Texas prisons are tough and uncompromising places. As well as facing dangers on a daily basis, inmates were targeted by unscrupulous employees, according to an investigation.
Several Texas prison employees were indicted earlier in July for allegedly conspiring to plant screwdrivers in an inmate’s cell, the Texas Tribune reported.
On the back of the incident, advocacy groups are demanding an outside entity serves as a watchdog of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Texas Inmates Family Association issued a joint statement. The groups claim the recent felony charges and other ongoing problems highlight the need for an independent investigation into the Department of Criminal Justice. The groups want an outside entity to identify problems and conduct routine monitoring.
The screwdriver incident was revealed in the Houston Chronicle in May. The report highlighted a quota system at a prison near Houston. Prison sergeants were under pressure to turn in at least two disciplinary cases on inmates every day. The revelations led to firings, demotions and the dismissal of over 600 cases against inmates.
Over the course of the investigation, an inmate’s mother wrote to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to say her son was framed by guards who planted screwdrivers in his prison cell. Subsequently, a major and three other prison guards were indicted on felony charges of tampering with governmental records as well as misdemeanor charges of official oppression in the incident.
Doug Smith, a senior policy analyst for the justice coalition commented:
“It shouldn’t take a front-page article to galvanize correctional institutions into action. External oversight will help TDCJ avoid scandals, improve rehabilitation, and serve as a good example to the people in custody.”
Inmates at Texas jails face multiple deprivations. In late July, soaring temperatures renewed concerns about a lack of air conditioning.
Temperatures in parts of Texas exceeded 100 degrees. That spelled bad news for jails, 75 percent of which do not have air conditioning in their housing areas.
During a heat wave in 2011, at least 10 inmates lost their lives due to heat stroke in Texas prisons. Four heat-related illnesses were reported in late July.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has published revised heat protocols and a new incident command system after a lawsuit was brought by inmates and their families over the stifling heat.
The lawsuit was filed by several inmates at the Wallace Pack prison southeast of College Station three years ago. They claimed keeping prisoners in temperatures that routinely surpassed 100 degrees was cruel and unusual punishment. A judge agreed with the prisoners.
Last year Texas revealed plans to move 1,000 prisoners to cooler cells. The move followed the ruling by the federal judge against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Despite moves to alleviate some of the problems, prisons in Texas remain grim places of last resort. If you have been charged with a crime, it’s important to avoid jail if at all possible by contacting an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer.