screaming that funding and resources are not issues.
Regarding the confidentiality thing again- did you happen to see that Gov. Perry gets to "appoint" the head IG?? Want to take any bets as to which buddy he will appoint? You don't think with that little clause in there that Gov. Perry won't pick up the phone and say, "Hey buddy- regarding that complaint or investigation on XYZ, who reported that and how can I make sure they are fired or discredited before that comes out?" Why else would that be in there? Every other law and policy in place already addresses the proper disclosure of confidential information. With that inclusion- Gov. Perry or anyone else the head IG feels compelled to tell now has access to information they have no right to. Do you think the head IG will tell Gov. Perry no? Hardly.

Anonymous said...

What difference does it make? We're not going to have any employees working at TYC now that these new personnel policies that deal with misdemeanors. What a fiasco. There is about to be a massive walk out. This one guy whose ex-wife accused him of a domestic violence (that's a Class A), who pushed her off him after she jumped on his back and clawed his eyes after he announced his intention to divorce, and has only been charged but not convicted, and now he’s going to be released? He's waiting for his trial and he's pled not guilty. The county prosecutors are dragging their feet, and now because of the "charge," he's not eligible to be working with kids even though he's a maintenance worker. Read it... PRS 05.13, ironic is that it came out Friday the 13th. Go to hell TYC. Who would ever want to work for you now?

Anonymous said...

3:30 pm- what facility is the maintanance guy at? That sounds familiar! I think there are a couple of people in this same spot a the facility I'm thinking of. The county judge and misde. courts are jokes!

Anonymous said...

I really don't want to say because I respect his privacy and he's a good friend of mine. I don't want to embarass him, but damn, all he wanted to do was leave his own house then she jumped on him. I hope at least they'll suspend him with pay until until the county gets off its ass and does the right thing.

Has anyone else seen these new policies? Hell I gotta another friend who whipped his brothers ass after he spat on him and got charged with that same thing. I guess he's gone too.

Anonymous said...

I didn't want to know the guy's name, just the facility or county it's in. If it's the same one I'm thinking of, I know of about 7 people they are going to have to fire because of that same policy and the local judges sitting on their butts.

Anonymous said...

If I named the county it'd still give it away. I mean, it's not like we have more than one facility in any of these counties! I know your intentions are good. What county are you in?

Anonymous said...

Crockett. I know there is several more people at the Marlin facility with the same problem. My friend works there and told me people are running scared.

billt said...

Regarding Project Rio....she can dance on the sand all she wants, but she hasn't helped me. When I got out last December i called the 1-800 number and was told by Project Rio to contact TWC for help finding a job. 2 different offices at TWC told me that Project Rio doesn't exist. I don't care who runs the program, as long as it can help us ex-cons find gainful and legal employment.BTW, the tax credit for hiring ex-offenders should be publicized more. Most employers don't even know about it and don't believe me when I mention it....and I'm still looking for work. Anybody willing to give a guy a second chance?

Anonymous said...

They will shuffle agency authority alright. Substiture HB 2884 will shuffle all TYC facilites that house more than 100 kids right over to TDCJ as of September 2008. Mr. Madden's hard work is being derailed by Dutton in the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues committee. Mr. Dutton must have relatives that have empty facilities ready to contract to TYC.