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Texas Legislature to address
Sunset recommendations
and funding request

collage of capital with texas flag in background According to Executive Director Brad Livingston, the agency’s sunset legislation and Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) will be the two most important correctional issues addressed by the Texas Legislature during the regular session beginning on January 9th, 2007.

The sunset legislation (for story, click here) would extend the life of the agency for another twelve years, while legislative action on appropriation matters will determine how the state responds to the growing offender population, how many vehicles and personal computers will be replaced in the coming years, and whether state employees receive salary increases for at least the third consecutive year.

In regards to the Sunset legislation, Livingston said the agency received a very favorable review from sunset staff, for which he credited the agency’s many outstanding employees, and that he looked forward to continuing the process in the Legislature.

“Sunset staff found the agency functions remain vitally important to public safety and that our organization effectively performs those functions,” he said. “Consequently they recommended extending the life of the agency another twelve years. They also offered a number of significant policy recommendations that merit consideration by the Legislature, and I look forward to testifying on the sunset legislation during the legislative committee meetings.”

In response to recent projections showing the offender population reaching nearly 162,000 by Fiscal Year 2011, the Department’s LAR seeks increased funding for many programs designed to reduce population pressures by diverting nonviolent offenders to community corrections programs or by reducing recidivism among offenders released from prison. For example, TDCJ seeks increased appropriations for programs serving offenders with substance abuse problems or mental illness. The appropriations request also includes funding for contracting with local jails as well as for building several new prisons, including one facility that would provide substance abuse treatment to many DWI offenders. Livingston indicated the agency intentionally offered the Legislature multiple options for responding to population increases.

“It may take a combination of measures to address population growth on the scale predicted by the Legislative Budget Board,” said Livingston. “So our LAR was designed to offer more than a single solution. Ultimately the Legislature will decide what budget and policy initiatives are necessary to deal with offender population growth.”

In regards to the prospect of another pay increase for TDCJ employees, Livingston said he was hopeful that further increases would be approved, and was quick to express his gratitude to Governor Perry and the Legislature for pay raises in Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007.

“The four percent increase in 2006, followed by the three percent increase in 2007, was tremendously beneficial to TDCJ employees and the entire state workforce,” said Livingston. “Our support for an additional increase in no way reflects negatively on the significant action taken during the last legislation session. We are most appreciative, and simply hope to continue the tremendous progress made in state employee compensation during the last two years.”

A summary of the TDCJ Legislative Appropriations Request for Fiscal Years 2008-2009 is available on-line at (under the Business and Finance section).

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Peer crisis intervention program eases employee trauma

In a perfect world, trauma would be taboo and the need for crisis intervention programs wouldn’t exist. Tranquility would reign.

Training specialist talking to two students
Victim Services Training Specialist Malcolm Mire monitors students as they participate in role-playing exercises as part of the Crisis Response Intervention Support Program (CRISP) training class in Beeville.

Pictured with Lopez State Jail COV Esperanza “Hope” Noble and Glossbrenner SAFPF COV Michael L. Soliz.

Photo by Jene Robbins

But in the real world, bad things sometimes happen to good people, including TDCJ employees. And when they do, the agency is prepared to help mitigate their traumatic experience through a new peer support program.

The Crisis Response Intervention Support Program, or CRISP, was introduced this past summer to assist employees who suffer physical or emotional trauma on or off the job. The voluntary program overseen by the Community Liaison Office and tutored through the Victim Services Division complements and enhances the peer-driven Unit Staff Support Officers (USSO) post-trauma program that has been utilized by the agency for years.

“CRISP is the new post-trauma,” TDCJ Community Liaison Marvin Dunbar said. “Our focus with CRISP is on crisis intervention, to enhance what we were already doing. We’ve just taken the program to another level.”

Dunbar said CRISP is based on a standardized curriculum that is internationally recognized and utilized by first responders worldwide. In fact, it’s the same curriculum used by the U.S. Armed Services, the Department of Homeland Security, and numerous law enforcement agencies and fire departments. By May 2007, some 1,500 TDCJ employees statewide will have completed 16 hours of CRISP training conducted by three Victim Services Division trainers who, earlier this year, were certified to teach the curriculum through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation.

“It’s a very intense program,” said Victim Services Training Coordinator Jim Brazzil. “It’s a hard sixteen hours. But the training and skills we are giving our employees will allow them to work on their units and in their communities with the same type of training that other professionals are getting out there.”

“One of the big benefits is that we are now speaking the same language as all first responders in the country,” Dunbar added.

Training began in June for employees within the Gulf Coast region because of the area’s susceptibility to hurricanes. By early August, more than 300 employees had completed the two-day curriculum and been assigned to a unit team led by a team leader. Large maximum-security units like the Stiles Unit in Beaumont generally have 18 CRISP members, while smaller facilities have 12. Unlike the USSO program, however, a CRISP team can be comprised of members from CID units, regions, divisions, and the Employee Assistance Program, depending on the nature and severity of the incident.

“The CRISP concept is about having a team to support the agency, representative of all our employees, our entire family,” said Kevin Campbell, who assists Dunbar in overseeing the program through the Community Liaison Office.

Brazzil said the program looks for team members who are experienced and have demonstrated compassion and integrity on the job.

“We need someone with the willingness and the heart for this type of program,” Dunbar said.

Brazzil and Dunbar are quick to point out, however, that CRISP members are not counselors or psychotherapists. Instead, team members are trained to listen intently to a co-worker affected by an incident, to understand what they’re experiencing, and recognize what level of support might be needed. Brazzil compares them to paramedics.

“Paramedics aren’t doctors but they’re trained in knowing what to look for and knowing when to take things to the next level of care,” he said. “That’s all we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to build up a continuum of care. It’s about how the person responds to the incident. We want to help people become resistant to trauma. We want to assist people so that the incident is not going to cause a crisis. And we want to give them the resiliency that when they are down, they can bounce back up.”

Dunbar said the nature and severity of an incident generally determines the number of team members who respond. And no incident is deemed too small for the program.

“A critical incident is going to be different for different people,” Campbell said. “What might adversely affect me might not affect you. So everybody is going to be unique.”

While the program is voluntary, Campbell said officials are considering following the practice of many police and fire departments by making it mandatory for employees directly involved in specific serious or violent work-related incidents to attend a defusing prior to returning to work.

Dunbar said the program also allows team members to respond to incidents that are not directly work related but might spill over to the workplace.

“The focus is work-related, but if something happened to you at home, and then you bring it to work, it’s work-related at that point,” he said. “A benefit of this program is that staff can assist you in identifying and rebounding from the stress resulting from a crisis.”

By offering immediate peer support, Dunbar said that empirical studies have shown that crisis intervention programs like this should reduce staff turnover and sick leave taken by employees involved in critical incidents. More importantly, such programs send a message to employees that they are not alone in times of crisis.

“I think the program is about equipping our staff with techniques of learning how to take care of each other, to make it more of a family unit, and to understand that it’s not just a job but a whole family of people,” Brazzil said. “It’s people helping people.”

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