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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
May/June 2016
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Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston retires in August

Editor's Note: TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston will retire in August after 19 years with the agency and nearly 12 years as Executive Director. He is one of the longest serving executive directors in the agency’s history. Livingston has received the Texas Public Employees Association’s Agency Administrator of the Year Award four times, and is also the recipient of both the American Corrections Association’s E.R. Cass Award, which recognizes dedication and outstanding contribution during the course of a career, and the Association of State Correctional Administrators’ Michael Francke Award for Excellence, given to the individual recognized as their Outstanding Director of Corrections. Prior to retiring, he spoke about his career and what the future might hold for him and the TDCJ.
 

Did you think you would serve as TDCJ's executive director
for 12 years?


TDCJ executive director Brad Livingston

Brad Livingston

I didn't have a specific time horizon in mind, and realized early on that the demands and responsibilities of this position require you to consider both today’s challenges as well as long-term agency priorities simultaneously. It is not possible to lead this organization effectively if you are focused on your tenure. With the benefit of hindsight, I recognize now how uncommon it is to serve in this role for nearly 12 years. I attribute that longevity to the strong leadership team we have assembled. It has been a tremendous honor to lead this team and agency as a whole.

 

Many things have probably changed in criminal justice during your tenure with the agency, what would you say has changed the most?

Going back to when I started in state government, I would say the state of the Texas criminal justice system has changed dramatically. In the late eighties and early nineties there was a crisis atmosphere with rapid offender population growth, prison and jail overcrowding, a "revolving door" release policy and crime rates much higher than today. In our system today, the offender population has stabilized and declined, we are not overcrowded, the parole board makes release decisions that are no longer driven by population pressures, and crime rates have fallen substantially. The system is stable and in equilibrium. These trends did not reverse overnight and reflect the impact of the policy and operational shift to diversionary, rehabilitation, treatment and reentry programs. Texas is fortunate to have a group of committed policymakers and agency professionals pulling together to initiate change and improve our criminal justice system.

 

What’s changed the most at TDCJ?

TDCJ truly functions as a single agency now, with the probation, prison, and parole functions, treatment and reentry, as well as those providing critical support services working together effectively as a team with a common goal. When I started with the agency in 1997, the merger of prison, parole and probation was relatively new, and I think coordination, communication and cooperation among all the different functions was still a work in progress. I am extremely proud of the way our managers and leaders have embraced change and now view our criminal justice responsibilities from a big picture systemic perspective.

 

During your tenure as executive director, what accomplishments are you most proud of?

The state and the agency have accomplished so much, but focusing on the big picture, I think reductions in the size of the offender population and recidivism have to be among the state’s biggest achievements, and it’s been great to be a part of that. Successfully implementing the expansion of treatment, diversion and reentry programs funded by the legislature is something we can all be proud of, as is achieving agency-wide accreditation from the American Correctional Association.

The ongoing expansion of correctional officer training and leadership development programs within the agency is something of great personal interest to me, but working with state policymakers while they substantially increased correctional officer and parole officer salaries and took action to maintain a sound pension program for all state employees has been a particular highlight. I can't thank state legislators and Governors Abbott and Perry enough for their support.

Reducing the size of the administrative segregation population, meeting PREA requirements, implementing a risk assessment tool system-wide, receiving positive evaluations during the Sunset review process and adding video surveillance systems and contraband detection equipment to many units are other agency accomplishments also noteworthy.

 

I am sure there were disappointments along the way, what were some of those?

When a TDCJ employee is killed in the line of duty, it is more than a disappointment; it is a tragedy, one that obviously affects their family, friends and co-workers most. It also impacts the entire agency in a profound way. Everyone in TDCJ from our frontline staff to the executive director is impacted by the tragedy. I thank God such incidents are relatively few and far between, but that doesn't make their loss any less painful. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Everything else pales in comparison to the death of an employee, but from an operational prospective, I think correctional officer staffing has been the biggest ongoing challenge during my tenure. Recently we have made a lot of progress filling vacant positions, but it has been a persistent and cyclical issue over the years. Our dedicated and hard-working staff does an outstanding job; they work overtime when necessary to ensure safety and security, but continued improvements in staffing would make their demanding job a little less difficult.

 

What other challenges do you see in the future for the agency?

The ongoing challenges of safely and securely operating prisons, supervising offenders in the community, and treatment and reentry cannot be overstated. What our staff does routinely is not routine at all, at least not for most state employees. Each day is a challenge, and each day thousands of staff contribute to the agency's success. The challenge will be to build on that success.

Every state agency is affected by economic conditions, and that won’t change in the future. Sometimes policymakers are confronted with more difficult budget situations than others, and agencies may be asked to do more with less. However, legislators have been committed to maintaining the critical functions of this agency, and I anticipate that to continue.

Ultimately the challenges will be met, as they have in the past, by the TDCJ's dedicated workforce.

 

What are your plans for the future?

I don't have any specific plans as of now. I intend to be actively involved in something worthwhile. I'm not ready to quit working.

 

Anything else you would like to add?

I want to say again what an honor it has been to lead this agency. The men and women who work for TDCJ are unsung heroes and dedicated public servants, every one of whom makes a vital contribution to public safety. Whether you work in one of our units, supervise offenders in the community or perform one of the many functions that support those who do, you are performing a public service which makes Texas a safer place to live. I am proud to have been associated with you, and you should be proud of the contributions you make to public safety.

I also want to assure our employees there is an outstanding leadership team in place who will continue to guide the agency in the future. They will build upon and improve upon past successes to make the agency even more effective.

And I just want to say "thank you" one more time. Thank you to each and every TDCJ employee. Thanks for your public service. I deeply appreciate it.

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Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week begins July 17

american probation and parole association 2016 logo for pretrial, probation and parole supervision week. 'the future of justice reinvestment'

This year's Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week takes place July 17 to 23. During this time, TDCJ recognizes the work of more than 1,400 parole officers and 3,200 probation officers whose work is vital to successful rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into society. There are about 88,000 offenders under active parole supervision, and more than 240,000 felony and misdemeanor offenders in Texas who are directly supervised by probation officers.

TDCJ Parole Division Director Stuart Jenkins expressed appreciation for the officers of the parole division, saying, "In order to successfully reintegrate an offender into society, parole officers must be patient and deeply committed to our mission of ensuring public safety. The work done by these officers helps keep the public safe while assisting offenders in their efforts to become honest, productive members of our communities."

TDCJ Community Justice Assistance Division Director Carey Welebob commended the dedicated service of probation officers who work at Community Supervision and Corrections Departments, saying, "Throughout Texas, people who work at CSCDs are dedicated to supervising offenders in their own communities where they have the support of family, friends and others. When successful, these offenders are diverted from the path leading to incarceration, and can turn their lives around to become law-abiding citizens."

TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston wholeheartedly agreed with division directors Jenkins and Welebob, saying, "Parole and probation officers throughout Texas deserve to be recognized and honored. Their job duties, while difficult and sometimes hazardous, are critical to achieving the agency's mission to maintain public safety and reintegrate offenders. They are unsung heroes, as are correctional staff, law enforcement and first responders."

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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Disaster preparedness exercise delivers quick benefits during historic floods

Once a year, TDCJ’s Office of Incident Management holds an Emergency Management Simulation Exercise, which allows the agency to practice emergency response procedures in preparation for an actual natural disaster such as a hurricane or flood. This year’s drill, held at the TDCJ Incident Command Center in Huntsville on May 25, brought together a team of key players from all divisions of the agency with the goal of familiarizing them with the agency’s emergency action plan, identifying capabilities and needs during a natural disaster, and validating or modifying working procedures.

The drill began 72 hours before a simulated Category 4 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast. Participants were briefed on the situation with details such as the size, speed, and projected path of the hurricane, along with a list of TDCJ units and facilities in the storm’s path. More than 70 agency employees were gathered in the Command Center, tasked with tracking the storm, assessing the proper actions and, if needed, coordinating the transfer of offenders to safe locations.


Photo of CID Director and Incident Commander of the emergency management exercise Lorie Davis meeting with emergency management team members to evaluate the agency response to a simulated Category 4 hurricane strike.

CID Director and Incident Commander of the emergency management exercise Lorie Davis (left) meets with emergency management team members to evaluate the agency response to a simulated Category 4 hurricane strike.

Incident Manager Kirk Moss, organizer of the training exercise, emphasized the need for such simulations, saying, “The objective of the drill is to familiarize everyone with their role in the process and open communication across the different departments that will be working together during a real disaster. It’s important that they’re comfortable with their role and the logistics of such an event.”

The agency’s emergency preparedness was tested only days later when unprecedented floods overwhelmed the lower Brazos River Basin. Heavy rains throughout April and May had saturated the ground and filled upstream reservoirs. When additional heavy rains began to fall across the Brazos River watershed on Memorial Day weekend and continued during the week, river levels began to rise.

Moss and his team began monitoring the river levels on Friday, and by the time of a Saturday morning conference call with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, river levels were forecast to rise another two feet above flood level. By Sunday morning, the Incident Command Center was up and running around the clock and the agency was preparing to evacuate approximately 2,600 offenders from the Stringfellow and Terrell units. Initially, offenders at the Ramsey Unit Trusty Camp were only transferred into the main unit, but by Friday, June 3, as floodwaters continued to threaten the area, the Ramsey Unit was also evacuated. Overall, more than 4,100 offenders were moved to 19 units throughout the state.

As simulated in the emergency response exercise which took place just days prior to the flood, the actual disaster response required successful collaboration and communication among many TDCJ divisions and departments. Key players included, but are not limited to:

 

Eventually, the Brazos River reached its third highest level in history, topping out at more than 52 feet, far above its flood stage of 43 feet. Moss estimates that TDCJ filled and distributed more than twelve thousand sandbags around the affected units and peripheral buildings, which helped minimize the effects of the flood. The most serious damage occurred at the Region III Training Academy, which sustained water damage to one of its buildings, the maintenance and agriculture buildings on the perimeter of the Ramsey Unit, and the Terrell Unit Trusty Camp.


Photo of correctional officers escorting offenders from the Ramsey Unit to waiting busses for transport to a safe location during recent flooding.

TDCJ evacuated more than 4,100 offenders from the Ramsey, Stringfellow and Terrell units due to severe flooding over Memorial Day weekend. Here, correctional officers escort offenders from the Ramsey Unit to waiting busses for transport to a safe location.

At the June meeting of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston described the agency response to this event and the employees who responded, saying, “What this agency did was a monumental task that involved virtually every division and function within this agency. The operational strength and leadership of this team are extremely impressive and I’d like to take a moment to recognize the staff that was engaged, committed and operationally driven to keeping our offenders and our staff safe. This is an accomplishment others would think impossible.”

No staff or offenders were injured during the evacuation.

Correctional Institutions Division Director Lorie Davis commended the outstanding work performed by disaster response staff, saying, “The agency faced many challenges during this event. The commitment people displayed to keep everyone safe and to embrace the perseverance it took to accomplish each task was phenomenal.”


Aerial photo of flood waters surrounding the TDCJ Stringfellow Unit

An aerial photo shows floodwaters surrounding the perimeter of the Stringfellow Unit.

On June 11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released a declaration summary regarding the severe weather and flooding event, and President Obama granted Governor Greg Abbott's federal disaster request for assistance for all 12 counties affected by the recent flooding, including: Austin, Brazoria, Brazos, Fort Bend, Grimes, Hidalgo, Hood, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Travis, Waller and Washington.

Employees can obtain further information by visiting the Brazoria County website.

 

Be prepared for a hurricane emergency
If you live where tropical storms might strike, you should be prepared to take action in the event of a hurricane emergency.
The best way to avoid hurricanes is to get to a safe location; have an evacuation plan in place and take authorized evacuation orders seriously. Try to run from water and hide from wind, because even a low-category hurricane can produce a dangerous storm surge and flooding.
If you have to shelter in place, prepare a supply kit with the following items:
Several days' worth of drinkable water and nonperishable foods. Special foods for infants or the elderly. Personal toiletries and medicines. Blankets and pillows. First aid kit. Flashlight and batteries. Fully-charged cell phones. Battery-operated NOAA weather radio. Information from www.ready.gov can help with preparedness planning.
evacuation plan link to flash.org pdf laying out evactuation zones www.ready.gov link takes you to ready.gov website for preparedness planning

 

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Parole Division Director Stuart Jenkins announces retirement


Retiring TDCJ parole division director Stuart Jenkins

Stuart Jenkins

Longtime Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division administrator and current director Stuart Jenkins has announced his retirement effective August 31.

Jenkins has 34 years' experience in the field of criminal justice, having started his career with TDCJ in 1982 as a district parole officer in Houston. He has served in various management positions over the years, including regional director, section director and deputy director for Support Operations. He was named the Parole Division Director in 2007, where he oversaw operations of the second largest parole supervision authority in the United States, which includes 67 district parole offices across the state, supervision of more than 87,000 offenders released to parole and mandatory supervision, and the management of approximately 2,300 employees.

During his leadership tenure, programs and services were implemented that helped lead to a significant reduction in offender recidivism and parole revocations, the Parole Division received full accreditation from the American Corrections Association, parole officers received multiple pay raises from the Texas Legislature, parole officers began using the new Texas Risk Assessment System, and the number of halfway house beds increased, improving the chances for successful reintegration of offenders about to be released into the community.

Jenkins holds a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice from Stephen F. Austin State University. He is a past president for the Texas Corrections Association, and received the Dr. George J. Beto Hall of Honor award from the TCA in 2015. He is also a current member of the American Corrections Association and the American Probation and Parole Association.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston commented on the impact Jenkins has made during his career saying, "Stuart has provided exceptional leadership to the agency during his tenure. His commitment and dedication to our agency will have a positive lasting impact."

 

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Thielke named Parole Division director

New TDCJ parole division director Pamela Thielke
 
Pamela Thielke
 

Pamela Thielke has been selected to become director of TDCJ's Parole Division, effective July 15.

Thielke began her criminal justice career in the Parole Division in 1989 as a caseworker and, subsequently, a parole officer in Houston. She has worked as parole unit supervisor, program specialist and resource operations manager, parole supervisor, assistant region director and section director of Specialized Programs. She most recently held the position of deputy director of the Parole Division.

Thielke has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She also serves on the board of directors for the Texas Corrections Association and is an active member of American Probation and Parole Association.

TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston congratulated Thielke on her promotion saying, "Pam brings strong operational experience and proven leadership to her new position as Parole Division Director. Please welcome her as she assumes this new role."

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ARRM Director Morales to
retire in July


Retiring TDCJ administrative review and risk management division director Paul Morales

Paul Morales

Paul Morales, director of TDCJ's Administrative Review and Risk Management Division, has announced his retirement effective July 31.

Morales has 27 years' experience with TDCJ, having started with the agency as a correctional officer at the Terrell Unit in 1989. During his tenure he served in several positions, including sergeant, assistant warden and senior warden. In 2009, he was promoted to Correctional Institutions Division Region III Director, overseeing operations at 20 facilities in south Texas. He has served as Correctional Training and Staff Development director, deputy director of CID Management Operations and, most recently, division director for Administrative Review and Risk Management.

During Morales' tenure the ARRM Division strived to ensure the agency practices Enterprise Risk Management in order to address and manage a wide spectrum of potential hazards. The division also joined the National Public Risk Management Association, a professional association whose mission is to promote effective risk management as an essential component of public administration.

TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston congratulated him on his retirement saying, "Paul has provided leadership and strong operational oversight to the agency during his tenure. His commitment and dedication to our agency will have a positive lasting impact."

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Hirsch named deputy director of
CID Prison and Jail Operations

New TDCJ CID deputy director of prison and jail operaionts Billy Hirsch
 
Billy Hirsch
 

Billy Hirsch has been named Correctional Institutions Division Deputy Director of Prison and Jail Operations, effective June 1.

Hirsch has more than 29 years' experience with TDCJ, having started his career as a correctional officer in 1986 at the Ellis II (Estelle) Unit. While promoting through the ranks, Hirsch also worked at the Ferguson and Eastham units. In 2005 Hirsch became an assistant warden at the Polunsky Unit before being named warden first at the Goree Unit, then at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville. In 2014, Hirsch assumed the duties of deputy division director for TDCJ's Private Facility Contract Monitoring/Oversight Division.

Hirsch holds a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a master's degree in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management, both from Sam Houston State University.

Announcing the appointment, CID Director Lorie Davis noted, "Mr. Hirsch's strong operational oversight and vast knowledge of the agency will be an asset in his new position. Please join me in congratulating Billy on his promotion, and extend your support as he assumes this key leadership role for the agency."

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Echessa named deputy director of
CID Support Operations


New TDCJ CID deputy director of support operations Leonard Echessa

Leonard Echessa

Leonard Echessa has been named Correctional Institutions Division Deputy Director of Support Operations, effective June 1.

Echessa's TDCJ career began in March 1992 with his assignment as correctional officer at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville. He was recognized with a TDCJ Certificate of Commendation for Outstanding Correctional Supervisor in 2002, and served as a certified instructor for pre-service cadets at the Houston Community College through 2004. Echessa held the position of senior warden at the Jester IV Unit in Richmond before being named Region III Director for CID in 2013.

Echessa is a graduate of Sam Houston State University with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration.

CID Director Lorie Davis announced the selection saying, "Leonard’s strong leadership qualities, experience and commitment to our overall mission will serve him well in his new role. Please join me in congratulating him on his promotion."

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Agency News

 

 

 

 

 

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star bulletAgency News

Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston retires in August

Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week begins July 17

Disaster preparedness exercise delivers quick benefits during historic floods

Parole Division Director Stuart Jenkins announces retirement

Thielke named Parole Division director

ARRM Director Morales to retire in July

Hirsch named deputy director of CID Prison and Jail Operations

Echessa named deputy director of CID Support Operations

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