Monday, May 18, 2020

Blakinger scores big victory for hungry TDCJ inmates, visitation denied, why people convicted of unconstitutional statutes are innocent, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:

TDCJ to improve lockdown food
The Marshall Project's Keri Blakinger hit another home run recently with her story on what Texas prisoners are being fed during lockdown. It was sprinkled with stomach-churning contraband cell-phone pics from prisoners that corroborated years of allegations about how awful food could be when prison units are locked down. On Friday, she reported on Twitter that TDCJ has told inmate families they will begin providing raw vegetables, cartoned milk instead of powdered, and are considering how to source fruit, pizza and hot pockets. Good for TDCJ, even if it took being shamed to improve things. And thank God for Keri Blakinger!

Many prisoners denied visits, phone calls before the lockdowns
Prisoners' families have been upset during the COVID crisis that so many inmates were forbidden access to phones to call them. Recently, some on lockdown have been allowed 5 minute calls, but that's still not much. Michael Barajas at the Texas Observer reminds us that a significant portion of Texas inmates couldn't call their families and had been banned from visitation even before the coronavirus, but TDCJ doesn't track how many are banned or why. Great job, Michael! Grits readers may recall that, earlier this year, TDCJ made visitation and mail policies even more restrictive, punitive and arbitrary. It's great to see some journalistic light shed on the subject.

Texas women inmates cope with COVID
At the Waco Tribune Herald, reporter Brooke Crum provided a window into how women inmates in Gatesville and their families are coping with coronavirus restrictions.

COVID testing rates vary widely at county jails
There are wide disparities in how frequently county jails are testing inmates and staff for the COVID virus, reported the Dallas News. Harris County is testing more broadly; Dallas County, not so much. Travis County, by contrast, is testing far less frequently than either of them. The thinking appears to be that, if you do not test, you won't have to report that anyone is sick. As of yesterday, 1,314 Texas jail inmates and 234 jail staff had been reported as testing positive to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. But because some jails are testing so few people, those numbers are surely an undercount.

Ex-prosecutor could be disciplined for withholding exculpatory evidence
Daniel Rizzo, a former Harris County prosecutor, faces an attorney discipline lawsuit for withholding exculpatory evidence in Alfred Dewayne Brown's murder case, Texas Lawyer reported. Rizzo claims he never saw the phone records which later led Mr. Brown to be declared actually innocent, though they were available in his files.

People convicted of unconstitutional online solicitation statute were actually innocent 
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that people convicted of online solicitation of a minor after the statute was deemed unconstitutional by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals  qualify for innocence compensation under Texas statutes. (The Legislature enacted a new online-solicitation statute in 2015, but not nearly as stringent as the original.) Grits has wondered for years about how innocence claims from these cases would be handled. Now we know.


Gadfly said...

Shit, Grits, those prisoners should thank their beneficient TDCJ jailers that they didn't dig up some old VitaPro!

Texian proud said...


Unknown said...

Thank you, Ms. Blakinger.

Anonymous said...

"Ex-prosecutor could be disciplined..."

Yeah, right.

It's such a flimsy excuse. It should be part of the Hall-Of-Fame of excuses.
"I didn't know the gun was loaded."
"I didn't know she was underage."
"I didn't know the traffic light was red."
Anyone presenting any of these excuses would certainly face consequences.

Is Rizzo incompetent, or corrupt? Neither is acceptable for someone working in the CJS.

George said...

@ Gadfly, I was wondering about that myself. They probably still have some stored away somewhere. Andy Collins sure went for that big time didn't he? Under his leadership, TDCJ inked an agreement with the Canadian company VitaPro to spend almost $34 million to purchase approx 36 metric tons of the soy based food additive per month. Most inmates refused to eat it however and then the crap hit the fan, forcing massive investigations and resulting in Collins resignation. All this went on back in the mid '90's.

sunrayswench said...

The sooner TDCJ implements video visits for all inmates the better. The mail is so bad at the moment, every other letter is going missing.

Hope you're doing OK Scott.

Anonymous said...

Good job reporting on that false imprisonment compensation case from the Tex. Sup. Ct. That case didn't get the amount of coverage it should have.

Let me add a minor clarification, however. It wasn't just that Lester had been convicted after the statute was declared unconstitutional -- it was that his conduct came after that. In fact, I think the opinion seemed to rest on that distinction (i.e., that his conduct wasn't criminal when committed). In other words, I'm not sure that future claimants who were put in prison after the CCA declared the statute unconstitutional would be entitled to compensation if they committed their act before that date.

Just a thought.

James S.

Anonymous said...

Despite Keri Blakinger’s excellent exposure on the plight of inmate food during lockdown, and TDCJ promises of fruits and vegetables, food is still largely inedible and repetitious. If improvements are made, they are short-lived. This per my inmate information and food logs being written up. Hoping the Texas Inmate Family Association can help more. Shame on TDCJ.