Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Corrections committee to vet TDCJ programs

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 29, at noon, the Texas House Corrections Committee will hold a wide-ranging hearing in which they shall:
Study and review the correctional facilities and processes within Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Texas Juvenile Justice Department with emphasis on efficiencies, effectiveness, and recidivism. Examine the existing programmatic approach per facility in the areas of the vocation, education, visitation, rehabilitation, health and mental health services, parole supervision, and reentry initiatives. Evaluate opportunities for partnerships between facilities and private industries to offer education, job training, and potential employment for offenders during incarceration, parole, and final release.

The Committee will not consider testimony for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department at this hearing and will consider this agency at a later date.
What are your thoughts related to those issues, Grits readers? I know many of y'all have opinions on TDCJ and parole board processes as they relate to "efficiencies, effectiveness, and recidivism," as well as the proper "programmatic approach ... in the areas of the vocation, education, visitation, rehabilitation, health and mental health services, parole supervision, and reentry initiatives." Be as specific as possible and use the comments to offer whatever opinions, information or suggestions the committee should consider on these topics.

At noon on Thursday you can watch the hearing live online here. If you're in Austin, the hearing will be in room E2.010 in the capitol.


David E said...

Educating offenders has been shown in many studies to reduce recidivism and also provide numerous other benefits while the offender remains in prison. I know of one degree-granting college available to offenders at very low cost, but their program requires hands-on leadership to make it work (Nations University). What they offer is worth looking into.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a ton of experience with TDCJ, nor am I a deep thinker that has analyzed the issues at length, but I have seen some huge inefficiencies.

1. Voting on Mandatory Supervision: DMS is treated as a yes vote unless the board votes no. All systems within TDCJ proceed as if the vote will be yes. I have witnessed occasions, and have heard many horror stories, of release dates being put up on the website, of everything moving forward as if release was guaranteed, but without a vote yet in place. Families buy tickets to Huntsville (or whichever release center their loved one is getting processed through), they take days off work, they make arrangements, the offender gets moved and their paperwork is processed. Which is all fine IF the vote is yes. I have twice witnessed the offender coming to within a day of release before the vote was cast--a NO vote. This is hugely inefficient, both within the TDCJ, as well as for the families who experience lost work, lost ticket money, etc. All of which could be easily fixed if the board was required to vote DMS files at least 2 weeks prior to release date. This wouldn't preclude from last minute changes based on new information but would prevent the systems inside and out having to proceed on a yes assumption when there's a 50% chance the whole thing will be cut off at the last minute anyway.

2. Protest Letters: I have also witnessed instances where an offender had a 100% clean disciplinary history, had voluntarily taken classes, and would be considered a model inmate, but because of non-victim protest letters had parole and mandatory supervision denied time and again. (Technically, protests are secret and the board will not even tell you if one exists. In this case the protesters had a vendetta and made it public what they were doing.) Granted, the board is under no obligation to release anyone early, but the way the system currently works, whereby a protest letter appears to trump all good behavior and rehabilitative efforts, it matters not if the offender has otherwise followed EVERY rule, done everything asked of him, he will serve his full term at tax payers’ expense. I don't know what the solution to this is, certainly victim’s protests should be considered. But it seems the entirety of the situation should be weighed in a decision and the offender’s efforts should count and he should be provided some opportunity to answer the allegations against him.

3: Rehabilitative opportunities: I am not familiar with programs TDCJ wide, but I am familiar with Dalhart (which is--as you know--quite small and quite remote). There, opportunities for education and/or rehabilitation are zero to none. There is not even enough work to provide a job to every offender. The buildings are full of men who sit around and watch TV all day, and get up to the shenanigans and nonsense that people with too much time on their hands are wont to do. Many of the "residents" have never had a real job in their lives and wouldn't know what to do with one if they had it. They have no trade skills, no money management concepts, no idea of how the world works for "normal people" who don't deal drugs and steal things. For rehabilitation to actually MEAN something, every offender who doesn't have a job should be required to participate in some form of work training. Even more than that, life training (eg: how to open a bank account, how to write a resume, dress for an interview, and just the general rules of “normal society.”) Classes such as Cognitive Intervention should be REQUIRED for everyone, not just those on an ITP or parole release plan. Many offenders do discharge out, and without any parole mandated programing, or access to some form of skill training they have no more real world skills coming out than when they went in. All prison has done is make them better, smarter criminals, with fewer legitimate options.

My two cents. Thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...

Lamar State College-Port Arthur also offers Associates degrees along with vocational certificates at low costs. There are criteria that inmates have to meet in order to qualify, one specifically is no major disciplinary cases for six months. Gives incentive that once they get into college, in order to stay, they have to be major case free.
Education and/or vocational skills is the key to Reentry but bottom line is the person has to want to change.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 4.45 ~ I absolutely agree with you on all points. I would go further though and suggest that all inmates should have a clear structure to their time of incarceration, and that parole should be a yes unless the inmate has done something to make it a no. Give them points for good stuff and deduct points for bad stuff, but make it CLEAR so everyone knows where they stand. That way, if an inmate was, say, 10 points below their required level when they become eligible for parole, the BPP doesn't even get to see their file until the inmates achieves their required level. That way the BPP would only see inmates who were already a good candidate for parole, and if an inmate cannot behave in prison, then they are only wasting their own time.

Skifool said...

The only thing I would add to the excellent analysis of Anon 4:45 is this: the real blame for the dysfunctional discretionary mandatory supervision (DMS) law should be placed on the legislature, which had to get rid of Mandatory Release laws because they were politically unpalatable & so adopted a cockamamie idea from the then-Governor's office to set up DMS. Took 'em two sessions to "realize" they could not make their repeal of MS retroactive (courts batted it down as unconstitional). They were so busy tilting at the retroactivity windmill that they "forgot" to include sex offenders in the mix, which is why there is still a passel of sex offenders from around 1997 that have been & remain MS eligible.

Anonymous said...

I hope it is not too late to add this: All Texas inmates who are not medically unassigned are required to have a job, and punished if they refuse to work. They are not paid for this mandatory work. Texas gets around having to monetarily pay for forced labor by “paying” with good time and sentence reduction. The Parole Board, however, is able to override good time earned if they believe the good time does not accurately reflect the offenders “rehabilitation.” Certainly, this is a necessary safeguard, but it is overused (the clause with this language is *required* to be present in every rejection for release to mandatory supervision, therefore it is used in all MS no votes) and it is also arbitrary. Some offenders discharge out with clean disciplinary record and a few hundred percent of goodtime earned. Forcing individuals to work without paying them (in this case, forcing them to work without allowing the good time earned to actually be worth anything) is called slavery. Paying Texas offenders to work is politically toxic and likely never to happen unless court ordered. However, far less politically toxic and (it would seem) necessary for the legal framework of NOT paying Texas inmates to stand, would be creating a matrix whereby those who discharge out with “unpaid good time” are compensated, however minimally, for the unpaid hours of forced labor.

Anonymous said...

Any updates on this meeting?

rodsmith said...

I think it's a joke and a coming whitewash. This is the fox setting up the guards for the henhouse.

What a CRIMINAL joke!

Anonymous said...

"efficiencies, effectiveness"
This government, right?
Remember TYC? Heard about the VA? Government.

Anonymous said...

There is still guards brutality in the prison system. This past month a chronically mentally ill inmate, who lay on the ground with his hands on his back (Michael Unit), was still manhandled and had his head bashed on the ground by an overzealous goon who also proceeded to "loose" about $300 worth of personal property.
Questions: how do repeated concussions (this is not the first time) make a mentally ill (or any other person) function better when they are released? How is abuse and breaking the rules by the guards serve as a good example of decent behavior?
Drugs infiltrate the system. Several inmates these past two months have been hospitalized with serious side effects of the street drug K2. There are powerful street drugs being trafficked in the system. Inmates cannot bring drugs into the building. GUARDS and other SERVICE PEOPLE do. How "rehabilitative" is that? You release a drug addict who is still doing drugs into society and then what?
Abuse by guards, drug trafficking, retaliation, worthless grievance procedure system......
and we are talking about "efficiency or effectiveness?" -
I will settle for just trying to have guards (I will not call them "officers")just follow the rules and for the inmate grievance procedure system being overhauled.
They are expecting an inmate who may be to ill or who can barely read and write to be their own advocate "in writing".
What the hell?
No f...g rehabilitation or "efficiency" program is going to work under these circumstances.

Many of the inmates leave the system have unrecognized and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other serious trauma, in addition to drug addiction and other mental issues, lack of training, lack of job skills, etc.

I am now counseling a released fellow with a dual diagnosis (mood disorder + drug addiction) who desperately needs to be hospitalized and I can find no such place for him that takes medicare or medicaid. Although he completed 20 yrs, he may end up back in prison soon. He needs a Mental Health facility thar TRULY addresses his needs. But not even veterans are getting adequate care....... so, how can we expect to get this care for released inmates?

I have absolutely no trust, no faith, no respect, for TDCJ nor the majority of its employee, although there are some "good apples" in the system -- but these don't survive long.

One more very familiar issue: brains fried by the heat summer after summer are another issue.... but I will stop here.

Thanks for the forum.

Anonymous said...

Here's a story.

It's about LEARNED HELPLESSNESS SYNDROME and THE EFFECTS OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION where people can no longer distinguish between normal and abnormal environments.

This is an anecdote regarding Boiling Frog Syndrome is widely known. A frog placed in a boiling water will certainly jump out. What if the frog is initially placed in a cold water and the water is gradually heated up? The results are going to be different.

Gradually increasing ambient temperature is bound to offer a mild effect on the frog that tends to keep adjusting itself with the temperature variations; but there is a limit to it. There will be a point beyond which frog's metabolism cannot cope up and has to ultimately die. A gradual acclimatization to a dangerous environment renders the frogs helpless and it dies.

We may enjoy the subtle changes in our environment and tend to adjust ourselves. If the change outside is faster than that of inside, for sure you have a devastating impact in the pipeline. Although it is not easy to pull yourself out of the comfort zone, it is becoming increasingly important to prepare for change.
For released prisoners, the shock of the difference between inside and outside can be overwhelming. For the mentally ill, the anxiety can override any ability to even merely survive.
Some would rather go back to the horrors of prison than attempt to survive on the outside.
Now... I am waiting for some moron to tell me that that's "because prison ain't that bad!" - It IS bad; it's just that an institutionalized person loses perspective and themselves in the process.
The same can apply to guards who may see violence a normal part of their everyday life and carry it in the own homes.