Monday, October 01, 2012

TDCJ backs off firing of CO with prisoner as Facebook friend

Kudos to The Back Gate for reporting a story that went viral after the Houston Press and the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward picked it up about TDCJ being forced to reinstate correctional officer Heath Lara, who was fired for having a prisoner with whom he'd attended high school friended on Facebook. (It always seems odd to me to use "friend" as a verb, but such is the Facebook usage.)  According to The Back Gate:
After the termination, Lara did a little investigating of his own. He located and documented a dozen other current TDCJ employees that were also friends with the offender in question. All of whom grew up and went to Huntsville area schools together and had some connection. But it was one individual facebook friend in particular present on the offender's account that may have swayed administrators on how to deal with the issue. That friend being none other then current TDCJ -CFO (Chief Financial Officer, Director of finance) Jerry McGinty.  As Lara presented his newly discovered information at his mediation hearing to attempt to get his job back, the tides seemed to have turned. In a memo the Backgate received through open records, the Huntsville Human Resources headquarters sent an electronic email regarding Sgt. Lara to others in their office, and the Regional Office. " Based on action by the agency representative, the recommendation for dismissal has been overturned and all charges have been dismissed."
 Mike Ward added that:
Even though Lara won his case, [AFSCME local President Lance] Lowry and others say other prison employees haven’t been so lucky.

According to complaints by several employees in recent months: at least three other corrections workers have been terminated or disciplined in the past year for having Facebook friends who are convicts or ex-convicts; several wardens are reported to have initiated investigations into guards’ Facebook accounts; and several employees say they have been ordered to “unfriend” anyone they don’t personally know.
Some guards consider Facebook a bad idea in their line of work.

“I don’t know why anyone in the prison business would want to be on Facebook, with their family photos and everything out there for anyone to see,” said retired Huntsville prison guard John Wheeler, echoing sentiments of current officers who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. “You’re just asking for trouble, on the job and off.”

Despite the policy change, critics say the current policy is still ripe for abuse.

“The only way the agency does anything now is if someone rats someone else off,” said Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional employees union that represents more than 6,000 prison workers.
Even so, prison officials say the change should resolve a big issue. “To violate the policy has to be more than just ‘friend’ status on Facebook,” Clark said.
Ward's item caused numerous national outlets to pick up the story, but regrettably he didn't credit The Back Gate with breaking the news, though they've been the main outlet digging into it. "Over the past three months the Backgate has monitored the issues regarding Facebook and found even more cases of harassment, selected enforcement, and odd punishments. Contrary to what TDCJ has stated publicly, units are still asking for employee social media passwords, and if you fail to hand them over you better look for another line of work," said their latest report.

Notably, Facebook earlier this year criticized and threatened to sue employers who require employees to hand over their passwords, as TDCJ has allegedly sometimes done, The Back Gate maintains that, "Most of the inquiries [for Facebook passwords] made by administrators don't even seem to pertain to suspected employee/offender relationships but is a way to see what the employee is saying about the agency, or it's administrators."


Anonymous said...

About 20 years ago, I was involved in an administrative action against Southwestern Bell before the PUC regarding terms of use for their phone lines. One of the things they asked for in discovery was a list of the online users of our computer systems. We argued that info was the result of a private communication between two parties. After we threatened to both go to the feds and bring a lawsuit, they backed off their request and never got that info from us.

Anonymous said...


Go to Corrections Connection. There is an article discussing realignment in California that will interest you.


ckikerintulia said...

I'm on FB, but I think it could stand for F(or the) B(irds). I've un FB ed myself once and may do it again.

I'm an old F(ogey). You can let the B stand frow whatever you wish, but you don't need to tell me!

Anonymous said...

With so many people in Texas a TDCJ alumni I am surprised we don't hear more about this.

Anonymous said...

Mike Ward has a habit of not crediting others. Sad.

James said...

Do you think the guard and prisoner were "poking" each other?