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


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."
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





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:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TDCJ Van Flips Over Carrying Inmates on US Highway 59 in El Campo

El Campo Texas - This morning around 7:15 AM a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) van carrying inmates from the Connally Unit in Kennedy flipped over on US Highway 59 in El Campo. 

Officials with the El Campo Police and the Texas Department of Public Safety are investigating the accident.
According to a witness the van flipped over in the medium of US Highway 59, in front of the Mikeska Bar-B-Q Smokehouse.  The two correctional officers on board the van were taken to the El Campo Memorial Hospital, along with two inmates in the back of the van.  A third inmate was taken by Life Flight to Herman Memorial Hospital in Houston and his condition is unknown.
The van's intended final destination was the Jester IV Unit in Richmond, Texas.  The three inmates involved in the accident were assigned to the Connally Unit.  Due to the transporting officer's injuries, they were unable to provide any additional assistance and were transported away by ambulance.

The driver of the van was believed to have suffered a heart attack, which resulted in the accident.  At this time the officers injuries are being reported as nonlife threatening. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

After 100 Escapes In 4 Years, TDCJ Geo Private Facility Still Remains Open

Houston, Texas - In an investigative piece by Mike Ward and Anita Hassan published in today's Houston Chronicle the article revealed more than 100 parolees have fled or escaped from the Southeast Texas Transition Center, located at 10950 Beaumont Highway, Houston, Texas.

The private correctional center is a halfway house for parolees and a secure center for high risk sex offenders who are civilly committed to the center after it is determined they are too dangerous to be released directly from prison.  

The Geo Group out of Boca Raton, Florida is contracted by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to house these high risk offenders.  

TDCJ Deputy Director Bryan Collier told the Houston Chronicle, "authorities have conducted security reviews of the facility in the past and regularly make improvements."  With over 100 escapes, one might question how many more improvements need to be made.

Last year TDCJ operated facilities had no escapes.  Private correctional companies cut corners when it comes to security, training, and recruiting personnel.  The primary goal for private correctional corporations is to maximize profits for shareholders and not public safety.   

In the past, Texas Department of Criminal Justice administrators who were receptive to private prison contracts were usually rewarded with lucrative jobs after retiring from the state agency.  Lack of accountability clearly is becoming an issue when it comes to contracts.  

Last year two private prison contracts were forced to be cut after it was revealed to the state legislature that facilities operated by Correctional Corporation of America engaged in medical neglect and had high rates of contraband in their private prisons. 

See article at the: Houston Chronicle

Friday, April 11, 2014

Alert: Prison Crisis In Europe Might Hit Texas if They Continue Reforms

Austin, Texas  —  Currently the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has 153,000 inmates incarcerated.  Almost half of those inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes and the majority of these inmates are eligible for parole.

Since the 80's Texas has seen thousands of harmless activities evolve into being classified as crimes that aren't typically common law crimes such as murder, rape, burglary, or theft.  Texas now has over 1,700 known statutory laws. 

In 2013 PolitiFact conducted an investigation into a comment Austin blogger Scott Henson told the Austin Post that, "there are 11 different felonies you can commit with an oyster."  The comment was found to be true, which would make one wonder how serious of a situation could crimes involve oysters be if we are classifying them as felonies. 

Many crimes such as business regulations and licensing requirements should be handled civilly and not in a criminal court room.  Fines are effective means to insure compliance with laws of a regulatory nature. 

In recent years Texas has been able to reduce their prison population enough to close three prisons by increased use of community supervision, reducing recidivism, and increasing parole.

Texans don't need to give themselves a pat on the back too quickly.  The Netherlands is a country of 17 million, about 2/3rds the size of Texas.  Their inmate population has dropped from 15,000 in 2008 to currently around 9,710 inmates.  Now their biggest prison issue is not inmate over crowding, but officer overcrowding with more officers than inmates.  As of last month there were just 9,710 inmates compared to the 9,914 correctional officers. 

Large prison sentences plague Texas, as people change and mature with age, their bodies seem to age quicker than their sentence.  Texas will face a fiscal nightmare unless the legislature corrects this problem.  Texas should learn a lesson from the Netherlands by reforming their sentencing.  Keeping inmates past their work prime will only insure they become wards of the state, adding additional financial constraints to an already taxed system. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

TDCJ Assist Walker County In Transfer of 150 Inmates to New Jail

Huntsville, Texas -  The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Offender Transportation Division Wednesday assisted the Walker County Sheriff's Department in a successful and safe transfer of over 150 county inmates to the new Walker County Jail. 
The new Walker County Jail was built due to the county having over 11 escapes from the old jail since it was built in 1980 and was used well past it's 25 year life span. The new facility is rated for 40 years of use.  The current capacity of the new jail is 268 inmates, but can expand to a capacity of 566.
Among the inmates moved Wednesday were Howard Wayne Lewis, a former TDCJ correctional officer charged with murdering Shanta Faye Crawford and her 18-month old grandson inside a home west of Huntsville.  Shanta Faye Crawford was beaten to death and her grandson Aiyden Benjamin Lewis, was found hanging from a door knob and died of asphyxiation.

The last escape from the county jail involved Trent Archie who forced his way past jailers, escaping out the front door of the jail.  See Video from:  KHOU Escape Video.

The new state-of-the-art, 75,000 square-foot facility on FM 2821 comes with a price tag of $18 million for the taxpayers of Walker County, which lacks any type of large taxable industry.      

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Texas Correctional Employees Union Files Overtime Complaint for Lieutentants

Dallas, Texas - Today the AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees Union filed a complaint against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with the United States Department of Labor for lost wages and overtime pay for Lieutenants of Correctional Officers in the agency.

In a complaint to the US Department of Labor, the union states, "currently the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is classifying lieutenants as exempt employees, while their actual work duties should be classified under the status of a nonexempt employee."  

The union is currently seeking lost wages and future changes in the exemption status of lieutenants.  The union estimates the agency may owe lieutenants an average over $10,000 in lost wages and some lieutenants may be owed over $20,000 in lost wages.  All TDCJ lieutenants are urged to join in a group action against the agency by contacting the union at 936-295-5265.  

Click Here to View Complaint

Sunday, April 6, 2014

TDCJ Breaking Bad: Torres Unit Lieutenant Arrested / Private Correctional Officer Sentenced to TDCJ

John Randall (DOB 09/05/1977)

Hondo, Texas - Tuesday the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Office of Inspector General took Torres Unit Lieutenant John Randall (White Male age 36) into custody at work for a warrant on suspicion of aggravated sexual assault of a child out of Bexar County.

Randall is accused of repeated sexual assault of a child from incidents dating back to the summer of 2012, according to a release obtained by KSAT in San Antonio.  The case was originally investigated by the San Antonio Police Department.

Randall has worked at the Torres Unit since May 1, 2012 and was hired back into TDCJ on May 23, 2011.  Randall originally began working for the agency in January 2009, and resigned for personal reasons in July 2010.  Randall has a total of 53 months of state service.

Randall was released from the Bexar County Jail Wednesday on a $75,000 bond.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Perry's Stance to Prison Rape (PREA) Doesn't Pass the New York Times Stink Test

By Lance Lowry
Editorial Comment
Today the New York Times weighed in on Rick Perry's stance to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), it didn't pass the stink test.  The Times Editorial Board published an article in today's printed addition entitled Grandstanding of Prisons in Texas.      

In the editorial the New York Times editorial board noted:

"Mr. Perry’s complaints about the rules are without merit, but the governor wants to show that he’s opposed to federal oversight of any sort. Unfortunately, his cynical stance could prompt state corrections officials to ignore policies that protect inmates from sexual predation. The consequences could be terrible since the Texas system is replete with the sexual violence that prompted Congress to pass this law. 
Mr. Perry announced his intention to flout the law in a March 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. He implied that Texas had its own rape-prevention measures and did not need federal oversight. Federal data consistently tell a different story. A 2013 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that Texas had more prison facilities with high rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence than any other state. 
There are several rules that seem to particularly irk Mr. Perry. One requires states to periodically audit rape prevention programs. Another requires them to certify that their prisons are in compliance. Mr. Perry complains that he couldn’t possibly certify compliance because he can’t audit all of the facilities covered by the law at once. However, the rules make clear that only one-third of the covered facilities need to be audited each year." 1
See the full editorial at: The New York Times
Now we agree with some previsions of the PREA law, but not all of them.  The fact is we are a society of laws.  Disliking a law is one thing, but breaking it is another.  The reason we have prisons is for people who break the law. 
Rick Perry should not place the agency or its staff at risk of liability by choosing not to follow Federal Law. 
In an editorial published yesterday in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, civil rights attorney Brian McGiverin states:
Clearly, Texas’ home-grown policies have failed.
Part of the problem stems from underfunding. In 1978, Texas prisons held 24,575 inmates; now they hold more than 152,000.
The increase was largely due to the Legislature’s appetite for creating new, low-level felonies. Half the people who go to prison today are sentenced to two years or less.
The overwhelming majority of all new prisoners were convicted of nonviolent property or drug offenses.
But the budget has not kept up with the population.  One result has been low salaries for correctional officers — starting at $27,000 and capped at $37,000 — so staffing continually suffers significant shortages and turnover.
That leaves fewer and less experienced officers to provide security, which makes everyone less safe. 2
See McGiverin's editorial in: The Fort Worth Star Telegram 
If Governor Perry truly wished to help the correctional staff and inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, he should have supported a 20% pay raise for correctional officers.  All other state law enforcement were given a 20 percent raise last session.  With the Texas Department of Criminal Justice several thousand officers short, the legislature and Governor Perry gave TDCJ officers a 5 percent pay raise spread over 2 years. 
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is plagued with several thousand vacancies and some units are only staff with half the required officers.  Rick Perry's grandstanding should have been to properly staff the prisons with professionals.  As usual he continues to ignore the problem and divert attention to the Federal Government. 

If Rick Perry wants to grandstand to unneeded bureaucracy he should first look at the voluntary membership of Texas prisons in the American Correctional Association (ACA).  ACA membership has yet to prevent liability and has created unneeded red tape.  Failing to comply with PREA will create liability in a system already willing to generate unnecessary bureaucracy. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

TDCJ Officers Stabbed At Allred, Unit remains Locked Down

By Lance Lowry

Iowa Park, TX - As of yesterday the Allred Prison remains under lockdown this afternoon.  Two correctional officers were reportedly stabbed by multiple inmates.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Allred Unit is a 2250 Michael's prototype style facility near Wichita Falls, which includes a high security expansion cellblock.  The facility can house up to 3,722 inmates.

Prison officials say that incident happened around 4 PM Tuesday afternoon.

Reports from local media in Wichita Falls state an eight year veteran sergeant monitoring a doorway area was attacked by a group of  offenders with shanks.  The unnamed sergeant received 15 stab wounds to the front and back area of his body, including to his head.

When backup arrived to assist the sergeant and on of the assisting officers was stabbed in the abdomen.  The assisting officer was treated for his injuries on the scene and released.

The sergeant was taken by ambulance to United Regiona Hospital in Wichita Falls where he was treated and released after receiving multiple stitches.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Office of the Inspector General is investigating this aggravated assault on a public servant and the inmates involved could receive additional free-world charges for their assault on the two officers. 

Force Against Texas Inmates on The Rise

by Terri Langford, The Texas Tribune

April 3, 2014
Correctional officers are using “major” force against inmates more often, and experts point to staff turnover, inexperience and the brutal heat of Texas summers as the most likely factors.
Despite a decrease in the prison population from 2005 to 2013, the number of “major use of force" incidents grew some 17 percent, according to statistics kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
While TDCJ officials say the fluctuations are random and can’t be tied to any one factor, other experts say the increase in reported use of force is a symptom of an inexperienced officer corps and an often overheated environment.
The number of “major use of force" incidents rose to 7,151 in 2013 from 6,071 incidents in 2005, according to TDCJ statistics. Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman said there was a change in the way the incidents were reported in 2012, which could account for some of the increased incident reporting. But he could not say how much that would have changed the numbers.
Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees union, said that most of the time force is used in confrontational situations where inmates refuse to cooperate with orders.
With many veteran correctional officers retiring, the state prison system is relying more on rookie staff members, including some who may lack the skills to “de-escalate” a confrontation before deciding to use some sort of force, Lowry said.
In the fall of 2013, TDCJ had more than 3,000 corrections officer vacancies throughout its 109 prison units, according to agency data, even after the closure last year of two privately run facilities.
“De-escalation skills are developed by staff through many years of experience,” Lowry said.
The use of force statistics, are part of TDJC’s monthly Emergency Action Center reports, which track a variety of incidents, such as suicides, accidental inmate deaths and escapes, that occur within the prison system.
Lowry said the fact that many “major use of force” incidents occurred in larger units was not surprising because those units have more serious offenders. For instance, in September at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, there were 41 incidents, and at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, there were 43 incidents. Those units are among the largest in the state, each housing about 2,900 inmates.
Worthy of note, Lowry said, is that use of force incidents increased dramatically in summer months. Heat is a factor, he said, because Texas prisons are not air conditioned and confrontations escalate more quickly. In the Connally Unit in South Texas, for example, the number of incidents rose to 36 in August from 22 in February.
Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, noted another trend she called troubling in the use of chemical agents, like pepper spray, against inmates.
While the overall number of times that the agents were employed between February 2013 and the same month this year was down, the reasons given do not indicate that life-threatening situations provoked their use.
Last February, correctional officers used chemical agents 61 times on inmates because they refused to follow “strip and handcuff procedures.” Agents were used another 32 times because inmates were blocking a meal tray slot or covering a cell door.
“They’re all where they won’t comply with an order,” Deitch said. “There’s no particular indication that there’s an immediate danger of any kind.” 

Disclosure: At the time of publication, the University of Texas at Austin was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. (You can also review the full list of Tribune donors and sponsors below $1,000.) 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Also see TDCJ's:  EAC Summary February 2014