Monday, October 01, 2007

Tuff on crime message doesn't sell at A&M student paper

Here's anecdotal evidence that attitudes toward incarceration in Texas are changing:

In the Texas A&M student newspaper, The Battalion, a student columnist wrote an admittedly facile article that rehashed virtually every hackneyed cliche' claiming Texas is too soft on prisoners and opining that prison is "not supposed to be paradise." He wrote:
Maybe the solution is to start treating Texas convicts more like prisoners and less like house guests. Reduced supervision and outdoor activities, not to mention cable TV and air conditioning, shouldn't be provided for convicted killers and rapists. American prisoners have some pretty cushy lives when compared to prisoners in countries like Russia or even Mexico.

Groups who advocate more rights for convicts believe that they should be able to have a greater quality of life and basic amenities. But it seems to reduces the consequences of prison when many convicts know they are going to a better place than where they came from. I didn't have cable TV for the first 18 years of my life - I guess all I needed to do was kill someone and I could have had it for free.

Whatever their supporters say, Texas prisoners have constantly shown that increased freedoms will be abused at some point. Besides that, they just don't deserve the best quality of life if they have been incarcerated in the first place.
It wasn't long ago such untutored opinions in Texas were touted by politicians from both parties and universally accepted as valid critiques by the public, particularly in conservative locales like Bryan-College Station. However, commenters at the Battalion, many of them Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees or family members of inmates, fired back with a barrage of criticism demanding the columnist check his facts. This response was typical:
Hate to tell you this is BS! I worked for TDCJ for many years, NO A/C and the there is 1 TV for 400 inmates (that the guards watch most of the time)
Another respondent declared:
Don't speak about things that you know nothing about (air conditioning is available to the WARDEN and their staff, not general prison population on the prison farms). The state jail system does have a/c. Down on the farms, the buildings are made of brick, cells are close together, big fans blow air down narrow hallways. That is called an oven in Texas summer. Go to the prisons and see for yourselves. Quit writing like an expert if you only get your facts from tv shows and hollywood.
Ouch! Most other comments, 15 so far, continued in this same vein.

I have some innate sympathy for the beleaguered columnist, Travis Holland. When I was an opinion-page editor nearly 20 years ago at The Daily Texan at UT Austin, I published one or two items, at least, that basically informed readers more about my own ignorance than they did about the subject of the article. Student papers are there for students to learn, and one of the ways every editorialist learns to check their facts is to endure one or two trials by fire like this, where knowledgeable people blow up an argument based on unfounded facts and assumptions.

That's how editorial writers learn that, to be credible, they have to do some firsthand reporting, too. Quite a few political bloggers, who after all themselves are basically editorial writers, could stand to learn the same lesson.


Anonymous said...

Grits: I've been looking for a contact e-mail for you, but can't find it on your site anywhere. It's probably user error...

Anyway, do you publish a contact e-mail?

Gritsforbreakfast said...


Unknown said...

I'd be willing to bet that it was that way for Gordon Liddy and Oliver North and they are radio talk show hosts making millions of dollars for lying to the public. And they can attest from personal experience how tough prison life is with their personally true tales of color TV and air conditioned rooms.

Anonymous said...

Like a politician jt?

Anonymous said...

I would suggest whoever wrote the column go stay in a Texas prison from April through October and then tell us about the air conditioning and the cable TV. You must be having a dream but once you are in TDCJ you will soon wake up and you are really having a nightmare.

Like someone said, "Get your facts straight before you write something you know nothing about."

Anonymous said...

Some Texas prisons are in fact "air-conditioned". Some (All the older facilities except Hospital Galveston) are not. All inmates have access to TV (some cable) except for a few (percentage) in Seg. GIG EM!