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People with questions about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice can always look to their local library for answers. Or they can simply go online to a website where the agency reads like an open book.

“I would say that it is like a library,” TDCJ Web Coordinator Andrew Davis said about the Internet. “Imagine that a library is full of picture books, encyclopedias, fictional novels, records, and so on. You can check out all of that from the library. But the Internet is not like a library in that you can read that book, hear that record, see that video, and look up that information from the encyclopedia all from one place.”

Andrew Davis sitting at desk with computers in the background with the new and old websites on the screens.
TDCJ’s original website, seen on monitor at back right, consisted of no more than 100 Web pages and files when Web Coordinator Andrew Davis took over in 1999. It has since grown to more than 5,000 pages and files, enough to overstuff a large binder, foreground, if printed out on paper.
Photo by Jene Robbins
Davis is the architect of TDCJ’s modern-day website, which has exploded in size in recent years. It’s grown from about 100 Web pages and files in 1999 to more than 5,000 pages and files. If printed on paper, the amount of information from the agency’s enhanced website would stand more than three reams high.

“It’s huge,” Davis said about the amount of paper the website eliminates. “If you think of all the print publications, all the reports, all the directories, and all of the general information we have, it would be huge if you just printed all of those things out. In terms of paper, it is substantial.”

Davis started work as the agency’s website coordinator in February 1999 and spent the next four months compiling information and shaping the site into what it is today. The revamped site was first previewed in May of that year and has been redesigned once since then.

“Initially, the website was only fifteen pages listing just basic information,” Davis said. “So we totally redesigned it from scratch. It was a way for the agency’s divisions to put their missions, their objectives and their general information all on one site where it didn’t exist before.”

Davis started building TDCJ’s online library by collecting information division directors could share with the public without violating offender privacy rights or jeopardizing institutional security. The agency’s Parole in Texas handbook was one of the first publications to be posted online. The site also features detailed information from the Human Resources Division, including recruiting news and instructions on how to go about applying for employment with TDCJ.

“That’s one of the top areas that visitors to our website go to,” Davis said.

The website is also a handy place in cyberspace for the agency to post links to official announcements, press releases and clippings, and the employee newsletter. By clicking on Quick Links, users can access offender information and learn of the agency’s rehabilitation programs. Information about TDCJ’s GO KIDS Program, Parole Absconder Tip Line, Advisory Council on Ethics, Wellness Initiative, and its Texas Correctional Industries division is also available on the home page.

“We try to centralize information that’s common to everyone, so it’s not redundant,” Davis said. “ It’s really the most central, up-to-date information about the agency that there is.”

Davis works daily with liaisons designated by administrators throughout the agency to keep the information on the website current.

“It’s a constant thing,” Davis said about updates to the website. “One day it could be adding a web page, and the next deleting one that is no longer necessary. It’s ever-changing.”

screenshot of old TDCJ website
Previous version of TDCJ website
Davis expects the TDCJ website to grow. He is currently involved in the translation of information considered pertinent to Spanish-speaking people. The website currently features a portal linking users to some important information in Spanish.

“We already had a considerable amount of information in Spanish online, so we created a Spanish portal that allows native Spanish speakers to see all the available online content,” he said. “Everything that exists in Spanish can be accessed from that point.”

Davis said the amount of information that could one day be viewed on the TDCJ website is practically unlimited.

“Because the agency is so widespread, the Internet is great for the sharing of information between the various units. The Internet isn’t just about presenting information, it’s about exchanging information. It’s really useful for the staff to share information,” Davis said.

A TDCJ techie

There’s no doubt that the Internet is a web of wonders. Even a true “techie” like Davis is wowed by its many present-day applications and its seemingly unlimited potential.

“It’s pretty amazing where all this is going,” he said. “In the digital realm, it seems like anything is possible. It’s hard to keep up sometimes.”

Davis first became connected to the Web while in college at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a degree in Radio, Television and Film. He started out studying print design but gravitated to website design as public access to the Internet grew. As an intern in the art department of a computer game company, he once created complex computer animations. And before joining TDCJ, he put together a website for the Texas Productivity Incentive Commission.

“I was always interested in the graphics side of video publishing,” he said. “It always intrigued me, and I just slowly got into that. It seemed like a natural progression to get into Web design.”

Davis says designing a Web page is really no different than laying out a printed page.

“You map out the design for the page just like print design,” he said. “You have an idea of what you want to design and then you can use a Web editing program to realize the design.”

Looking back, Davis says he’s glad he got connected to the Internet early on, and that he is excited about what it might do for society in general, and for TDCJ in particular, in the years ahead.

“I would say that it is probably the most dynamic business that there is,” he said. “Outside of biotechnology, the developments and changes in this field are phenomenal. It’s a very exciting field to be in.”

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