Sunday, November 30, 2014

United Nations Committee Against Torture Issues Statement on TDCJ & US Prison Heat Deaths


November 29, 2014

GENEVA -  The United Nations 53rd Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded their review of human rights complaints from their session that began on November 3rd and ended on November 28th.  During their session the committee heard evidence of several deaths occurring in Texas prisons, including a report from the University of Texas Law School's Human Rights Clinic. 

In their report the UN Committee cited the following concerns:

The Committee urges the State party to investigate promptly, thoroughly and impartially all deaths of detainees, assessing the health care received by inmates as well as any possible liability of prison personnel, and provide, where appropriate, adequate compensation to the families of the victims.
The State party should adopt urgent measures to remedy any deficiencies concerning the temperature, insufficient ventilation and humidity levels in prison cells, including death row facilities.

At this time several lawsuits are currently awaiting trial, including a heat litigation injunction case which is under appeal in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans which may determine the outcome of other heat cases seeking injunctive relief. 
 
The UN Committee expressed further concern over states not certifying as being compliant with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  In their report the UN Panel stated:
The Committee is seriously concerned at the widespread prevalence of sexual violence, including rape, in prisons, jails and other places of detention by staff and by other inmates. It also notes with concern the disproportionally high rates of sexual violence faced by children in adult facilities, as well as the higher rates of sexual victimization reported by inmates with a history of mental health problems and LGBTI individuals. While welcoming the promulgation in 2012 of the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the Committee is concerned by reports that their implementation at the state level continues to be a substantial challengeIn this context, the Committee notes with concern that six states have not certified that they are in full compliance with PREA standards, and several agencies operating federal confinement facilities are still in the process of issuing their own PREA regulations.
 The panel cited the following recommendations be implemented:

The State party to increase its efforts to prevent and combat violence in prisons and places of detention, including sexual violence by law enforcement and penitentiary personnel and by other inmates. In particular, the State party should:  
(a) Ensure that PREA standards or similar standards are adopted and implemented by all states, and that all federal agencies and departments operating confinement facilities propose and publish regulations that apply PREA standards to all detention facilities under their jurisdiction;  
(b) Promote effective and independent mechanisms for receiving and handling complaints of prison violence, including sexual violence;  
(c) Ensure that any and all reports of prison violence, including sexual violence, are investigated promptly and impartially and that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted;  
(d) Ensure the use of same-sex guards in contexts where the detainee is vulnerable to attack, in scenarios that involve close personal contact or that involve the privacy of the detainee;  
(e) Provide specialized training to prison staff on prevention of sexual violence; 11  
(g) Develop strategies for reducing violence among inmates. Monitor and document incidents of violence in prisons with a view to revealing the root causes and designing appropriate prevention strategies;  
(h) Authorize monitoring activities by non-governmental organizations;  
(i) Amend sections 1997 e(a) and (e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act;  
(j) Revise the practice of shackling of incarcerated pregnant women, bearing in mind that the regime of the prison shall be flexible enough to respond to the needs of pregnant women, nursing mothers and women with children (see the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules, as adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 65/229 of 21 December 2010, Rule 42.2).
Only 6 states have refused to comply to certifying as PREA compliant, these states are Texas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, and Utah.  Their failure to certify has brought on international pressures and scrutiny. 

The United Nations expressed concerns about the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) impacting a prisoners right to bring lawsuits.  The Federal tort reform law was passed in 1997 after several states, including Texas lobbied for the bill. 

The Prison Litigation Reform Act was designed to limit Federal court oversight such as in the case of Ruiz v Estelle where Federal Court Judge William Wayne Justice placed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under Federal court oversight. 
 
 
See Report by University of Texas Human Rights Clinic

See Report by the United Nations Committee Against Torture

See the 5TH Circuit Amicus Brief filed by AFSCME Local 3807

See New York Times Article November 29, 2014. Section A5

United Nations Committee Documents





 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Corruption Beyond Correcting - The Fall of the American Correctional Association President

 (Photo Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Corrections)
 

By Lance Lowry


Jackson, MS - This summer in a quiet room of a Federal court house in Jackson, Mississippi a grand jury deliberated on a 49 count indictment of public corruption, bribery, money laundering, and conspiracy that may bring the heart of the private prison industrial complex down.

Under grand jury investigation were Christopher Epps, a national director for the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation (CPOF), president of the American Correctional Association (ACA), and the longest serving commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC).  Another co-conspirator Cecil McCrory, a former Mississippi state representative, former justice board judge, and Rankin County School Board chairman was also being investigated.  McCrory worked as a paid consultant for many well known private prison groups such as The Geo Group, Cornell Corrections Inc, Management & Training Corporation (MTC), and Wexford Health Services.

Christopher Epps and Cecil McCrory were arraigned on November 6th before U.S. Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball on a 49-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in August. Christopher Epps was accused of receiving almost a million dollars in kickbacks from Cecil McCrory since 2007 by awarding almost a billion dollars worth of no bid contracts to McCrory and his private prison corporation clients.   McCrory is alleged to have made payments on Epps home, gave Epps numerous cashier checks under $10,000, and made payments on Epps condominium in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Donald Alway, special agent in charge of the Jackson FBI office, speaking about the Epps indictment stated during a press conference, “the investigation of corruption by public officials is extremely difficult due to its sensitive nature.  The FBI's role as a criminal investigative agency places public corruption as its number one priority in criminal enforcement. Public corruption is often the result of whispered conversations sealed with handshake deals, so therefore its very hard to prove.”  Agent Alway encouraged people with knowledge of public corruption to step forward with information.

While Epps and McCrory received almost a million dollars a piece from this contract scheme, the real benefactors are large private prison management groups such as Management Training Corporation (MTC) who received almost a billion dollars in benefits from these contracts. In a statement released to the media, Management Training Corporation (MTC) stated, “We deeply regret that in this case we didn't have any idea that improprieties may have taken place, especially in light of the significant allegations in the indictment.”

Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering said, “It is a very sad day in Mississippi when two men with a history of public service are charged with blatantly committing crimes to increase their personal fortunes.  They are accused of deliberately violating public trust while serving in positions of leadership.”
 
 
Resources:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
FULL STATEMENT FROM MTC:

We're saddened, surprised and disappointed by the allegations against former Commissioner Chris Epps. MTC was hired in 2012 to operate three prisons for the state after a competitive procurement process where multiple companies were invited to tour facilities and submit bids. MTC was brought in with the primary objective of improving the overall operations of these facilities. In 2013, we submitted a proposal to operate a fourth prison for the state during an open and competitive procurement (RFP 13-005) with the same mission.

MTC worked very closely with Mr. Epps over the last two years in implementing changes to these facilities that would improve security and the treatment of offenders. He was very involved in the management of our four contracts. He knew of the challenges we faced and was working closely with us to overcome them. In partnership with the state and with their support, MTC has made significant improvements at all four facilities and continues to make great strides.

Soon after being awarded the contracts in 2012, Mr. Epps recommended MTC work with Cecil McCrory to provide services within the state of Mississippi. Mr. Epps also made us aware of the fee McCrory had charged in the past to other contractors. MTC hired Mr. McCrory as a consultant because of his many years of experience working in the state. Mr. McCrory had been working with the previous prison contractor and other vendors so MTC felt his services would be beneficial given his knowledge and experience. MTC paid Mr. McCrory $12,000 per month for his work, after Mr. Epps told us that is what others had been paying him. MTC hires consultants in every state where we provide services to the state. Mr. McCrory's services included working with counties to explore possible business opportunities, coordinating with local and state officials to strengthen MTC's relationship within the state, and networking at various industry conferences. He worked at length to investigate a potential bid for a federal corrections contract in Mississippi. At no time did Mr. Epps instruct or mandate MTC to hire Mr. McCrory. In light of the indictment, MTC cancelled its contract with Mr. McCrory last week.

Each month, MTC received an invoice from Mr. McCrory and paid it in full just as we would any other invoice. MTC was not aware of any alleged inappropriate relationships between Mr. Epps and Mr. McCrory or that Mr. Epps was allegedly a participant in any way in the contract with McCrory.

We fully support the government's investigation to learn what happened and to take appropriate action. We also believe the state of Mississippi made the right decision in reviewing all current corrections contracts including suspending the procurement process for the four private prison contracts which we hold. The integrity of contracting is of paramount importance to the state as well as to MTC. All MTC employees are required to take ethics training and are held to the highest standards of ethical conduct. We deeply regret that in this case we didn't have any idea that improprieties may have taken place, especially in light of the significant allegations in the indictment.








 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lubbock Avalanche Investigates In Custody Deaths in Underfunded Prisons



October 15, 2014

Lubbock, Texas  - Today the Lubbock Avalanche News released a report showing a high number of in custody deaths in Lubbock County and at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Montford Unit. 
 
According to the news report, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) had over 61 inmate deaths between 2005 and October 2014 in Lubbock County alone.  The Montford Unit is the only TDCJ prison facility located in Lubbock County and is a psychiatric treatment facility for TDCJ inmates. 
 
Since 2005 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had over 1,821 in custody deaths according to a report from the Texas Attorney Generals Office.  For a complete listing of all TDCJ inmate deaths from January 1, 2005 to October 14, 2014 CLICK HERE.
 
According to the Lubbock Avalanche News more than 3,700 inmates died in Texas jails and prisons since 2005.  There are growing concerns about proper prison funding and training of staff when it comes to caring for the mentally disabled.  AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees is pushing for increased pre-service training of correctional staff to include over 40 hours of mental health training. 

Currently Texas correctional officers receive 200 hours of pre-service training and only 1 hour 45 minutes of that training is for managing the mentally disabled.  In 2012 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had over 36 reported suicides according to a report from TDCJ's Emergency Action Center. 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officers are lacking proper training according to a  new study completed by AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees, which shows TDCJ officers receive 73 hours less training compared to the national average for state correctional officers. 

With the current mental health trends and the agency lacking proper mental health training, Federal litigation is expected to be brought against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.   

 
 




 

Van Catches Fire on the Hilltop Prison Unit

video
 

October 15, 2014

Gatesville - A Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) van caught fire today around 1:30 PM at the Hilltop prison unit in Gatesville.  A passerby captured the incident on video.  At the time of the fire, no inmates were on board the vehicle.  No injuries are being reported at this time.  The van was a total loss as flames quickly spread throughout the vehicle. 
 
With an aging vehicle fleet, the State of Texas continues to prolong the replacement of equipment and facilities, even though its more costly to maintain in the long run.  State budget writers mostly plan for two year budgets where the least amount of money is spent, even though replacement of aging vehicles would be more cost efficient for taxpayers in the long run. 
 
Currently the Texas Department of Criminal Justice vehicle fleet consist of approximately 2,200 vehicles.  The vehicle replacement budget requested for the 2016-2017 fiscal year was reduced to $6,906,785 from $11,040,894 in 2014.  (See Legislative Appropriation Request LAR 2016-2017)

The agency's conservative replacement criteria for vehicles include:
 
-Diesel truck tractors 10 yr / 500,000 miles

-Diesel buses 10 yr / 300,000 miles

-Passenger vans/vehicles 5 yr / 100,000 miles

This replacement criteria is hardly ever used and state employees are subjected to driving dangerous vehicles that have hundreds of thousands of miles on them. 
 


 

 
 

 

 

 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Texas Parole Commissioner Indicted for Falsifying Records


by Terri Langford, The Texas Tribune
October 3, 2014

A Texas parole commissioner has been indicted for tampering with a government record after at least five inmates were denied release from prison because she wrote in their files they had refused to be interviewed.
 
Pamela D. Freeman, one of 14 Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles commissioners who interview inmates being considered for release, was indicted on the single count in Huntsville on Wednesday. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
 
"Based on the investigation and the subsequent indictment, Ms. Freeman will not be allowed to return to work at this time," Raymond Estrada, spokesman for the board said in a statement. "Her continued employment will be determined in accordance with established policies, procedures and/or the resulting disposition of the charge."
 
The case began last June when San Antonio lawyer Kevin Stouwie complained to state Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inspector General Bruce Toney.
 
"It always concerns you that you have people entrusted with such huge responsibilities allegedly violating the trust and responsibilites to do the right thing," Whitmire said. "We have zero tolerance if we know about it."
 
A copy of Stouwie's complaint, obtained by The Texas Tribune, stated that on April 30, at least five inmates on the Wynne Unit in Huntsville were called into an area to be interviewed by Freeman.
The inmates and other prison workers saw Freeman at the prison that day, but said she did not interview any of the five. The men's files included Freeman's remarks that they had refused to be interviewed by her. All five were denied parole.
 
Contacted late Friday, Stouwie said he found out about the incident from the inmates' attorneys and is considering representing them in a civil action against the parole board.
 
"It's not clear to me whether they are going to reconsider those cases," said Kevin Stouwie. "They may and if they do, that could have a bearing of what happens."
Pardons and Parole Board Chair Rissie Owens said in a statement that the incident does not reflect the actions of the rest of the board's employees.
 
"While this incident is unfortunate and certainly impermissible if true, it is by no means representative of our agency, which is comprised of dedicated, honorable and hard-working staff who take pride in the work they do to represent the board,” Owens said.
 
This investigation is not the first time attorneys have complained about Freeman's actions, according to Bill Habern, a lawyer in Huntsville who handles parole cases and who filed a grievance against her with the board a year ago.  
 
"She's had a long and troubled history with lawyers who do parole work," he said. "Most board members I deal with, including those on the current board, seem to be sincere, dedicated people who try to do the right thing."
 
Freeman was charged with interviewing inmates who who had served at least 20 years of their sentences and had never been interviewed by a parole commissioner. She was one of two commissioners based in Huntsville and has been in that post since 2004. 
 
A call to her home for comment on the indictment was not immediately returned.
 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/10/03/parole-commissioner-indicted-falsifying-inmate-rec/.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New National Study Shows Texas Correctional Officers are behind on Training


Austin -  A new national study on correctional officer training released by AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees during testimony before the Texas Legislature and Governor's Budget Board Tuesday revealing Texas is behind the national curve when it comes to training their correctional officers. 
 
During testimony in Austin, Lance Lowry, President of the Huntsville Local testified the national average for correctional officer pre-service training is 273 hour, while Texas Department of Criminal Justice pre-service training is only 200 hours. 
 
The correctional employees union recommended the state increase pay compensation that would allow the agency to reduce officer turnover rates and focus training needs on producing quality correctional officers that exemplify training levels nationally, instead of quantity. 
 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Huntsville Rumored Escape Was Just a Rumor

 
September 4, 2014

By Staff Reporter

Huntsville, Texas - A large law enforcement presence was observed on the north side of Huntsville yesterday afternoon.  There were several rumors that an escape had occurred from one the Huntsville area prisons, but that turned out not to be the case.

Yesterday afternoon the Huntsville Police assisted by several other law enforcement agencies conducted a search of the area of FM 980 near the city limits after a silver 2005 Toyota Highlander with paper plates was discovered stuck in the ditch.  The backseat of the vehicle contained a large amount of blood. 

The Huntsville Police issued a code red alert for Rukayat Momodu, a black female, 5'06 tall, 170 lbs, approximately 30 years of age, and of Nigerian decent.  Police a also searching for William English, black male, 6'03 tall, 180 lbs, and approximately 35 years of age. 

The Huntsville Police Department in a statement released yesterday stated they wished to check the welfare of Rukayat Momodu and William English to ensure their safety. Anyone who has information on Momodu and/or English, please contact the Huntsville Police Department at 936-291-5480 or the Huntsville Dispatch Center at 936-435-8001.

 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Breaking Bad: 15 Year TDCJ Veteran Sentenced to 99 Years in Prison



HAYS COUNTY -- A 44-year-old 15 year veteran of Texas Department of Criminal Justice and prison "guard" was sentenced to the rest of his life in prison after a Hays County jury convicted him of trafficking charges after he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

According to the Hays County District Attorney’s Office, Robert Ritz was arrested in January 2013 after he met the young girl on a social networking site called 'Badoo.'

According to a press release, Ritz is alleged to have sexually assaulted the 13 year old female child in front of another 12 year old child.  Ritz continued to have sexual relationships with her even after he became aware police were investigating him.

Due to Ritz picking the child up from her home and transporting her over county lines from Hayes County to Travis County, this allowed prosecutors to charge him with the state's new sex trafficking charge, which carries a life sentence.  Without this charge, Ritz could have served as little as five years in prison.  Now he faces life without the possibility of parole.

Even after being arrested, Ritz continued to write the victim a letter encouraging their relationship.  Ritz will now be unable to contact the 13 year old with his new home now going to be the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a place Ritz should be familiar with.
 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

In Cellphone Contraband Cases, Few Face Charges


In Cellphone Contraband Cases, Few Face Charges
  by Edgar Walters and Dan Hill, The Texas Tribune
  May 4, 2014



Armed with shovels, correctional officers at a prison in East Texas last summer unearthed a cache filled with hundreds of smuggled items, including 45 cellphones and 52 chargers. Nearly a year later, no arrests have been made in the elaborate trafficking attempt. 

The discovery of buried items at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ferguson Unit in Midway was unusual for its scale and its subterranean location, but the fact that no one was prosecuted is not. 

A Texas Tribune investigation has found that few inmates or correctional officers face legal consequences for smuggling cellphones even as prison officials have intensified efforts to keep the devices out of prisons. Just 5 percent of cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General from 2009 to 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence, according to documents obtained from the office through a public information request.  

Prison officials said one challenge was linking the smuggled phones to prisoners or correctional officers for prosecution, because the devices were secreted away in spots that were hard to find, or found in common areas. And it falls to prosecutors in the rural, cash-strapped regions where prisons are typically located to decide whether to spend resources on criminals who are already in prison or on local law enforcement officers. Critics say that without serious consequences, there is little to stanch the flow of illicit cellphones — and the cash that goes with them — into Texas prisons. 

“Phones can be hard to find, and there’s a lot of money in introducing contraband,” said Terry Pelz, a prison consultant and former warden who advocates tougher punishments for guards caught with contraband. 

Texas’ criminal justice system, the nation’s largest, has invested heavily in efforts to keep cellphones out of prisons, where they have enabled inmates to coordinate escapes and maintain contact with gangs. In 2003, legislators made smuggling the devices into prisons a felony. Since 2009, the state has allocated $10 million every two years for “security enhancements for contraband interdiction,” said Robert Hurst, a Criminal Justice Department spokesman. 

The enhancements include a special K-9 unit responsible for sniffing out cellphones, increased video surveillance of guards and the addition of “managed access systems” at two prisons that intercept all but a few specified outgoing cellular signals. 

The increased emphasis, corrections officials and state legislators say, has had an effect. Cellphone confiscations by the Criminal Justice Department fell to 594 in 2013 — a five-year low — from 738 the previous year. 



The buried loot at the Ferguson Unit was the largest of several “significant” contraband discoveries last year at the prison, which accounted for 34 percent of all cellphone confiscations among the state’s more than 100 prisons. 



Records obtained by the Tribune show that cellphones accounted for the greatest number of contraband cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s inspector general from 2009 to 2013. Yet cases involving other contraband — like alcohol and tobacco — are prosecuted at a higher rate. 

Of the 3,687 cellphone cases the inspector general’s office examined during that time, prosecutors secured sentences in only 190 cases; 2,142 resulted in no charge. Criminal Justice Department officials said cellphones like those discovered in the pit at Ferguson often cannot be traced to a specific offender. 

When an inmate is caught with contraband, the department can issue an “administrative” punishment or the case may be “informally resolved,” said Jason Clark, a department spokesman. The department’s inspector general investigates each case and presents the findings to a local prosecutor, who must decide whether to press charges. 

Some criminal justice observers say leaving that decision to local prosecutors benefits the guards because prisons are typically in rural counties with small prosecution budgets. 

“Local prosecutors don’t put the full force of their office up against cases involving officers,” said Brian McGiverin, a prisoners’ rights attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. 

Pelz added, “These smaller counties don’t necessarily have the money for the wholesale prosecution of these officers, so that’s not much of a deterrent for those who get caught.” 

Inmates have devised “ingenious” ways to sneak phones into prison, said William Stephens, director of the criminal justice department’s correctional institutions division, including hiding them in tractor tires, printers and various body cavities. In 2008, a death row inmate used a contraband cellphone to make a threatening call to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, prompting a statewide prison lockdown to search for cellphones. 

Another appeal of contraband cellphones, criminal justice observers said, is that they allow inmates to circumvent the state’s expensive offender telephone service to call friends and family. In the 2013 fiscal year, the state received $13.1 million from the telephone service contract, Clark said. The vendor that provides the phone service, Century Link, also provided the criminal justice department with its two managed access systems. 

The costs of the offender telephone service are “so high, that’s one of the reasons why inmates turn to cellphones,” said Michele Deitch, a prisons expert at the University of Texas at Austin. “They really need the phone access, which promotes healthier families, but at those rates it becomes an incredible burden on the families.” A phone call with the service costs up to 26 cents per minute. 

For guards, who risk their jobs and felony charges by dealing in contraband, the financial reward can be much larger than their salaries. 

“The temptation is there, if there’s not a strong deterrent to misbehavior,” said Pelz, the former warden, adding that a smuggled cellphone can fetch up to $3,000. “Your weakest link is the employees bringing the contraband in.” 

Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees local of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Emlpoyees union, said many who resort to smuggling were trying to supplement low wages. Entry-level correctional officers make about $29,000 a year. At that rate, one cellphone could amount to 10 percent of an officer’s annual salary. 

Though few cases end in prosecution, prison officials continue their efforts to intercept contraband phones. Reductions in confiscations at three prisons with historically high contraband rates accounted for much of the statewide decline in 2013. 

Last year, the state shuttered a privately operated pre-parole facility in Mineral Wells. The unit was responsible for 17 percent of the state prison system’s total cellphone confiscations in 2012. At the Stiles and McConnell prison units, two of the state’s largest and most contraband-ridden, confiscations dropped nearly 90 percent and 40 percent, respectively, from 2012 to 2013. 

  

Stephens said Texas’ prison system was doing better at curbing contraband than those in other states. In California last year, prison staff discovered more than 12,000 contraband cellphones. Still, he said, Texas could do more, because “one cellphone is too many.” 

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said the state’s lawyers must make tough decisions about which cases to pursue. But the former prosecutor said cellphones “are a very serious charge,” and he added that “the reason lawmakers focused on it at such a high level is because that kind of contraband can be very dangerous.” 

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 




This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/05/04/cellphone-contraband-cases-few-face-charges/

Report: Prison Heat Violates Basic Human Rights


  by Cathaleen  Qiao Chen, The Texas Tribune
  April 22, 2014

At least 14 Texas prisoners have died from overheating since 2007, according to a report released Tuesday by the University of Texas School of Law Human Rights Clinic, which argues that extreme conditions in state lockups violate the basic human rights of inmates. 

Findings in the 40-page report echo claims made in lawsuits over eight inmate deaths that the Texas Civil Rights Project filed against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on behalf of the deceased inmates and their families. The UT report said that prison workers are exposed to the same extreme conditions and recommended that state officials install air conditioning units and keep temperatures at the facilities below 85 degrees. But TDCJ officials argue that adding equipment would be too costly and that the agency takes adequate measures to ensure the safety of both inmates and employees in its prisons. 

“In a way, prisons are a forgotten sector of society,” said Ariel Dulitzky, the director of the Human Rights Clinic. “We believe it’s important to give visibility to some of the problems they face.” 

The temperature in some Texas prisons can soar above 149 degrees, according to the report, conditions that the authors said violate international human rights standards and the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.”  

Heat exposure is especially dangerous for older inmates and people on certain diuretic and psychotropic medications, which hinder the body's ability to cool itself. It could also exacerbate other illnesses or health conditions, such as high blood pressure. 

TDCJ employees also attest to the trying conditions, the report said. In 2012, 92 correctional officers suffered heat-related injuries, according to the report, and in 2013, the prison workers’ union publicly supported the wrongful death lawsuits against TDCJ.  

Lance Lowry, president of Texas correctional officers' union, said prison workers have been filing grievances about the heat since the late 90s “with no avail.” 

“We applaud this report,” Lowry said. “It’s going to be a losing battle for the state.” 

Both Lowry and the clinic's report recommend that TDCJ install air conditioning to ensure temperatures don't exceed 85 degrees. Currently, county jails, which are under the oversight of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, are required to maintain temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees. But the state prison system has not adopted heat-related policies. Other states with climates similar to Texas, such as Arkansas and New Mexico, have temperature standards in prisons, the report found.  

But retrofitting state prisons with air conditioning would be "extremely expensive," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement, adding that medical, psychiatric, and geriatric units are air conditioned. 

The prison system does have protocols regarding heat, including providing additional water and ice, restricting outside activity, using fans that draw outside air, allowing additional showers for inmates and training employees and inmates to be aware of the signs of heat-related illnesses. 

Clark declined to comment on the previous deaths of inmates because of ongoing litigation. 




This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/22/tdcj-violation-basic-human-rights-report-finds/

Friday, May 2, 2014

BREAKING BAD: TDCJ Guard Arrested For Aggravated Assault

 
Fort Worth — A Texas Department of Criminal Justice guard is accused of shooting a neighbor multiple times Wednesday night after an apparent argument in San Antonio on the 10300 block of Meadows near Loop 1604. 
 
Sidney Reed Denbina, age 38, who is suppose to be employed as a correctional officer at the Dominguez Unit, was believed to have ran inside a home sometime Wednesday night after the 10:30 PM shooting.  Bexar County Deputies and a SWAT team surrounded the house and tried to contact Denbina, and after making no contact the Swat team entered the home around 2 a.m. to find no one inside the residence.
 
According to the San Antonio Express News:
Deputies then began to search for Denbina and determined he had taken an Amtrak train from San Antonio to Fort Worth at about 5 a.m., said BCSO spokeswoman Rosanne Hughes. The Lone Star Fugitive Task Force and U.S. Marshals became involved, and Denbina was arrested without incident at about 2:30 p.m. as he stepped from the train to the platform at the Fort Worth station, Hughes said.
The condition of  Denbina's neighbor, who sustained bullet wounds during the alleged argument with Denbina is unknown and his identity has not been released.  The victim was taken to University Hospital in San Antonio.  The victim was reportedly coherent when he left the scene.
 
This latest arrest raises questions about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's screening of applicants.  The agency currently requires no psychological screening of applicants and does not conduct a rigid background check of applicants that most law enforcement agencies require.   
 
 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

TDCJ Guard Arrested For Soliciting a 13 Year Old

 
Abilene -  A Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) guard was been arrested for allegedly soliciting a 13 year old minor online.

The Taylor County Sheriff’s Office is reporting, Jimmie Leon Sturdivant, age 43 of Snyder, traveled to Abilene to meet up with a 13-year-old for sex after contacting the minor online.

Sturdivant is suppose to be employed as a corrections officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Snyder.

A Taylor County Judge set Sturdivant's bond at $50,000 and he is being held in the Taylor County Jail.

Nude TDCJ Inmate Captured After Escaping TDCJ Kyle Private Prison

 

 

Kyle - Saturday afternoon a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) inmate scaled the fence of the TDCJ Kyle Prison Unit, which is a 520 bed facility owned by TDCJ and operated under a management contract by the Management Training Corporation (MTC) of Utah. 
 
Around 2:15 PM on Saturday April 26, 2014, Kendrick Rishard Davis, a TDCJ inmate at the facility, scaled two 12 foot fences topped with razor wire and fled into a wooded area east of the prison unit while private prison guards watched.
 
At around 8:00 PM authorities were able to recapture Davis, a 34 year old inmate serving two 25 year sentences for aggravated robbery out of Dallas County.  Davis was located in a wooded area east of the prison near Old Post Road in Kyle.
 
A Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter was brought in to search the area.  Officials from the US Marshall's Service, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Kyle Police, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and Hayes County Sheriff's Department assisted in the recovery of the escaped inmate. 
 
This escape raises questions about how secure privately managed prisons are after the Houston Chronicle broke a story reporting there was over 100 escapes from a privately managed Geo Group facility in Houston.  This latest escape is helping to expose the naked truth about private prisons.

Friday, April 25, 2014

WELCOME BACK!!!!: TDCJ ESCAPEE RETURNED TO PRISON


Brownsville, Texas - Thursday afternoon Mexican authorities met US Federal agents at the international bridge and returned escapee, kidnapper, and attempted Houston cop killer Jose Juan Salaz.
 
Salaz, who was extradited back to Texas Thursday, was captured by Mexican authorities back in February and was returned yesterday to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. 
 
A History of Violence
 
Salaz was arrested on April 2, 1995 by Houston police after he and an accomplice exchanged gunfire with police after abducting and holding a bartender for ransom.  As a result of the gun battle Jim Binford, former Houston homicide detective, was wounded in the incident by friendly fire from another police officer.
 
Salaz was being held at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Garza East Unit in Beeville, when he escaped through an unlocked recreation yard door, scaled three 16 foot prison fences before 10 p.m. on March 22, 1997 while officers in the picket towers just watch.
 
Both officers in the outside picket towers were fired for not taking action to stop the escape.  The employee's unions recently questioned the standards being set in training, after the state reduced standards and increased their demerit system. 



Currently on the Land
 
Jose Fernando Bustos-Diaz is currently the only escapee from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to have not been captured.  Diaz who was serving a 35 year sentence for murder, escaped from the TDCJ Briscoe Unit, Dilley, Texas, on April 6, 2010, at around 5:30 am after him and  another inmate, Octavio Ramos Lopez, cut a hole in the perimeter fence next to a prison factory the inmates were assigned to work in. 
 
Octavio Ramos Lopez was captured by the McAllen police in August on 2010 after they ran a search warrant on an apartment containing 68 kilos of cocaine. 


Sunday, April 20, 2014

TDCJ Private Consultant's Report Contradicts Governor Perry's Letter to Justice Department

 
 
Seek And You Shall Find
 

Austin, Texas - In a letter obtained through an Open Records Act request by Austin criminal justice researcher / blogger Scott Henson, the Moss Group, which consulted with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on prison rape, contradicts Governor Rick Perry's notion the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) certification is "impossible" as stated in a letter the governor sent to the Justice Department on March 28th.
 
According to the Moss Group's report:
"The department and unit staff appeared receptive to the recommendations offered and seemed confident that the solutions proposed were reasonable and viable."
 
Liability
 
Even though the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) does not come with any enforcement guidelines, aside from a five percent loss in Federal grants to the program, by not complying with the act the state is opening it's staff and itself up to liability claims by showing deliberate indifference, as found in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) case Farmer v Brennam
 
The Moss Group report called for partial privacy dividers in shower areas and toilet areas of the prisons.  These dividers are already in place in prisons that house female inmates.  According to the AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees Huntsville Local President Lance Lowry, "the majority of prison female staff have made it clear they do not wish to view male inmate's genitalia.  By failing to install partial dividers in shower areas and strip search areas, Texas prisons are opening female staff to unnecessary liability claims such as voyeurism."
 
Lowry states "the Texas Department of Criminal Justice may face EEOC discrimination claims from female staff for sexual harassment, as male officers working on prison units housing female inmates are not forced to view genitalia.  Forcing female staff to perform strip searches or view male genitalia may violate Federal employment laws, when male officers are receiving differential treatment on prisons that house female prisoners.  Female officers clearly receive a great deal of sexual harassment on the job."
 
Governor Perry claims that abiding by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) will result in the state having to discriminate against females is "nonsense" according to Lowry.  Lowry states "the most prevalent form of employment discrimination is low pay and a disproportionate promotional system." 
 
Lowry is quick to point out that while the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has the largest number of female officers compared to other state law enforcement, but were not included in the 20 percent pay increase given last session to their male dominated counterparts in other state criminal justice agencies.  Texas Department of Criminal Justice officers only received 5 percent over a  two year period, despite having several thousand vacancies and having a large number of female officers compared to other state criminal justice agencies. 
 
Lowry states, "if Governor Perry wishes to look out for the interest of female correctional officers, he would have supported an equal pay raise for all state criminal justice officers and also signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act into state law, instead of vetoing the bill."  The Lilly Ledbetter Act would have required employers to pay females equal pay for performing the same work assignment as their male counterparts.   



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Texas Prison Gangs Remain the Greatest Threat to Texans According to New DPS Report


By Lance Lowry

Austin, Texas -  Texas prison gangs pose the greatest threat to Texans according to a new report entitled Texas Gang Threat Assessment, produced by the Joint Crime Information Center Intelligence & Counterterrorism Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
 
According to the report, gang membership in Texas may exceed over 100,000 members between the 4,600 gangs identified by the Texas Anti-Gang (TAG) Tactical Operations Center in Houston. 
 
Tango Blast and Tango cliques, Texas Syndicate, Texas Mexican Mafia, and Barrio Azteca are listed as Tier 1 gangs in Texas.  According to the DPS report, "these four Tier 1 gangs continue to pose the greatest gang threat to Texas due to their relationships with Mexican cartels, their transnational activity, number of members, high levels of criminal activity, and other significant factors."10  The Department of Public Safety ranks the Tier 1 Gangs as the highest level of threat.   

The DPS report cited, "Tango Blast and Tango cliques remain the greatest statewide gang threat, and are increasing in significance compared to other gangs. The gang continues to grow in membership both inside and outside the Texas prison system. Additionally the unique clique structure provides greater networking opportunities for criminal activity." 10

 
 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and county jails continue to offer opportunities for the recruitment of inmates, who may join prison gangs for protection while serving time behind bars.  According to the DPS report "Several prison gangs recruit for the sole purpose of having a majority population in order to defend against other gangs. Once members are recruited, most gangs require them to serve the gang for life, though other gangs allow members to leave after being released from prison."  10

 
 

TANGO BLAST #1 Threat

 


 


Tangos were first established in the 1990's by inmates from Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin while serving time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. These original Tangos collectively came to be known as the Four Horsemen and still band together for protection in the correctional setting.  The original founding groups are known as the Four Horsemen or "Puro Tango Blast."  The origins of "Blast" refers to the individual representing his tango or hometown.  10

DPS estimates there are 8,200 Tango members involved in the Tango gangs in Texas and ranks this gang as the top threat in Texas.  Some estimations suggest there are as many as 14,000 members involved with the Tango Blast in prison and on the streets. 


 


 

 
While in the past gangs have competed for turf and profits, the report from DPS notes, that gangs maybe joining forces.  According to DPS the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) members operated a drug ring with members of Houstone Tango Blast, in association with a Mexican cartel. Confirmed Crip members were also involved in criminal activity with the Houstone Tango Blast. 10
 
 
 


 
 
 
Texas Syndicate #2 Threat

The Texas Syndicate (TS) is a violent prison gang that originated in the California penal system over 40 years ago.  The gang was formed by Hispanic inmates from Texas for protection from California based prison gangs. 

The Texas Syndicate moved into Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisons and onto the streets, often working with Mexican cartels such as Los Zetas.  Recent law enforcement investigations targeting the gang have resulted in the arrest of high-ranking members, dismantling top leadership positions within each of TS’s regional hierarchies and have created a vacuum of leadership and power as Tango Gangs continue to pick up the slack.  10

Currently the Texas Department of Public safety estimates their are over 4,400 Texas Syndicate members operating in Texas. 
 


 

Mexican Mafia (MM ) #3 Threat

 

The Mexican Mafia was formed in the California prison system in 1957 by members of 13 different Los Angeles street gangs.  The gang saw a rise in membership in the 80's, after the Texas prison system did away with building tenders, which maintained control of the Texas prison system.

The Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) failed to professionalize their correctional staff with a sufficient number of professionals to maintain order in the prison system, which resulted in the rise of prison gangs.  Inmates fearing for their safety joined the prison gangs after a vacuum in power was left by the state ending the building tender system, also known as "turn keys."  The building tenders were inmates that were given authority over other inmates in the prison system, and maintained the order of the facilities, due to the state's lack of proper funding for the prison system. 

Currently the Texas Department of Public Safety estimates their are over 5,500 Mexican Mafia operating in Texas.  10


 
 
Barrio Azteca (BA) #4 Threat
 
Barrio Azteca was founded in the 80's by street gang members from El Paso at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, Texas.   The Texas Department of Public Safety estimates there are over 2,000 members operating in the state.
 
Barrio Azteca has practiced extorting “quota,” or taxes, on non-BA drug dealers who sold illegal narcotics in El Paso and the greater West Texas and Eastern New Mexico area. 7
 
The Barrio Azteca is known for their violence and contract killings in Northern Mexico as they've worked with the Juarez Drug Cartel to fight of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel. 

On May 13, 2010, the Barrio Azteca gang was involved in the killing of two US Consulate employees and an El Paso County correctional officer who were gunned down in a vehicle in Juerez, just across the US border from el Paso.  Arthur Redelfs, an El Paso correctional Officer, was driving the vehicle with his wife who worked at the US Consulate inside and one of her coworkers while leaving a party in Juerez, Mexico. 8
 
The hit on the El Paso correctional officer and the US Consulate workers has brought the powers of the US Government down on the Barrio Azteca, which has been weakened by enhanced prosecution.  The SureƱos gang have filled a vacuum of power left by the Barrio Azteca's operations in El Paso.  
 
According to the DPS report "Barrio Azteca (BA) has lost much of its support in the last year due to the deteriorating influence of the Juarez Cartel. In addition, law enforcement efforts have been successful in targeting the gang.  Although predominantly located in El Paso and Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, arrests of BA members have been active in Wichita Falls and Houston." 9
 
 
Outlook on future Gang Activity and Strategies
 
According to the DPS report, "Mexican drug cartels will fight to maintain or increase their share of the lucrative drug and human smuggling markets, Texas-based gangs will continue to play an essential role in supporting cartel operations on both sides of the border, and the cartels will likely seek to expand their existing networks in Texas by leveraging the gangs. We expect the relationships between individual gangs and cartels to remain fluid, and possibly adapt and evolve in response to changes in the cartel landscape in Mexico."10
 
With marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State, its estimated the Mexican drug cartels have taken a $2.797 billion loss. 11 According to Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, five additional states are expected to follow Colorado and Washington's lead by legalizing the recreational use of the drug this next year.
 
The Pew Research Center survey on the nation's shifting attitudes about drug policy found that 75 percent of respondents think that the sale and use of pot eventually will be legal nationwide.12  Only 23 percent of Texas registered voters said marijuana should be illegal in all cases according to a Texas Tribune / UT Poll.  13
 
Texans may look towards prohibition for lessons on how to deal with violent gangs.  Learning from past mistakes in our criminal justice system may prevent these mistakes from occurring again.  Clearly, Texas prisons need to properly fund, train, and staff their prisons to prevent a replay of the bloodshed from the mid 1980's. 

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2014/02/28/5611392/few-texans-would-keep-marijuana.html#storylink=cpy