Prisons

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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.”

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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.

KUT News

AFD Gets Money to Hire More Firefighters

The Austin Fire Department is getting more than $5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire 36 firefighters.

The FEMA grant will help AFD staff four people on every engine – that’s the standard set by the National Fire Protection Agency.

The money will cover the salaries of the firefighters for the first two years. AFD will take over the cost in year three.

Austin Organization Charged With Providing Unlawful Services

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has charged an Austin group with providing unlawful immigration services and defrauding its clients.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Texas Inmate Put to Death Using Single-Drug Concoction

The State of Texas executed Yokamon Hearn yesterday evening. He was put to death for the 1998 carjacking and murder of 23-year-old Frank Meziere in Dallas.

Hearn was the sixth prisoner executed in the state so far this year.

He was the first put to death using a single drug lethal injection procedure. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice switched to the single drug because of a shortage of the two other drugs normally used in lethal injections.

STAAR Retesting Begins Today

Students across Texas who didn’t pass subjects of the STAAR exam will begin retaking the tests today.

Last year’s ninth-graders were the only students who had to pass the tests to graduate on time as seniors. Next year, the passing requirement will affect both ninth and tenth-graders. The STAAR test will continue to phase-in to each grade, eventually completely replacing the TAKS test.

Also starting next year, the STAAR exam will make up 15 percent of a high school student’s final grade in a subject.

Texas Tribune

The amount of time Texas prisoners spent behind bars increased by a third since 1990, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States. The average inmate spent an extra eight months in prison in 2009 compared to 1990, costing the state an additional $620 million that year. 

The average prisoner in Texas served 2 years, nine months in prison in 2009. The typical cost of keeping someone incarcerated in Texas about $1,800 per month. 

Much of the increase in time served happened in the 1990s, according to Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast, a blog focused on criminal justice in Texas.

“At a time when the Texas legislature has massive budget problems and the [Texas] Department of Criminal Justice is falling short on its funding for prisoner health care and can’t afford its treatment services, this is a huge number," Henson said. "This is a lot of money.” 

Prison Radio Show is Inmates' Link to the Outside World

Mar 19, 2012
Photo by Michael Stravato for the Texas Tribune

On Friday nights, in prison cells across East and Southeast Texas, a window opens to the outside world. For two hours, a Houston-based radio show breaks the isolation of the incarcerated, linking inmates to families, friends and life outside lockup.

The Prison Show,” which started in 1980 on KPFT, is part news program and part call-in radio show. Some Texas inmates have listened to their own weddings on the show, with the new spouse and a proxy exchanging vows in the studio. Others have listened to their children grow up on the radio, hearing news of soccer games and report cards from children they never see.

And for inmates who are no longer in prison, the show is familiar in a world that feels foreign.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/e06158

The home of the Texas Prison Rodeo is being demolished, according to the Associated Press.

While an event hasn’t been held on the Huntsville prison grounds since 1986, the rodeo has a rich history dating back decades.

The Handbook of Texas Online says once the rodeo was created in 1931, it was a near-instant success: “Within two years public attendance swelled from a handful of outsiders to almost 15,000, prompting prison officials to erect wooden stands and charge admission. The revenue raised covered costs and subsidized an education and recreation fund that provided perquisites from textbooks and dentures to Christmas turkeys.”

The state of Texas already made waves in September when it decided to stop honoring death row inmates' final meal requests. The decision was prompted by the huge meal requested by white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

In letters from his prison cell at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Susan Fenner’s son describes miserably hot and dangerous conditions. The temperature is more than 100 degrees outside, and the heat radiates through his tiny un-air conditioned box of a cell in administrative segregation.

“There’s not much circulation, and it’s just horrible,” said Fenner, who is executive director of the Texas Inmate Family Association.

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