Prisons

Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has put a hefty $1 billion price tag on the proposed installation of air conditioning in all of its uncooled prisons. But some lawmakers eyed the cost with skepticism Thursday as the department has a history of greatly overestimating cooling costs.

National Museum of Health and Medicine/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

For Texas inmates who've been denied dentures by the state, a reprieve may now come thanks to 3D printing. This comes after an investigation by the Houston Chronicle earlier this year that detailed how difficult it was for many Texas state prisoners to get dentures they said they needed to do daily tasks, like eat and speak.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

From Texas Standard:

Over the span of 14 years, 22 prisoners died from extreme heat in state prisons across Texas. That number reflects only what state prison officials have acknowledged, though. According to human rights advocates and health experts who have visited those prisons, the number of heat deaths is much higher.

This week, a federal judge signed off on a deal that could be historic – and yet, other prisoners say it doesn't go far enough or fast enough.

Jennifer Whitney / Texas Tribune

Texas phased out the use of solitary confinement as punishment for prisoners this month, but it still plans to keep thousands alone in cells.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Jason Clark said the department has been moving in this direction for some time.

Flickr/Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Walking outside lately, you've probably noticed Texas' triple-digit temperatures. For those living or working in some of the state's prisons, going outside isn't even required to feel the heat, because some units do not have air-conditioning. Inmates have sued to get some relief, and this week they were handed a victory of sorts.

Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From Texas Standard:

A type of synthetic marijuana that is undetectable on standard drug tests is quickly becoming the most popular form of contraband in Texas prisons.

Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

The federal government announced that it's phasing out its use of privately run prisons and now, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is warning that it too could close prisons, lay off 1,200 employees and stop providing certain inmate services – but not because of privatization.

Mike Ward, Austin bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, says, like other states, Texas has fewer inmates now than in recent years.

 


Robert Stringer

Most prisons in Texas have no air conditioning, creating sweltering conditions affecting not just prisoners, but prison guards as well. KUT's Nathan Bernier learns more from Brandi Grissom, the Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. 

 

ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay (CC0 Public Domain)

From Texas Standard:

Although the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. That's not counting things like county lockups and city jails.

Federal prisons are overcrowded and in Texas, nearly 19,000 people are incarcerated in federal prisons alone. According to a report in USA Today the job of overseeing the prisoners is falling to nurses with little or no experience in security.


Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Texas has the largest prison population in the country, with over 172,000 people serving prison sentences. Those prisoners make up a substantial workforce in the state, contributing to the  production of everything from mattresses to bacon. It's an industry that has been valued at nearly $2 billion a year. But inmates make only pennies an hour in return.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

Most schools tell students to stay out of jail, but Akins High School in South Austin sends some of its students there once a week to learn how to become correctional officers. The program’s part of the school’s criminal justice curriculum, and allows students a hands-on look at life in the world of corrections officers.


Jason Farrar via flickr

Right now, if your loved one calls you from Travis County Jail, it will cost you $4.65. The calls are limited to 20 minutes, but the fee is flat whether the call lasts the entire 20 minutes, or 20 seconds.

But Travis County officials have voted to lower that flat fee by more than 60 percent. And that means the County will lose the money it usually makes from those calls.

Jason Farrar via flickr

From Texas Standard:

Dallas-based Securus Technologies is one of the leading providers of phone services inside prisons across the nation. And now they could be responsible for what's being reported as possibly "the most massive breach of the attorney-client privilege in modern U.S. history."

Investigative website The Intercept is reporting the breach involves records from prisoner phone calls in 37 states, including Texas. The records were leaked by an anonymous hacker on the Intercept's secure and anonymous contact site SecureDrop.

 


Texas Tribune

More than a few Texans are part of a new bipartisan coalition of more than 100 law enforcement officials meeting in Washington to talk about one thing: reducing the number of people in prison.

H. Michael Karshis/flickr

From Texas Standard: Between October 30 and November 2 of this year, about 6,000 federal prisoners from across the country will be released.


Image via Flickr/my_southborough (CC BY-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard: 

Sometime between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, something unprecedented will happen at the nation's federal prisons: the largest one-time release of federal prisoners in U.S. history.

The first 6,000 of an expected 46,000 federal prison inmates will be released in that four day window. It's the result of a downward revision in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, a change that's being made retroactively.

Kate Ter Haar/flickr

The company that runs an immigrant prison in Raymondville, Tex., has lost its contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The facility was nicknamed "Ritmo" – like Guantanamo Bay's Gitmo. But, the reported abuses that earned it its Gitmo-like reputation are not the reason why it lost its contract. The contract was revoked after a two-day riot broke out there last month.

Caleb Bryant Miller/KUT News

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate last month's riot at a private immigrant prison in Raymondville, Tex. That's because the ACLU does not believe the prison is able to do a good job investigating itself.

The U.S. is seeing "historic" progress in reducing both its crime and its incarceration rates, Attorney General Eric Holder said, with the federal prison population falling by some 4,800 inmates in the past year — "the first decrease we've seen in many ‎decades."

Three groups filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and its executive director, Brad Livingston, alleging Texas prisons' lack of air conditioning is dangerous.

The lawsuit, filed in Houston federal court, alleges TDCJ is housing inmates in inhumane conditions that violate constitutional rights. Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas, lacks air-conditioning, and summer temperatures can send living conditions sweltering into the triple digits.

The groups bringing the suit include the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the University of Texas School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic. The suit was filed on behalf of four prisoners at Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota. It also names Wallace Pack Unit senior warden Roberto Herrera as a defendant.

Caleb Bryant Miller for Texas Tribune

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov.Rick Perry signed a bill that requires adetailed review of the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons.

Four months after the measure became law, though, the committee charged with hiring an independent party to study solitary confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice hasn’t met and has no intention to.

A new poll released this week shows Texans strongly support reforming how the state punishes non-violent drug offenses. The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice polled over 1,000 people about how Texas currently punishes non-violent drug offenders with prison time vs. drug rehab and probation.  

Bobby Blanchard for KUT News

The Texas Civil Rights Project and Prison Legal News have filed a lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America, claiming the company is withholding evidence of mismanagement and mistreatment of prison inmates.

The lawsuit claims that Corrections Corporation of America covered up the deaths of seven inmates at the Dawson State Jail in Dallas. Earlier this year, the death of an infant at the prison made headlines statewide. Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, said the lawsuit will shine light on the private prison industry.

Liang Shi for KUT

More than 5 percent of the prison population in Texas is in solitary confinement, more than double the 2 percent national average. But one state senator says too little is known about the condition of these prisoners, especially those who may have been diagnosed with mental health or cognitive problems.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee was considering the bill Wednesday afternoon.

Nick Cowie for Texas Tribune

A new report argues that state jails aren't meeting their goal of helping to reduce crime by intensively treating short-term, nonviolent inmates, and it recommends that judges no longer be able to sentence felons to state jails without a rehabilitation plan.

The report, published Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, says that those convicted of nonviolent felonies and normally sentenced to months in a state-operated jail should instead be released with community supervision. That can include treatment programs, community service, strictly enforced probation conditions and the threat of incarceration if certain conditions are violated. The report's suggestions were based on recent data concerning the number of felons who commit crimes after being released from state jails.

flickr.com/hmk

Fewer Texas ex-convicts are returning to prison, according to a report released today by the National Reentry Resource Center.

The report tracked individuals released from prison between 2005 and 2007 until 2010, to see whether they returned to prison. It found that the three-year recidivism rate went down 11 percent in Texas.

Other states with significant drops in their recidivism rates were Ohio, Kansas and Michigan.

The report credits the lowered recidivism rates in many states to increased funding for programs that ease the transition from prison to society, including the 2008 Second Chance Act. The act provides federal grants to state and local governments and community organizations to provide services that ease the transition from prison to society. Funds can be used to provide employment services, substance abuse treatment, housing assistance and mentoring to prisoners and ex-cons.

Caleb Miller for KUT News

A local coalition that helps people transition from life in prison to the outside is now looking for ex-offenders to serve on an advisory committee.

The Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable’s Ex-Offenders’ Council will make recommendations for policy changes that make the transition from prison to society easier.

A few years ago, the group the helped change how city and county job applications ask about criminal background.

Jeri Houchins is the group’s Administrative Director. She says it’s important for those who have experienced reentry to have a voice in any possible changes.

HID Global

Traffic is now clearing up around Stassney Lane and Manchaca Road after a gas leak at the intersection this morning. Schools in the area started on time. Here's a roundup of other news this morning:

More HID Global Incentives?

Travis County Commissioners will meet in executive session today to talk about whether the county will offer economic incentives to a company that’s considering relocating to the area.

The State of Texas is already offering HID Global $1.9 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund. And the City of Austin is considering offering the company close to a million dollars in rebates on taxes for real estate and equipment purchases. The city plans to hold a public hearing on the issue Sept. 27.

In return, HID Global would build a manufacturing and distribution center in Northeast Austin, and create 276 jobs over 10 years. HID Global makes products like ID cards and key-card readers.

Problems in Texas County Prisons

Today Texas lawmakers will take a look at problems facing county jails.

flickr.com/jonjon_2k8

Some Texas prisons will soon be equipped with technology that blocks most cell phone calls.

Inmates are not supposed to have cell phones. But officials at the Stiles Prison Unit in Beaumont and the McConnell Unit outside of Corpus Christi say it’s been a challenge to keep them out.

Brad Livingston is the Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He explains the technology limits which calls can be made.

“It allows cell phone signals to be sent successfully only to the extent that the number is pre-programmed in," Livingston says. "All other cell phones are defeated and the call is not connected.”

flickr.com/scATX

It's back to work today for many after a long Labor Day weekend. Expect another day in the triple digits.

Public Invited to Comment on Texas Women’s Health Program

Today the public will get a chance to express their thoughts on proposed changes to the Texas Women’s Health Program – what used to be known as the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

The program provides health services to about 130,000 low-income Texas women. It has been mostly paid for with federal funding. But when Texas lawmakers decided to enforce a state rule that the program could not support clinics affiliated with abortions, the Obama Administration vowed to cut off the funding. When Medicaid funding is cut off in November, Governor Rick Perry says Texas will pay for the program. The details of how the state will take on the funding have not yet been outlined.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is suing in hopes of retaining funding. Planned Parenthood says their clinics provide important health services to women who would otherwise have a hard time getting them.

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