Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Whitmire: 'Zero tolerance' for suicides or deaths in county jails

This quote jumped out at me from state Sen. John Whitmire, whose Criminal Justice Committee will investigate jail safety in the wake of the Sandra Bland tragedy at the behest of the Lt. Governor: “I’m going to have zero tolerance for suicides or deaths in jails.” According to the Dallas Morning News, "In the state fiscal year that ends this month, 29 people have died by suicide in Texas jails."

But the issues surrounding "deaths in jails" are broader than just designated suicides. In 2014, there were 615 deaths in custody in Texas, by my count with 410 of them in state prisons and 103 in the custody of County Sheriffs. A few of those were in Sheriffs' custody were killed by deputies in the field, but mostly they're deaths in county jails. See the AG's master list, which regrettably does not include cause of death nor really much useful information at all.

This morning Grits pulled the names of people who died in the custody of Texas County Sheriffs since January 2014, as reported the Texas Attorney General's office. Here's the list as of today: 183 have died in Sheriffs' custody since January 2014, including 80 so far in 2015, a statistic which includes Sandra Bland and appears on pace to exceed last year's number.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

It certainly would be nice to have causes, or at least classifications, for deaths in custody.

Execution is one cause, especially in Texas. So are natural causes and old age (although the Feds, with no system of parole, have more inmates doing time needlessly into their twilight years).

sunray's wench said...

Whitmire is on record as saying that deaths of inmates in TDCJ from heat exhaustion was an acceptably low number, collateral damage if you will. I do wonder how he decides his priorities sometimes.

Anonymous said...

How many prisoners at TDJC were actually innocent (e.g. Timothy Cole)?

Good luck finding out since no one will be looking to exonerate a dead prisoner (or compensating their loved ones that they would have otherwise received if they were alive and exonerated).

Anonymous said...

At least Whitmire notices any kind of death. I have written to my TX congressman a couple of times, he will not even acknowledge me or that there is a problem in TDC - no Justice in that place.

Daily, I fear for my son's safety. He is a non-violent offender in a Max Security unit. Placed there in retribution for refusing to take a TDC prescribed course. Recent TDC released studies show this course actually increases the recidivism rate among those who take it. For this stand, he will have to serve all 9 years of his sentence instead of being released on parole at 2-3 years.

In July 2014, he was beaten unconscious by two inmates and left with a severe concusion. In Sept 2014, he was beaten again, this time by 4 guards who went into his cell. Their claim: this 5'2" college educated, non-violent person attacked a group of 4 large Bubba guards, all carrying truncheons. Finally, last month he was "pushed" back into his cell by a new guard without a name tag. Like my son wrote: "his chest was in my nose and he wanted me to push back."

Re the heat: On several days during this recent heat wave, my son's Pod was given water only once a day. Often, it was only because of the guards not bothering to put water in the ice cooler and bring it to them. The guys could see the cooler. It was in the guard's air-conditioned observatory where the guards were in winter coats and hats because of the temp due to the AC.

I have written to the TX ombudsman, if not so serious a matter, I would consider their replies farcical and funny. They can justify anything and claim they have the most outstanding personnel caring for TDC inmates.

A recent incident: During a recent shakedown they would not let my son show them his receipts for his books, including literature, magazines like National Geographic, etc. They made him throw away over $440 worth of books that I sent him over the past 3+ years. Even denying his request to donate them to the library, they threw the books away. The ombudsman's reply: he voluntarily threw them away.

There is no Justice in TDC.

While not exactly burning book, this quote did come to mind.

A hundred years before the advent of Hitler, the German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, had declared: "Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too."

If not for Whitmire and a very few others like him, the number of deaths, unacceptably high now, would be much higher.

Anonymous said...

Note to J Whitmire & GRITS:No amount of "zero tolerance" will stop jail suicides. Suicides of any kind. If a suicidal patient/inmate is determined to kill him/herself, he/she will. And no amount of watching, doing 3,5,10 minute checks will stop them. I have known suicidal people who have been on 1:1 with staff sitting watching them & they manage to do life threatening injuries. SO great sound bite, not very well thought out.

Anonymous said...

Name names 7:15. And I'm not just talking about here in a comment section. Keep a master file regarding events, dates, letters, replies, injuries, while sending copies to the Gov., Lt. Gov., Atty Gen., DMN., Chron., Whitmire, (if he wasn't white I'd say include West but he only represents blacks) Huffman post and anyone else you can think of. Doing this on a weekly basis (every Friday) will let them all know that you are aware of the treatment he's receiving in addition to the methods being used to convince you to go away.

I hate to say it but no one give a flying shit about your son except him and his family. If he's white, there are no advocacy groups that will come to his aid as you've found out by now. Despite sharing your son's story here for quite some time, you are wasting your time. The entire family, your church & friends needs to be all up in the media's faces on a weekly basis in hopes that others will hear about it and be compelled to come forward with events they endured at the hands of the same group or unit. When a reporter or person in power asks How can we help you, tell them for starters I'd like to get copies of his medical records from the prison infirmary including any photos taken of any injuries. *Ask Prison Doc (a longtime GFB commenter for additional recommendations.

He's Innocent said...

To Mom @ 7:15

Mom, I've seen you comment here before when GFB posted about those programs being detrimental instead of helpful. You said then what your son was in for. What 10:50 doesn't have a clue about is two groups who WILL help you. One is specific to YOUR son's situation.

First, get yourself to the Texas Voices website. We the family (and the convicted)of those in this class of convictions will take you in, give you suggestions and support etc. You need support for what you and your son are dealing with. This class of convictions stands alone in its level of stigmatization. I dearly hope you are near a larger metro area that has regular monthly meetings you can go to and find the support you need. Voices literally kept me alive while I struggled alone in the three years my spouse was gone. Hell, even if you are not close to a meeting, find a way to go anyway.

Second, get yourself to TIFA. Texas Inmate Families Assn.
Until recently I was a chapter chair. TIFA can help you advocate for your son. They will teach you how to find the right person to speak to about the issues you are having. Do not settle for the ombudsman's office. They are a puppet of TDCJ who will recite back to you policy and that is it. They are of little help other than to "formalize" something you are trying to address. Contact them, but always go around them for the real resolution. Do know though, that the Ombudsman is required by law to report to the lege each year the number of issues reported to them, who they took the issue to, and what the resolution was. This was put in place after it was clear the lege wast hearing back as to what was and was not being resolved. TIFA holds monthly meetings in quite a few cities. Go! They too helped me keep my sanity when I had no other support, not even family.

Third, have you tried speaking to the warden about each incident? Do you have a relationship with the warden? No? Then do. Every single time you go visit, ask to speak to the command staff officer/family liaison on duty. Tell them how good your visit was that day, who your son is, that you come often and that you trust them to keep good care of your son. Do not ask for anything immediately. Build that relationship. THEN, when you DO need something, they know who you are. They've had positive interaction with you, you've complimented their staff, etc. They are more willing to help if they already know you.

1 of 2 posts...

He's Innocent said...

2 of 2 posts......

Fourth, have you tried calling the Regional offices about the treatment your son is getting? They are often much more responsive than the wardens. Wardens will often tell you that the Regional office says XYZ about that issue. Yet, when you call Regional and are polite and request to understand why that Regional office has decreed such a decision over that issue, they will tell you the warden is full of it. (Well, professionally of course!) Through politeness and a genuine quest to understand their policy decisions, I've gotten Division to agree to something I've asked for. AND, once this deputy division guy approved what I wanted, I asked him to approve it for his Region. He did! Then, I went back to the warden (again) and again asked for what I wanted (without saying I'd spoken to Regional Director). When he said no, I said, well, Mr SoAndSo at Regional says he emailed all of the wardens for his Region and stated this was possible and that he needed to check his email. As you can guess, Warden was NOT happy with me but the issue was resolved.

My point is that there ARE ways to get done most of what is needed. You just need to know who to go to. TIFA is an excellent place to learn all that. And do not keep your mouth shut at meetings. It is the interaction among members in which you learn the most.

Last, have you seen that there will be a TDCJ PACT conference in October? You MUST go. All the wardens attend. All the different TDCJ divisions attend. Even the SOTP program administrators attend. (You DO know there is that office, right??) This is the ONE place in which YOU are in control. Those wardens are being watched by the higher up folks and for how they interact with family members. They are being judged on how responsive and respectful they are, etc. Go to TDCJ's website. There is info there about the conference. It's in October. You MUST plan to attend. It's a single day, Saturday. Get off work if necessary. Just GO. And start making notes NOW on who you want to speak to and what about. Then go and approach them directly. You'd be surprised at what you can accomplish. (Plus, I highly recommend getting a button with your sons picture to wear on your clothing. It humanizes your son, they cannot miss seeing him as a real person.)

Okay, enough for now. I'm giving away too many secrets in a widely read blog. Should you want, I'd be happy to help you. When/if you join Texas Voices, ask our Executive Director how to reach me. My name is Leah. Tell her I got married in March. She knows very well who I am.

Good luck

john said...

Say, We The Poor People are NOT ALLOWED TO RESIST--and coppers are trained to lie they felt their life was threatened. Any HINT of resistance is humped up to ASSAULT and other more-serious & more-expensive felonies. RAISE revenue?

THERE SHOULD BE PROTECT & SERVE, as in SERVICE, not governments' "serve-us."
Constituents should RULE the Public Servants--instead of the current opposite.
(crickets hallucinating)