- Executive director’s update
- Hurricane Harvey strikes Texas Gulf Coast
- Declining offender population prompts unit closures, repurposing
- State Employee Charitable Campaign continues through end of October
- Victim Services Division hosts TVAT Academy in October
- Phone phishing attempt prompts nationwide fraud warning
Executive director’s update
By Bryan Collier
As this issue of Connections is being finalized, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is responding to the destruction and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. The Ramsey, Stringfellow and Terrell units have been evacuated, evacuations of the Vance and Jester III facilities are underway and the evacuation of additional units remains a possibility. None of the agency’s secure correctional facilities has sustained substantial damage, but several remain on generator power pending restoration of electricity. The District Parole Office in Victoria has sustained significant damage, and a number of other parole offices in the areas affected by hurricane Harvey are closed due to road closures and flooding. Several contract residential facilities housing parolees and probationers have also suffered heavy damage.
While there have been varying degrees of physical damage to buildings, the vital public safety functions of this agency have continued uninterrupted despite the devastation caused by Harvey. That is a tribute to the dedicated men and women of TDCJ who are responsible for incarceration, supervision and all the support functions that assist front line staff. While the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey is far from over, I remain confident we will continue meeting every challenge. I cannot thank the employees of TDCJ enough for once again going above beyond the call of duty in response to a natural disaster. Ongoing updates regarding Hurricane Harvey will be provided via various means of communication, to include the TDCJ website and social media.
In regards to other matters, pursuant to the decisions made by the 85th Texas Legislature, TDCJ has closed four correctional facilities during the last three months: the Ware Transfer Facility, Bartlett State Jail, West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility and Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.
Employees of the Ware Unit were offered positions at the neighboring Wallace Unit and other nearby facilities, and I am pleased to say that almost every employee chose to continue working for the agency. In addition, recruiters with the TDCJ Human Resources Division were onsite at the other three facilities to offer displaced private sector staff an opportunity to fill existing correctional officer vacancies. Thirty men and women who had been working for the contract vendors were hired through this outreach effort.
The special session of the legislature, which began on July 18 and ended on August 15, was convened to address a number of specific issues identified by Governor Abbott. With few exceptions, those issues did not involve the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or the criminal justice system, consequently no action was taken during the special session that will impact the agency or our workforce.
At this time it is unclear if another special session will occur, but this agency will continue to monitor any meetings of the legislature and inform you of decisions impacting the TDCJ or our employees.
Finally, the 2017 State Employee Charitable Campaign is now underway, so let me once again thank you for your continued support. The generosity of TDCJ employees provides much needed assistance to men, women and children in times of need, and there are perhaps more Texans in need now than ever before. Those in need of assistance will include staff members who live and work in the path of Hurricane Harvey, so in addition to the SECC we will be providing information about fundraising efforts specifically dedicated to TDCJ employees. Your support is deeply appreciated, as is your public service.
Hurricane Harvey strikes Texas Gulf Coast
On August 25, Texas faced an unprecedented and catastrophic storm as Hurricane Harvey quickly gained strength and hit the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane, the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Charley in 2004. The storm, which hit Port Aransas with 130 mph winds and dropped more than 40 inches of rain on parts of Houston, is estimated to have had an impact on more than 40 percent of the state’s population, including many TDCJ employees and their families. Upcoming issues of the Connections newsletter will provide in-depth coverage of the storm and how TDCJ employees responded to this natural disaster. For more information and frequent updates about the storm and its impact, visit the agency website or follow us on TDCJ’s social media outlets.
Declining offender population prompts unit closures, repurposing
Diversion and treatment programs funded by the legislature and successfully implemented by Texas Department of Criminal Justice staff has led to a steady decline in the number of offenders incarcerated by the agency. The decreased demand for secure housing and projected stability in offender population allowed the 85th Texas Legislature to reduce state spending through the closure of excess correctional capacity. Consequently, the Correctional Institutions Division's Ware Transfer Facility in Colorado City and three privately operated facilities, the Bartlett State Jail, the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility and the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, were closed during the summer of 2017.
As part of this transition, the Jim Rudd Transfer Facility in Brownfield was repurposed as an intermediate sanction facility for parole violators. Many of the West Texas ISF offenders were reassigned to the nearby Jim Rudd Transfer Facility, which was opened in 1995 and has been accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA) since 2006.
The number of secure facilities overseen by TDCJ began to decline in 2011 when the Central Unit in Fort Bend County was closed. This was followed by the termination of TDCJ operations at both the Dawson State Jail in Dallas and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility in 2013, and the closure of the South Texas ISF in Houston in 2016. The current round of closings in 2017 brings the total number of facilities shut down since 2011 to eight.
Several agency divisions and departments worked in coordination to ensure the unit closures and conversions went smoothly. CID Offender Transportation relocated hundreds of offenders while maintaining security, and at the same time the Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics Division transported necessary supplies and materials. CID Classification and Records staff screened and monitored offender transfers to avoid potential capacity problems, and the agency’s Information Technology Division reprogrammed staff telephones and computer systems. TDCJ’s Facilities Division retrofitted unit areas as needed, and Laundry and Food Service staff worked with unit maintenance to maintain critical support services.
The Ware Unit, located in Colorado City and co-located with TDCJ’s Wallace Unit, was established in 1997 and had been accredited by the ACA since 2007. By mid-August the offenders housed at the Ware Unit had been relocated to the other available beds within TDCJ based on their security classification, medical needs and programming requirements.
The Human Resources Division worked extensively in support of all unit closures, to include informing affected staff about the process and assisting with reassignments. Almost all Ware Unit employees took advantage of the opportunity to continue working within TDCJ. The HR division’s efforts included holding hiring seminars at each of the private facilities prior to their closure to actively recruit qualified men and women. TDCJ hired six displaced employees from the West Texas ISF and 24 from the Bartlett State Jail. The private facility vendors offered their displaced employees transfers to their company’s other locations.
In addition to the logistical challenges associated with closing a unit, a wide assortment of administrative and operational challenges had to be overcome when converting a transfer facility, where offenders undergo a comprehensive intake process before being assigned to a CID unit, to an Intermediate Sanction Facility, which is a secure facility that provides an alternative to revocation for some parolees and probationers. During these conversions, the Correctional Institutions Division worked with the Rehabilitation Programs Division’s Chaplaincy Department and the Windham School District to ensure sufficient offender treatment and education services were available. The WSD assumed responsibility for the cognitive intervention rehabilitation classes which were previously provided by a vendor. CID Classification and Records oversaw the transition from transfer facility to ISF intake procedures, and unit staff coordinated with the Parole Division and CID Offender Transportation to make sure ISF offenders were transported on schedule.
As with all offender transfers, providing for the safety of the public, agency staff and offenders was the overriding goal. Security was maintained and essential daily services were provided throughout the process of closing and converting facilities. TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier applauded agency staff for their successful efforts.
"Because our staff routinely performs difficult work in a challenging environment, it's easy to take their accomplishments for granted," said Collier. "But handling all the operational and logistical issues associated with unit closures and repurposing of facilities without incident or disruption of services needs to be recognized for the achievement it is. Thanks to all the staff who contributed, and thanks to every TDCJ employee for their public service."
State Employee Charitable Campaign started September 1
For more than 20 years TDCJ employees have generously supported the State Employee Charitable Campaign and its charities. Last year, agency staff raised more than one million dollars for the SECC, bringing the total amount raised for the SECC since 2004 to more than $10 million. The 2017 SECC campaign began September 1 and will end October 31.
The SECC is Texas' only statutorily authorized workplace fundraising campaign for state agency and higher education employees. Donations can be made to a variety of charities, and participating groups range from small local charities to large, well-known national and international nonprofit organizations.
Executive Director Bryan Collier commented on the agency's longstanding support for the SECC fundraising campaign by describing the generosity of TDCJ employees as "remarkable and inspiring" and expressing his gratitude and appreciation for the continued support of charitable organizations across the state.
Carie Beaty, TDCJ's SECC coordinator, expressed her confidence in staff support for this year's campaign, saying that "In addition to their regular duties, employees work diligently on the SECC by coming together as a team. Their teamwork is the core of our campaign and it will ultimately result in success once again."
Contributions made through payroll deductions provide a consistent and reliable level of support, making your donations work to their fullest advantage. Contributions made by cash and check are also accepted and, like payroll deductions, can be directed to your favorite charities.
Participating charities are screened to make sure they meet stringent legal requirements, are recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and are registered with the Secretary of State. SECC charities are also audited every year to ensure they spend no more than 25 percent of contributions on administrative costs.
To learn more about the SECC and which charities it represents, visit the SECC website. A calendar of planned TDCJ fundraisers, as well as instructions on submitting a fundraising event, can be accessed on the agency website.
Participation in the SECC program is completely voluntary.
Victim Services Division hosts Texas Victim Assistance Training Academy in October
From October 2 through 5, TDCJ’s Victim Services Division will host the second Texas Victim Assistance Training (TVAT) Academy. This three-and-a-half day interactive classroom training event is designed for new victim services professionals and volunteers who routinely work with victims of crime but have less than three years’ experience in the field.
The Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse, overseen by the Victim Services Division (VSD), collaborates with victim services experts and key stakeholders to develop the Academy curriculum, which is based on the victims' experience with the criminal justice system and focused on their needs and rights from the moment of victimization through the investigation, pre-indictment, prosecution and the post-conviction phases. Other topics covered during the Academy include the influence of culture when working to support crime victims, workplace ethics, and resiliency for crime victims and victim services providers.
Held at the Public Safety Operations and Training Center in Georgetown, the Academy will host expert speakers to discuss a variety of topics such as crime victims' rights, ethics in victim services, stress management and effective communication skills. The TVAT Academy faculty includes a diverse group of victim services practitioners who have expertise in various victim issues, and staff from other institutions that support victim intervention and restoration.
Commenting on the TVAT, VSD Director Angie McCown said "The goal of the Academy is to teach foundational skills necessary to serve victims of violent crime, the importance of victim-centered service delivery and to encourage and support multidisciplinary teamwork throughout the criminal justice process."
Registration and attendance for the TVAT Academy are free of charge, while travel expenses are paid by participants.
Phone phishing attempt prompts nationwide fraud warning
On July 10, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inspector General Bruce Toney learned that officials in our agency were receiving multiple phone calls from private citizens seeking to confirm that an automated phone call they had received actually came from TDCJ's Office of the Inspector General, as claimed in the prerecorded message. The message also said the recipient’s Social Security number had been flagged for criminal fraud and urged them to call a phone number with an Austin area code.
With 24 hours, TDCJ and OIG began to receive similar confirmation-seeking calls from all over the United States. It was also discovered that whoever was making the calls knew the recipient’s name, home address and Social Security number, and those who called the provided number were asked to leave a recorded message which included personal, confidential information. Fortunately, the majority of those called did not provide information or funds, but instead chose to validate the call by contacting TDCJ.
Phishing is a malicious attempt to obtain money or sensitive information using an electronic communication which seems to come from a trustworthy source. While phishing attacks are commonly made using a fake website or pop-up screen, some arrive as a text message or a phone call asking potential victims to call a number or go to a website where they are prompted to send money or divulge confidential information.
More sophisticated vishing (voice phishing) efforts, such as this one, use a fake caller ID to give the appearance that calls come from a trusted organization. An OIG investigation quickly determined that the phone number provided by the caller was internet-based but designed to appear as if it came from the Austin area code, a tactic used by illicit call center operations which allows them to pose as a trusted organization or government body. The fake Austin phone number, seemingly based in the state capital, was used by this criminal enterprise in an attempt to lend more credibility to their scheme.
Realizing the wide-ranging implications of this scheme, Inspector General Toney immediately initiated a security response to mitigate public risk. The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission were informed of the fraudulent calls and the associated phone number, and the FTC initiated investigations through their federal agency task force.
Agency employees were notified through internal communication channels and TDCJ’s Public Information office issued alerts through news and social media outlets. An alert bulletin was immediately posted on the agency’s website to warn the public and TDCJ staff members of the scam.
Always keep in mind that your personal information could become available to malicious individuals and organizations. If you receive a call which asks for your personal identifying information or that directs you to provide funds using gift cards, Western Union, PayPal or any other source, view that call with suspicion and independently verify the source of the request to make sure of the caller's true identity.
TDCJ's Office of the Inspector General is dedicated to detecting, investigating and prosecuting reports of waste, fraud and abuse of state resources within the agency. Fraud, identity theft and unfair business practice complaints can be filed online with the Federal Trade Commission.