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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
May/June 2015
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Legislative update for TDCJ employees from the executive director

By Brad Livingston

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

The 84th Legislature concluded its recent session on June 1, and I am pleased to report that policymakers took decisive action to address issues of great importance to the TDCJ and our employees. There are summaries of these actions on the TDCJ website, however, there are a few critical decisions I want to highlight.

Normally I would begin any discussion of a recently concluded legislative session by discussing the appropriations specifically earmarked for TDCJ and the men and women working for the agency, but the action taken by the Legislature to secure the long-term fiscal viability of the pension program serving all state employees must be recognized as an outstanding achievement meriting our deepest appreciation.

Prior to the legislative session, representatives of the Employees Retirement System told the Legislature that action was needed to ensure the long-term stability of the employee pension program, and emphasized that any delay would make potential solutions more costly for both the state and employees. The least costly option for the Legislature, at least in the short term, would have been to change employee retirement benefits in a way that would have negatively impacted both current and future employees.

The virtually unanimous decision of the Legislature was to reject options that would harm employees and to instead appropriate the funding necessary to make the pension program actuarially sound. I cannot overstate the significance of this action for all state employees, and I want to personally thank Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Straus, Representatives Otto, Turner, Flynn and Murphy, Senators Nelson, Huffman and Whitmire, and all the members of the Texas Legislature for their support.

Employee pay raises are another issue where the Legislature took decisive and positive action. All state employees received a 2.5 percent salary increase to offset the additional employee contributions necessary to adequately fund the pension program. I regret most state employees will not see an increase in their take home pay despite the salary increase, but maintaining retirement benefits was the highest priority. However, many TDCJ employees, specifically correctional officers, correctional laundry and food service managers, ranking correctional officers, and parole officers, will receive an additional 8 percent pay raise effective September 1, 2015. The pay raise will benefit not only the men and women serving in these positions but will also enhance agency operations by helping our recruitment efforts and assisting in the retention of experienced employees. Once again, I thank the state’s policy makers for their decisions benefitting all state employees and those benefitting TDCJ employees in particular.

In addition, the Legislature appropriated an additional $600 million to the employee group health insurance program in order to maintain the state’s share of employee and retiree health care costs.

I also want to highlight the operational funding provided to TDCJ. Funding to maintain current operations, appropriations for badly needed renovations at aging facilities and to continue adding comprehensive video surveillance systems to more units, addressing the increasing cost of offender health care, expanding treatment and diversion programs in probation and parole, as well as additional reentry funding are all critical to accomplishing the mission of the agency and cannot be taken for granted.

I do not want to diminish the importance of other policy decisions made by the Legislature. A summary of certain criminal justice related legislation is also provided on the TDCJ website.

I hope all TDCJ employees will join with me in thanking the governor, the legislative leadership and your local state representative and senator for their efforts during the 84th regular session and for making the legislative session a tremendous success for employees as well as the agency.

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Honoring our Fallen Officers

On May 8, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice held its 16th Annual Fallen Officers' Memorial Ceremony at the Texas Prison Museum's Sesquicentennial Plaza, honoring the men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty. This year's event was especially significant as TDCJ officers Christopher Davis and Eligio Garcia were added to the list of honorees.


TDCJ officer standing guard over fallen officers' table at 2015 fallen officers' memorial ceremony

TDCJ Correctional Officer V Derek Dennis stands guard at the Missing Officers' Table at the Fallen Officers' Memorial ceremony in Huntsville. The table represents survivor’s enduring memories of those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston served as keynote speaker, noting that "This ceremony is a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice that individuals like Officer Davis and Officer Garcia make while performing daily acts of heroism. Correctional officers are courageous professionals who work in one of the toughest jobs of all." The executive director went on to say, "This ceremony, and similar ones held at units throughout the state, serves to demonstrate the respect we, as an agency, have for these heroes. It deepens our resolve to always keep them in our memory."

On January 15, correctional officers Christopher Davis, Eligio Garcia and Jason Self were transporting offenders from the Middleton Unit in Abilene to the Sanchez Unit in El Paso when their bus hit a patch of ice. The vehicle left the roadway and collided with a moving train. Officers Davis and Garcia died as a result of the crash. Correctional Officer Jason Self is still recovering from his injuries. Correctional Institutions Division Director Bill Stephens commented on the TDCJ officers lost in the tragic accident, as well as the other criminal justice professionals who gave their lives in the line of duty, saying, "We are here to honor the memory of TDCJ employees and all correctional workers across the nation who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and well-being of others. We recognize the loss of each, and acknowledge that each is worthy of commendation for courageous and dedicated service."


TDCJ correctional officers preparing to plant live oak tree in honor of fallen officer at 2015 fallen officers' memorial ceremony

Captain Luis Hernandez, left and Sergeant Claudia Loera, right, stand behind one of two live oaks planted on the grounds of the Sesquicentennial Plaza in honor of officers Davis and Garcia. The plaza now contains 70 trees, each a living memorial to a fallen TDCJ colleague.

Seventy live oak trees now dot the landscape surrounding the Sesquicentennial Plaza, each a memorial to a fallen officer. Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Oliver Bell presented two new trees to the Living Memorial as members of the Davis and Garcia families looked on, and as he presented the trees he told those assembled, "As you walk through this memorial, now and in the future, I ask that you don’t feel sorrow, instead feel joy and pride for the individuals we're remembering. Their lives had purpose, they left a mark and their memories live on."

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

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Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week begins July 12

During this year's Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week, which runs from July 12 to 18, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will recognize corrections professionals who supervise offenders in our communities. TDCJ and Community Supervision and Corrections Departments have more than 1,400 parole officers and 3,200 probation officers supervising thousands of offenders throughout the state, and their work is vital to successful rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into society.

TDCJ Parole Division Director Stuart Jenkins expressed his appreciation for the loyal service of officers within his division, noting that, "On a daily basis, parole officers exhibit dedication and integrity by working one-on-one with their offenders to assist them in becoming productive members of society and to hold them accountable. These officers work diligently to fulfill an essential responsibility to promote public safety and prevent future crimes."

American Probation and Parole Association 2015 Supervision Week graphic art

TDCJ Community Justice Assistance Division Director Carey Welebob acknowledged the critical importance and dedicated service of probation officers who work at CSCDs, saying, "Community supervision is at the forefront of public safety in Texas, and I truly believe that. Community supervision officers in the state work tirelessly to keep the public safe, while helping offenders overcome challenges so they might become productive, law-abiding citizens. CSCD staffs are dedicated and knowledgeable, and work continuously to improve the justice system so there might be fewer crime victims in our communities."

TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston joined division directors Jenkins and Welebob in expressing appreciation to those supervising offenders in the community, describing them as "dedicated public servants who, like correctional staff, law enforcement and first responders, work in difficult and sometimes hazardous conditions and, by doing so, make a vital contribution to public safety."

During National Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week, agency parole offices will host a variety of activities in honor of their officers' service. More information about National Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week can be found at the American Probation and Parole Association website.

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Darrington Seminary graduates first class of ministers

In May, the inaugural class of 33 TDCJ offenders graduated from the Darrington Extension of the J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies.

The groundwork for the seminary program began when the Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee John Whitmire, then-Senator Dan Patrick and TDCJ officials visited the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, then home to the only in-prison seminary in the nation. Once considered one of the most dangerous prisons in the country, Angola’s culture began to change when the seminary program was introduced.

With the support of the Legislature, TDCJ expanded its offender rehabilitation programming by creating the Darrington Seminary, which accepted its first class of 40 students in the fall of 2011. TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston spoke at the graduation ceremony in May and underscored the unique nature of this program, saying, "We have a lot of programs within TDCJ, but this one is an absolutely exciting one - very different from what you’ll see in most prisons across the country."


Darrington seminary graduate sitting at the 2015 seminary graduation ceremony with his diploma

Seminary graduates receive a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Most rehabilitative programs in prison target offenders who will be releasing into the community, with the intention of making them productive, law-abiding citizens and reducing recidivism. More than two-thirds of the Darrington Seminary students are convicted of murder, with the remainder serving long sentences for aggravated assault. Offenders accepted into the program must have at least 10 years remaining on their sentence before they're eligible for parole and many will spend a significant portion of their lives behind bars.

With their new degree in hand, a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, these offender-ministers are only beginning their journey toward redemption. They will now transfer to six maximum-security units located throughout the state where they will work to spread God's word. As Field Ministers, their focus will be to mentor and tutor other offenders who will be returning to the community and still have a chance to lead productive lives. Seminary graduates will lead discipleship classes and Bible studies, minister to hospice and hospital patients, and offer grief counseling. They will also work with the agency's unit chaplains to conduct worship services.

Darrington Unit Warden Mark Jones has seen how this pro-social perspective has changed the culture at his maximum-security prison, noting, "Their faith in Christ will encourage others to become better individuals by leading them closer to God." He believes that by sharing their testimony, these recent graduates can provide hope and serve as a good example to other offenders, demonstrating that anyone can change to become a better person. Jones continues, "The opportunity has now arrived for them to preach what they've practiced for the last four years. It's time for them to show that they can be humble, obedient and can treat others with the utmost respect."


Darrington seminary graduates singing a hymn at the 2015 seminary graduation ceremony

Offenders graduating from the Darrington Unit Seminary sing To God Be the Glory during their commencement ceremony.

All applicants are screened by Chaplaincy staff and members of the Southwestern Seminary before being accepted into the program and are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct. Since its inception, the seminary has added a class of 40 new students each year, and current enrollment stands at 185. No taxpayer money is used to support the program. Private donations pay for the salaries of the professors as well as computers, books and materials.

Executive Director Livingston's closing remarks to the recent graduating class described the positive effect this program will have throughout the agency, stating, "Before you know it, future classes will graduate and you will have peers in every unit throughout the state. Imagine the profound impact God will have through you and your peers."

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TDCJ, TxDOT help protect community during Memorial Day floods


Sandbags standing by to be transported to areas threatened by floods in May, 2015

Sandbags standby for transportation to flood-threatened communities. TDCJ offenders worked to fill more than 48,000 sandbags.

In early May, the Texas Department of Transportation asked TDCJ for help filling sandbags for use as a defense against anticipated flooding. At the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, 20 outside trusty offenders filled nearly 700 sandbags in the first hour of operations. Ultimately, TDCJ offenders from more than a half dozen TDCJ units used almost 75 tons of sand to produce more than 48,000 sandbags.

The sandbags were loaded onto pallets at TxDOT locations and distributed to flood-threatened communities along the Trinity River to help deal with the unprecedented rainfall Texas received during the month of May, which culminated in severe flooding during the Memorial Day weekend. May 2015 set a record as the wettest month in Texas history, with an average of 8.81 inches of rain across the state. Many areas had to deal with rainfall totals of 15 to 20 inches.


TDCJ offenders working to fill sandbags to help with flood relief

Nearly 75 tons of state-provided sand were used to protect Texas homes and property during the May floods.

"This is just one way that TDCJ shows its commitment to helping the citizens of the state of Texas in their time of need," said Correctional Institutions Division Director Bill Stephens. "The agency stands ready to answer the call for further assistance should it be requested." Stephens also noted that it’s not just the public who benefits from TDCJ's relief efforts, saying the offenders who participate also benefit from the knowledge their labor is helping people in need.


TDCJ offenders weld cable slings to be used in flood rescue and response efforts

Offenders at the Huntsville Unit's Mechanical Department fabricate “Molly Hogan” response-and-rescue slings using materials provided by the State Operations Center.

In addition to providing support for sandbag production, TDCJ's Manufacturing and Logistics Division helped the State Operations Center manufacture cable slings for emergency rescue and response operations. These slings, referred to as "Molly Hogans," were fabricated from SOC-provided materials at the Huntsville Unit Mechanical Department, and transported by the Texas Forest Service to McGregor Texas. The factory, which had no prior experience with the product, produced 544 of the cable slings in only four days, completing their work on Friday, May 29.

The Pack and Luther Units also assisted the City of Navasota with flood response, providing work squads to help clear downed trees and clean up debris.


Pallet of cable slings produced by TDCJ offenders, to be used in flood rescue and response efforts

TDCJ offenders helped manufacture more than 500 flood response-and-rescue slings in four days.

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Chairman's Fitness Challenge 2015: third-quarter results

Oliver J. Bell, TBCJ Chairman

The third-quarter Challenge "Play Ball," which ran from April to May, was a tremendous success. Participating employees collectively accumulated 19,273,797 points during the quarter. These are impressive results!

Congratulations to all participating departments and offices, and to all our competitors. Thank you for your continued support of this fitness initiative.

  FIRST SECOND THIRD
Division 1:
19 or fewer employees
Board of Criminal Justice and Austin Executive Administration Dayton District Parole Office Executive Director's Office
Division 2:
20 to 39 employees
Prison and Jail Operations - CID

Office of the General Counsel

Parole Division Region III
Division 3:
40 to 99 employees
State Counsel for Offenders Health Services Division Administrative Review and Risk Management Division
Division 4:
100 to 199 employees
Information Technology Division Correctional Training Administration Glossbrenner
Unit - CID
Division 5:
200 to 299 employees
Cole State Jail - CID Facilities Division Boyd Unit - CID
Division 6:
300 plus employees
Manufacturing and Logistics Division Jester IV Unit - CID Clements Unit - CID
Division 7: Windham School District (WSD) WSD West Texas Region WSD North Texas Region WSD South Texas Region

 

Gold and Platinum Challenges

During the third quarter, Gold Challenge participants had to earn 1,000 points during each week of the challenge, and Platinum Challenge participants were required to earn at least 2,500 points per week. Dustin Lafon, a Correctional Training Academy sergeant, earned the most points among the agency’s 124 Platinum Challengers, and Gail Sparacino-Garcia, a Windham School District counselor at the Lychner State Jail, was the point leader among 276 Gold Challenge participants.

Click on the links below for complete lists of successful Gold and Platinum Challenge participants.

Gold Challenge participants

Platinum Challenge participants

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star bulletAgency News

Legislative update for TDCJ employees from the executive director

Honoring our Fallen Officers

Pretrial, Probation and
Parole Supervision Week begins July 12

Darrington Seminary graduates first class of ministers

TDCJ, TxDOT help protect community during Memorial Day floods

Chairman's Fitness Challenge 2015: third-quarter results

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star bullet Saluting Employees