Advocacy Update
by Karen Sebung, Executive Director
   

On July 27, 2000, Lois Robison and I represented the LHP at the Family Group meeting of TDCJ. I had presented concerns in 7 areas. Although only two concerns were addressed at the meeting, the remaining five were addressed in writing after the meeting. A summary follows. I hope this information will be informative and ask that you send additional concerns to me as soon as possible. I cannot always answer individual letters because there are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. But I will do my best to address concerns.

Concern: psych medications were taken from all prisoners on arrival at Terrell.
Response: The medications have been resumed.

Concern: Only one library book may be checked out each week and during the months of June/July, the situation deteriorated to only one book for the entire period.
Response: When the Windham school system resumes in August, prisoners will be allowed to check out two books per week.

Concern: Lists of available commissary items are not available to the prisoners. Could a list be posted in the day room area of each pod so that prisoners can read it out to the other prisoners. Some prisoners are having trouble completing the order form properly
Response: Lists are now being posted. Prisoners may ask for assistance in completing their orders.

Concern: Visitation
There are not enough cages available for the visitors. This is true on weekdays as well as on Saturday evenings.

Some of the cages do not have adequate ventilation. This could easily be remedied by using the wire mesh on the windows of all of the cages, instead of just on some.

I would like to suggest that one cage be constructed at the far back of the main visiting area and be used only on execution days. The usual death row visiting area is too small to accommodate all of the visitors that would be allowed an offender on the morning of his execution. And because the area is so compact, all of the other visitors are right there with the grieving family and friends and this has been very distressing to other families and the children who are visiting. This last visit should be given at least a small degree of privacy for the benefit of the family of those being executed and for the benefit of the other visitors.

This was less of a problem on Ellis because these men were always in the last cage at the back of the visiting room and there was more space there. If there were a cage in the larger visiting area, it would afford that family more space. And it shouldn't be a problem for prison personnel as an offender so close to execution would be monitored constantly anyway.

I would also like to suggest the following for Saturday visitation. The 5:30 "seating" usually fills before everyone has been accommodated. I would like to suggest that those who are unable to be accommodated be immediately given a space on the 7:30 "seating" if they wish. That means that visitation does occur then on a "first come, first serve" basis. After signing up, the visitor can then leave the unit if they wish and return at about 7:15 to await entry to the visitation area. This would relieve the congestion in the entry area. Any visitor who signed up and was not present at the time that TDCJ personnel is ready to admit visitors for the second round, loses their "place in line".

Response: Extra visitation cubicles have been added for Death Row. Suggestions concerning a special space to be constructed for use on visitation (sic: execution) day and weekend visitation sign-up will be considered.

Concern: Televisions for all level ones As I'm sure TDCJ is aware, television is the best management tool available. I am afraid that the level of problem behavior will continue to rise as time passes. The men are trying to be patient because we have asked them to let us advocate for them. But it's difficult to be patient under the conditions with which they live.
Response: ID Director Gary Johnson indicated, during the meeting at the Terrell Unit on May 15, 2000 if the work capable program was re-instated; then, he would look at TV privileges for Level One offenders in a dayroom or cell setting.

Concern: Work program Has any progress been made in this area?
Response: Gary Johnson stated, during the meeting at the Terrell Unit on May 15, 2000, the re-starting of the work capable program would depend on Board approval. (The Board to which they refer is the Prison Board)

Concern: Recreation
Has there been any progress on allowing the men to rec 2 at a time or is this item definitely tied to the work capable program?
Response: This issue will be addressed when a decision is made concerning the work capable program.

Other items of interest to all prisoners were addressed as well. Topics covered were gang member identification and a new program to help gang members get out of the gangs, rehabilitative program and proposed policy change on Technical Parole Violations. The new food service tray selection was introduced. TDCJ Food Service also stated that they are investigating better ways of handling food service during lockdowns. They explained that unit personnel, including clerical, are enlisted to prepare the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc. They, too, want a solution to the problems that are present during the lockdowns. They will continue to keep us updated at future meetings. It was discussed how TDCJ is addressing “heat issues” on the units. It was also announced that TDCJ is investigating telephone access for offenders that would be more economical. One of the options being considered is to have phone cards available for purchase in the commissary and have them used immediately after purchase. There is no plan to change the number of phone calls allowed, etc.

I hope you will find this information helpful. All information has been received directly from TDCJ. I wish to thank them for their helpful and prompt response.