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Agency News

January/February 2018
Volume 25 Issue 3


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Executive director’s update

By Bryan Collier

TDCJ executive director Bryan Collier
Bryan Collier

Earlier this year the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was honored by the American Correctional Association with the prestigious Lucy Webb Hayes Award. The award is given to correctional agencies that have achieved full compliance with ACA accreditation standards and federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards, and is named in honor of the first lady and wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, who served as founding president of the ACA in 1870.

Only three other correctional agencies in the United States have earned this award recognition, which underscores TDCJ’s commitment to providing public safety by ensuring that all of our operations meet nationally recognized industry standards.

Every day, the men and women of this department are committed to providing excellence in corrections, while keeping the public safe and ensuring the well-being of those in their care. Achieving full accreditation for meeting ACA standards and PREA compliance across the system would not have been possible without your hard work. This award is a testament to your perseverance, integrity and commitment to public service.

There are more than 500 ACA and nearly 200 PREA standards, and the audit process requires significant coordination among many agency divisions and departments. Audits begin when a team of independent corrections professionals visits a facility. Auditors review files, interview offenders and staff, and prepare a preliminary report describing any areas of noncompliance which must be addressed. Facilities go through the review process every three years.

 

In 1998, the Boyd Unit became the first TDCJ correctional facility to receive ACA accreditation. Since that time, every TDCJ facility has been reviewed and received ACA accreditation, and many have been audited multiple times. In August of 2014, TDCJ was recognized with the ACA’s Golden Eagle Award for achieving full accreditation for every aspect of the department’s operations.

In the same year, the auditing process for PREA began at TDCJ facilities. By December of 2017, 133 facilities including halfway houses, transitional treatment centers, parole facilities, and private and state-run institutions were reviewed and found to be fully compliant with the federal standards.

While the department did not pursue system-wide accreditation or compliance with PREA standards for accolades, the thousands of correctional professionals who make up the TDCJ earned this honor through hard work and professional dedication. I congratulate everyone on this outstanding accomplishment.

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Reentry and Integration Division launches Website for Work

Texas Department of Criminal Justice 'Website For Work' banner from website page. Sky background, with Texas flag on right and TDCJ seal on left.

For offenders reentering society, a critical component for their success is the ability to find and keep a job. To achieve its core mission to reintegrate offenders, TDCJ has implemented a new web-based service called “Website for Work” to help connect parolees who possess work experience and skills with potential employers.

While incarcerated, many offenders gain valuable work experience and learn skills which are transferrable to jobs in our communities. The Website for Work matches potential Texas employers with appropriate applicants based on criteria such as education, vocational training, work certifications and experience.

“The Website for Work provides a mechanism for employers who recognize the value of job skills and quality training,” said April Zamora, director of TDCJ’s Reentry and Integration Division. Zamora noted that “Employers who take advantage of this program benefit from hiring well-trained, experienced employees, and demonstrate their willingness to help reintegrate offenders in their communities by offering them a ‘second chance’ through employment.”

Website for Work matches parolees with employers, arranges for the parolee to contact the employer, and records whether the offender was successful in finding employment. Employers who hire a program participant within a year of their release from prison will qualify for the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

To participate, employers fill out an online form indicating the location and number of positions available, the skills and experience required to do the work, and any other important information. After a Website for Work Specialist confirms the employer’s participation, they will regularly scan the website database for parolees whose training and experience fill the employer’s needs. When a match is found, the Website for Work Specialist contacts the employer to schedule an interview with the job candidate.

Screen shot of menu from Website for Work page. 'How It Works', complete the online Employer Registration form; A TDCJ staff member will contact you to confirm that you want to participate; Search our database for potential employees; TDCJ staff will regularly scan our databases for parolees matching your needs; When a match is found, we will contact you to initiate hiring process.

"There are approximately 85,000 parolees currently under supervision," said Zamora, adding, "Employment is a significant component in helping them get back on their feet and reducing their chances of returning to prison."

Pamela Thielke, director of TDCJ’s Parole Division, underscored the value of post-release employment, noting that “Individuals on supervision now have a greater opportunity to secure employment as a result of Website for Work. This population often has many barriers that they struggle with upon release from prison; reducing those barriers with a mechanism to help employers find and hire former offenders is a significant step forward in their reintegration back into society and in becoming self-sufficient.”

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Aging prison population drives need for more sheltered housing

The number of offenders incarcerated by TDCJ has been in decline for nearly a decade, and the prison population is predicted to remain stable with no growth for the next five years. Despite these trends, the number of offenders aged 55 or older has nearly doubled during the same time period. At the close of 2017, the agency held more than 19,000 such offenders, who now comprise more than 13 percent of the total TDCJ population.

Few prisons were intentionally designed to house older offenders, and the challenges presented by an aging prison population require innovative solutions for certain aspects of their supervision. To help support the growing population of elderly offenders whose medical needs cannot be met in a general population environment, TDCJ and the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, with funding support provided through the Legislature, has created 163 additional “sheltered housing” beds at the Carole Young, Jester III and Telford units.

Photo of offenders sitting around a table playing dominos. Two offenders are sitting in wheelchairs that are visible.
Offenders on the sheltered housing wing of the Jester III Unit gather to play dominos.

Several factors have contributed to the rising number of incarcerated elderly, the first being the overall aging American population. Since 1970, the median age for Americans has gone up by 10 years, and that increase has been reflected in the prison population. Secondly, more offenders enter prison at an older age and serve long sentences. Most of TDCJ’s 19,000 geriatric offenders are incarcerated for violent crime, and more than 5,300 were 55 or older when they committed the offense. Their average length of sentence is 30 years, with many serving life. These trends are expected to continue and the number of geriatric offenders is predicted to climb even higher.

When considering prison health care costs, it’s important to understand that offenders typically feel the effects of aging sooner than most people. Dr. Lannette Linthicum, director of TDCJ’s Health Services Division, explained. “In Texas, we consider anyone age 55 years or older as a geriatric offender, because their physiological age tends to exceed their chronological age by ten years. If they’re 55, they usually have the physiology of a 65-year-old, due to things such as lack of preventive health care, and behaviors such as alcohol and IV drug abuse.”

Offenders have higher rates of cardiac disease, high blood pressure, hepatitis C, diabetes and other chronic diseases, and often suffer from comorbidities - the simultaneous presence of two chronic ailments. In 2016, offenders age 55 and older accounted for more than 43 percent of hospital and specialty service costs. Geriatric offenders are estimated to access in-prison health care services at nearly five times the rate of the rest of the inmate population.

Dr. Linthicum explained the need for specialized housing, saying “Sheltered housing is for vulnerable offender populations who cannot function well to regular prison operations. This includes the geriatric population, who need additional accommodations. Unit schedules are regimented and allow a certain amount of time for things like showering, eating and getting from one place to another. Many geriatric offenders use an assistive walking device, so they are not able to get to the shower and return to their cell in the allotted time. It’s an issue if an individual cannot function or keep pace with normal unit operations.”

Linthicum also pointed out that “TDCJ has sheltered housing not only for geriatric offenders, but also for developmentally disabled/intellectually impaired and mobility-impaired/physically handicapped offenders. It’s a way to protect vulnerable offenders from younger, stronger inmates, while accommodating their physical and behavioral needs.”

TDCJ’s Facilities Division oversaw the physical alterations needed to create sheltered housing, and Facilities Division Director Frank Inmon described the project requirements. “We were responsible for making sure everything in the sheltered housing areas complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards: ramps, grab bars, everything. Texas Correctional Industries (TCI) provided all of the plumbing fixtures, bunks, metal cubicles, and all the hardware. Facilities installed the necessary electrical power and wiring systems for x-ray and dialysis machines.”

Photo of medical treatment room with technician tending to patient in foreground. Other patients, beds and medical staff in background.
Patient Care Technician Jose Lopez monitors patients as they receive dialysis treatment.

Adapting the facilities for elderly offenders presented different challenges. “Because the Young Unit’s sheltered housing area had been used as a medical suite, we only had to take out some walls, remove all the surgical equipment and install some electrical outlets. We installed extra toilet fixtures and showers, but that project was pretty easy,” Inmon explained.

“The sheltered housing areas at the Jester III and Telford units were not set up as dormitories, so those required a lot of work. We had to put in offices, treatment rooms, plumbing fixtures and toilets. TCI built all the cubicles and provided the bunks, and Facilities laid out the design, put in the electricity, installed all the equipment, and put in windows and security doors. There was even a small kitchen area, so Jester III and Telford were major renovations.”

Inmon commended agency staff for getting the new sheltered housing online in only a few months. “It was a big task to collaborate with everybody and meet the scheduled time lines. Typically, a project like this would take nine months because you have to complete the design, then procure materials from a variety of sources, then do the build. We were able to finish the work in about five months, thanks largely to facilities maintenance staff from two different regions who worked seven days a week until the projects were completed.”

The Continuum of Care for aging offenders

TDCJ offenders live in the general population as long as they are independently able to perform the activities of daily living (ADL) and keep up with the unit’s schedule.

Some aging offenders move to a geriatric facility like the Duncan Unit, where offenders need only limited operational and physical accommodations. Linthicum noted “The mission of the entire Duncan Unit was changed to a geriatric facility when we started seeing the increased need for geriatric care. Duncan provides ambulatory and outpatient medical services, supported by a telemedicine program and health care staff who are on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Offenders who begin to show signs of infirmity due to age but don’t need help with their ADLs move into geriatric sheltered housing such as Telford or Jester III. The Young Unit sheltered housing is used to provide convalescent care to offenders who have been discharged from Hospital Galveston but are not ready to go back to their unit housing.

To be considered for sheltered housing, offenders must meet security requirements and be approved for reassignment in accordance with TDCJ classification policies. Offenders must also be able to independently perform all activities of daily living. Special-needs offenders may submit a request for placement into one of the agency’s sheltered housing facilities through the Health Services Liaison. Admission into sheltered housing depends on space availability and agreement between the unit physician or mid-level practitioner, and the Health Services Liaison.

Geriatric sheltered housing such as Telford or Jester III provides an alternative for offenders who might otherwise have an extended stay in a unit infirmary bed, which are also needed for non-geriatric offenders who are not terminally ill and require hospital-quality care. Sending these prisoners to free-world facilities for treatment is a costly option, with the population of offenders age 55 and older accounting for 40 percent of these expensive hospital visits in 2017.

As part of the Correctional Managed Healthcare System, UTMB and Texas Tech operate infirmaries in units across the state. Linthicum noted that “This network of infirmary beds allows us to provide all levels of care necessary for the aging offender population and delays the need to move offenders into higher, more acute levels of care.”

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National Crime Victims' Rights Week begins April 8

National Crime Victims' Rights Week 2018 banner. 'Expand the Circle; Reach all victims.' April 8-14, 2018.

Every year in April, the National Crime Victims' Rights Week (NCVRW) is held in order to promote victims' rights and honor crime victims and their advocates. The theme of the 2018 NCVRW, which will take place from April 8 to 14, is “Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims.”

The 2018 NCVRW will emphasize the importance of inclusion in victim services. This year’s theme addresses ways to ensure every crime victim has access to services and support, and how professionals, organizations, and communities can work together to support all crime victims.

Victim Services Division Director Angie McCown affirmed the agency’s longstanding support for those who have suffered the direct effects of crime, saying “TDCJ Victim Services is committed to connecting crime victims to resources and educating them on their rights under the law. This is a team effort. We will continue to expand our circle of reach so that all victims have a voice in the criminal justice system.”

Observation of NCVRW began in 1975, and six years later President Reagan established it as an annual event observed across the nation. NCVRW organizers work to protect and improve the rights and help provide the resources crime victims need to rebuild their lives. Since 1984, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) has provided a source of funding for victims' compensation through criminal fines, penalties and forfeitures. The VOCA funding has helped provide critical services to those who have suffered the effects of violent crime.

In 1993, TDCJ established a Victim Services section in the agency's Parole Division so crime victims could be notified about their offender’s parole status. In 1997, the agency's mission statement was amended to include "to assist victims of crime" and the Victim Services section was elevated to divisional status. Today, the Victim Services Division continues to grow, providing new and innovative programs to help support crime victims.

It’s important to keep in mind that, while Victim Services staff works directly to support crime victims, every TDCJ employee contributes to this effort by securely incarcerating offenders, delivering effective rehabilitation programs and providing appropriate supervision to former offenders as they transition back into the community. Acknowledging their support, VSD Director McCown commented “I feel privileged to work with everyone at TDCJ and I appreciate all that you do each and every day to make a difference in the lives of victims.”

For more information, including resource guides and observation ceremonies, visit the NCVRW and the Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse websites. The NCVRW is supported by the Office for Victims of Crime, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

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Annual Fallen Officers Memorial ceremony to be held May 11

The 19th Annual Fallen Officers Memorial ceremony is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. on May 11 at the Sesquicentennial Plaza on the grounds of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. The ceremony, held in honor of correctional officers and employees who have lost their lives in the line of duty, will take place during the 2018 National Correctional Officers and Employees Week.

Photo of the sesquicentenial plaza monument in Huntsville, Texas at sunset. Flags to left and right of monument are at half-staff.

In addition to the Huntsville gathering, similar ceremonies will be held to honor the courage, integrity, perseverance and professional commitment of the men and women who work for TDCJ and other criminal justice agencies, jails, prisons and community corrections facilities throughout the nation.

TDCJ divisions and departments are encouraged to celebrate the week by hosting luncheons and other recognition activities in appreciation of the work done by agency employees.

This year marks the 34th annual celebration of National Correctional Officers and Employees Week, which was established by congressional resolution in 1984. Coverage of the memorial ceremony and Correctional Officers and Employees Week will be included in the next issue of Connections.

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Desel named Public Information Office director

CJ Public Information Office director Jeremy Desel
Jeremy Desel

Jeremy Desel has been selected as director of the Public Information Office for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, effective February 20.

Desel comes to TDCJ with many years of media experience, beginning his career in 1994 as a television news reporter in Maine, then moving to Oregon where he worked as a TV reporter and news anchor. After moving to Texas, Desel worked for 16 years as a senior reporter for KHOU TV in Houston, where he earned a national Edward R. Murrow award and 21 EMMY awards. He most recently worked as a Director of Communications for NRG EVgo.

Desel graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in 1991 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication. He also holds a Master of Arts in Mass Communication from Emerson College in Boston.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier commended the selection, noting that “Desel’s significant journalism and media experience will serve our agency well as the new Director of Public Information.”

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Balandran named director of Interstate Compact

w TDCJ Interstate Compact director Tina Balandran
Tina Balandran

Ernestina ‘Tina’ Balandran has been selected to be director of TDCJ’s Interstate Compact for Probation and Parole Supervision, effective February 1, 2018.

Balandran has more than 25 years of experience with TDCJ, beginning her agency career as a clerk with the Parole Division. She advanced through several job positions, and most recently worked as Program Supervisor V with the Reentry and Integration Division.

Pamela Thielke, director of TDCJ’s Parole Division, congratulated Balandran on her selection, saying “Tina’s commitment to TDCJ, along with her strong skill set and integrity, will serve the agency well.”

Balandran holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Huston-Tillotson University, and is working toward an advanced degree in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management at Sam Houston State University.

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Clark selected for ITD deputy director

CJ Information Technology Division deputy director Tina Clark
Tina Clark

Tina Clark has been selected as deputy director of TDCJ’s Information Technology Division, effective February 1.

Clark has 20 years of experience with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, beginning her career as an accounting clerk in the Health Services Division. In 2006, she joined the Information Technology Division as a systems analyst, and most recently filled the role of project manager supervisor for ITD, where she oversaw the agency’s directory services consolidation and migration to Office365.

Clark is a certified Project Management Professional, holds an ITIL v3 certification and was recognized for her work with the 2014 ITD Leadership Award.

TDCJ Chief Information Officer Melvin Neely commended Clark’s selection, saying “Tina brings an extensive background in Information Technology to her new position.”

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Gonzales named Accounting and Business Services director

ew TDCJ Accounting and Business Services director Jennifer Gonzales
Jennifer Gonzales

Jennifer Gonzales was selected as the new Accounting and Business Services director for TDCJ’s Business and Finance Division, effective December 2017.

Gonzales has more than 20 years’ experience working in Texas government, and began her TDCJ career as a clerk in the Human Resources Division. She moved on to become a purchaser for Contracts and Procurement and, in 2002, advanced to budget analyst in the Budget Department. Gonzales has served as the TDCJ’s deputy budget director since 2011.

As director of Accounting and Business Services, Gonzales oversees critical business activities such as accounts payable, cashier and travel reimbursements, accounting and financial reporting, and capitol asset management.

Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Sam Houston State University.

TDCJ Chief Financial Officer Jerry McGinty congratulated Jennifer, saying “Ms. Gonzales has been a committed leader for our agency for many years. I appreciate her strong desire to help develop and mentor those around her, and her passion for accuracy and excellence.”

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