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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
January/February 2015
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Penwell bus accident claims lives of two correctional officers, eight offenders

photo of centenial plaza flags at half staff

On the morning of January 14, a TDCJ transport bus carrying three correctional officers and 12 offenders was involved in an accident while traveling from the Middleton Unit in Abilene to the Sanchez Unit in El Paso. While traveling west on Interstate 20 near Penwell, the vehicle left the roadway and collided with a freight train. Two correctional officers and eight offenders died of their injuries. One staff member and four offenders were transported to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. An investigation into the accident is ongoing.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report, the metal guardrail leading up to the overpass was damaged in a vehicle collision on the day before the accident. The bus appears to have struck the damaged guardrail as it approached a highway overpass, which crossed a set of railroad tracks. The bus left the roadway, traveled between the highway traffic lanes, struck an embankment and impacted against the side of the moving freight train.

Many agency employees and other concerned individuals have donated money and services to the families of the lost correctional officers and to aid Officer Self and his family with medical expenses. Those who wish to provide support or make a donation should contact CID's Support Operations office in Huntsville at (936) 437-8702. According to Correctional Institutions Division Director Bill Stephens, the outpouring of assistance has been overwhelming. Mr. Stephens said cards, gifts and monetary donations have been received from persons across the United States.

List of TDCJ staff killed or injured in Penwell bus accident

Memorial services for Officer Davis were conducted on January 24, 2015, at Trinity Baptist Church in Abilene, and services for Officer Garcia were held on January 19, 2015, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Abilene. Officer Self has been released from the hospital and is now at home recovering from his injuries.

"We regret the loss of life and the injuries sustained in this tragic accident," said TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston. "Officers Davis, Garcia and Self are heroes who were killed or injured in the line of duty while performing a vital public service. I deeply appreciate their daily sacrifices and the sacrifices they made on January 14."

National Correctional Officers' week 2015 information

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Legislative update for TDCJ employees from the executive director

By Brad Livingston

The versions of the General Appropriations Bill recently filed in the House and Senate were identical in regards to the funds appropriated to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In general, agency operations and programs were funded at the fiscal year 2014-2015 levels, but please see the Summary of the FY 2016-17 General Appropriations Bill as Introduced for additional information.

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

As always, the appropriations bill as filed is only a starting point for budget deliberations during the next five months and, as usual, most of the agency's requests for pay raises and other increases above the previous biennium, typically referred to as "exceptional items," were not included in the bill as filed. Additional funding for various purposes, to include pay raises for state employees, will be considered later in the legislative session. Final decisions regarding the budget will be made no earlier than May 2015.

Since the Texas Department of Criminal Justice participated in the Sunset review process just last session, TDCJ will not be among the agencies reviewed by the 84th Legislature. There will, of course, be other legislation impacting the agency and our employees and we will monitor those bills as they progress through the legislative process. Once again, a subject of particular interest to the agency and our workforce will be maintaining the long-term fiscal stability of the employee pension program.

I look forward to working with state policymakers on the important fiscal and policy decisions impacting the agency and our employees. Through the agency website and the Connections newsletter we will provide periodic updates regarding the proposed TDCJ budget for fiscal years 2016-2017 as well as any actions impacting the retirement system and those who contribute to or receive benefits from the pension program. Upon the conclusion of the legislative session we will prepare summaries of the new TDCJ budget, any decisions affecting salaries and benefits, and many of the criminal justice bills that were enacted into law.

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The Texas Risk Assessment System:
a new direction in supervision planning

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

In January of this year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice completed the agency-wide implementation of a new risk assessment tool designed to help community supervision, prison, reentry and aftercare professionals create custom case management programs for individual offenders. The Texas Risk Assessment System or TRAS ("tee-rass") interprets an offender's criminal history along with their criminogenic needs, allowing criminal justice professionals to devise the most efficient case plans possible, enabling the agency to carefully allocate supervision resources and, in turn, reduce offender recidivism rates and increase public safety.

Almost ten years ago, the leadership of TDCJ's Community Justice Assistance Division started searching for an alternative to the useful but less comprehensive assessment tool the division had been using for nearly 30 years. In 2006, an assessment committee was created, under the direction of co-chairs Carey Welebob of CJAD and Dr. Teresa May, then of the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, to search for a new assessment tool. Several were considered, but major changes would have to be made to adapt them for use with Texas' offender population demographic. In 2008, Welebob attended a conference where Dr. Ed Latessa of the University of Cincinnati described a new assessment instrument called the Ohio Risk Assessment System. It included most of the criteria sought by the Texas committee, but Ohio had only tested the instrument on thirteen hundred offender volunteers. The committee recommended a statewide validation of the instrument at various CSCDs to determine how the assessment tool could be made viable in Texas. This validation study began in late 2010 and eventually tested nearly seven thousand felony and misdemeanor probation offenders. "We had researchers from a couple of universities tell us that they were really blown away by how rigorous our study was," said Welebob, who had since taken over duties as CJAD director.

While the assessment tool was being validated, the agency was also considering the benefits of a system-wide assessment instrument. With the probation system moving toward implementation of the TRAS, that assessment instrument was naturally the focal point of discussion. The capabilities TRAS offered for case management made the instrument equally useful for parole supervision, and the related incarceration and reentry components made TRAS a logical choice for adoption throughout TDCJ. It wasn’t long after the agency had decided on the TRAS instrument that the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission recommended the agency implement "a system-wide risk and needs assessment for use in managing offenders on probation, parole and in prison." Subsequent to the Sunset recommendation, Senate Bill 213 by Senator John Whitmire was enacted which required the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to implement a standardized instrument by 2015.

The TRAS is divided into felony and misdemeanor sections, comprising a series of questions about the offender's education, family, job history, social support and substance abuse, along with a new section on criminogenic categories such as criminal attitudes and behavioral patterns. Prior to the assessment, the criminal justice professional examines an offender's criminal history as well as collateral sources of information, such as family members, to corroborate the offender's answers.

TRAS first identifies low-risk offenders using a "screener" before conducting a full assessment. "The first step in the process is to screen out the low-risk individuals," said Dr. Teresa May, now director of the Harris County CSCD. During the instrument's validation process, it was found that among offenders deemed low-risk and tracked for more than a year, one in ten reoffended. "So would you put your resources on ten people, just to try to get the one? It makes no sense," continued Dr. May. Low scorers are placed on a low-risk caseload and are monitored, but not over-supervised or put into programs that they don't need.

The next step is to conduct the full assessment for those who did not screen out as low-risk. The full assessment tells the criminal justice professional which risks the offender is likely to face and how to change behaviors and target resources to best meet the needs of the individual. Are they getting enough social support? Are they associating with criminals? At this point, the tool becomes more of a risk management/risk reduction plan instead of a risk assessment, and moves onto the last step: recommendations on how to supervise, address needs, reduce risk and get the offender back on track.

If the offender leaves probation for prison, the assessment history follows that person through the criminal justice system, and is reassessed as needed. In prison, the assessment plays a role in the prioritization of offender programming through the offender's Individualized Treatment Plan. The TRAS also has a reentry supplemental tool designed to help receiving parole officers and reentry case managers plan for the person's community needs. "I think it's an essential tool," said April Zamora, Director of TDCJ's Reentry and Integration Division. "We scan it into the Offender Information Management System so that (parole employees) are aware of all the work that's been done and by doing that, not only is the person released into the community aware of the resources that are out there, but the case manager knows what critical areas still need to be worked on."

TRAS has separate cutoff scores for male and female offenders, matching supervision style, well-researched interventions, treatments, services, programs and resources to the individual, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. This innovative assessment tool allows TDCJ to fulfill its mission to successfully reintegrate offenders into society by using the best case plans possible to efficiently allocate agency and community resources. "It comes down to, 'Who am I spending my resources on?'" said Marty Martin, Director of Special Projects for CJAD. "To impact public safety, your resources should be spent on the offenders who need them most, not those who need them least."

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State Employee Charitable
Campaign results

The 2014 State Employee Charitable Campaign, marking 21 years of charitable fundraising in Texas, raised a total of $942,021 in TDCJ employee donations, surpassing last year's total by nearly fifty thousand dollars. As in past years, a majority of those who donated chose to do so through payroll deductions.

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

The agency's SECC Coordinator Carie Beaty commented on the successful 2014 campaign, saying, "Of all of our duties and responsibilities, the work involved with the State Employee Charitable Campaign is one of the most satisfying. Everything we do to make the campaign a success should remind us that it is our privilege to help those in need."

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ERS Board of Trustees election voting runs through April 10

Created in 1947, the Employee Retirement System administers a benefits package which includes retirement benefits, health and other insurance benefits, as well as the TexFlex program and Texa$aver 401(k) and 457 investment accounts. Before August 31 of each odd-numbered year, the Board of Trustees of the Employees Retirement System of Texas is required to elect a trustee. This year's election is to fill the position held by Yolanda (Yoly) Griego, whose term is expiring.

If you are an ERS member as of January 31, or if you are a retired state employee receiving an annuity from ERS, you are eligible to vote. ERS will mail out an election newsletter and ballot in early March. Voting online or by mail begins March 6 and ends on April 10. Paper ballots are mailed to members' homes, and voters can cast ballots by mail or online at www.ers.state.tx.us. Do not vote both online and on a paper ballot; if duplicate votes are received, both are disqualified. The candidate receiving the most votes will be certified as the new trustee.


TDCJ Chief Financial Officer Jerry McGinty

Jerry McGinty

Candidates for the position include TDCJ Chief Financial Officer Jerry McGinty, Program Specialist Ilesa Daniels of the Health and Human Services Commission, and Elections Administration Manager Louri O'Leary from the Secretary of State office.

A recording of the March 5 candidate forum is available on the ERS website throughout the voting period.

The contested position on the six-member ERS board is one of three filled through election. The other three members are appointed, one each by the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Both appointed and elected members serve staggered six-year terms. Member duties and responsibilities include trust fund investment decisions, approval of a legislative agenda and the selection of benefit providers.

Election results will be certified on May 6. A runoff election will be held if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. The term of the winning candidate runs from September 2015 until August 31, 2021.

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National Crime Victims' Rights Week begins April 19

2015 national crime victims' rights week poster illustration

The 2015 National Crime Victims' Rights Week takes place April 19 through 25, and this year's theme is "Engaging Communities. Empowering Victims." During this time, crime victims, victim advocates, criminal justice professionals and community leaders honor crime victims and their advocates by promoting victims' rights and providing support to help crime victims rebuild their lives.

In 1984 President Reagan signed into law the Victims of Crime Act, establishing the crime victims' fund comprising criminal fines, penalties and forfeitures, to support victim compensation and assistance programs. Funding of crime victims' compensation and victim assistance programs through VOCA has allowed families who are touched by violent crime to receive necessary resources and services. The newly enacted Justice Assistance Act also established a financial assistance program for state and local government and provided funding for important victim services. The National Victims Resource Center was established to serve as a central information resource and still serves the community as the Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime.

This year's NCVRW theme of engaging communities and empowering victims was selected because it emphasizes the impact individuals can have on victims by maximizing existing resources in the community and providing them with the necessary support throughout their journey. TDCJ Victim Services Division Director Angie McCown explains, "Each TDCJ staff person has the opportunity to play a role in victim empowerment by working according to our mission statement to provide public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into society and assist victims of crime."

Visit the online Texas Victim Assistance training calendar to submit or search for events in your area. Typical activities include recognition ceremonies, community walks and runs, education programs and art displays. For more information, go to the 2015 Crime Victims' Rights Week resource guide on the Web, or contact the Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse by calling 800-848-4284 or by e-mail at tdcj.clearinghouse@tdcj.texas.gov.

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SHSU/CMIT scholarship opportunities for TDCJ employees

84th Texas Legislature graphic illustration

Sam Houston State University's College of Criminal Justice, in partnership with the Correctional Management Institute of Texas, will award scholarships to two TDCJ employees nominated by the agency and accepted into the SHSU Master of Science in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management Weekend Program.

The scholarships will cover tuition to SHSU's degree program; scholarship recipients will be responsible for books, fees and any other expenses. Details about the SHSU Master of Science in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management Weekend Program can be found at www.cjcenter.org. SHSU admission requirements and TDCJ criteria for nomination are on the agency website and can be found in the Human Resources Division's Links of Interest at Scholarship Opportunity for TDCJ Employees.

To qualify for consideration, applicants must be a current TDCJ employee with at least five years agency experience, to include some experience in a supervisory role, and an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution in criminal justice or an allied field. Scholarship paperwork which must be submitted includes, but is not limited to, official transcripts of previous academic work, two letters of recommendation, a completed College of Criminal Justice Master of Science Program Applicant Questionnaire and a personal essay outlining career background and goals. International students are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

Scholarship paperwork must be submitted to Patty Garcia, Human Resources Director, 2 Financial Plaza, Suite 600, Huntsville, Texas 77340 no later than, or postmarked by Friday, April 3, 2015, at 5:00 p.m.

Interested scholarship applicants must also ensure they have completed the admissions process through the SHSU Office of Graduate Admissions, PO Box 2478, Huntsville, Texas 77341-2478 no later than May 1, 2015.

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star bulletAgency News

Penwell bus accident claims lives of two correctional officers, eight offenders

Legislative update for TDCJ employees from the executive director

The Texas Risk Assessment System: a new direction in supervision planning

State Employee Charitable Campaign results

ERS Board of Trustees election voting runs through April 10

National Crime Victims' Rights Week begins April 19

SHSU/CMIT scholarship opportunities for TDCJ employees

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