Advocates Seek Oversight for Texas Prison Agency

After several Texas prison employees were indicted this month for conspiring to plant screwdrivers in an inmate’s cell, advocacy groups are calling for an outside entity to serve as a watchdog of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Tribune reports. The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Texas Inmates Family Association said the recent felony charges and other ongoing problems highlight the need for independent investigations into one of the most opaque state agencies. The call said an outside entity should identify problems and conduct routine monitoring. “It shouldn’t take a front-page article to galvanize correctional institutions into action,” said the coalition’s Doug Smith. “External oversight will help TDCJ avoid scandals, improve rehabilitation, and serve as a good example to the people in custody.”

The screwdriver incident and indictments were first reported by the Houston Chronicle, which uncovered a quota system at a prison south of Houston that required sergeants to turn in disciplinary cases on inmates at least twice a day. The report led to a departmental investigation which led to firings, resignations, demotions and transfers of several prison officials and the dismissal of more than 600 disciplinary cases against inmates. During the investigation, an inmate’s mother wrote the department to say her son had been framed by guards who planted screwdrivers in his cell. Since then, a major and three other prison guards have been indicted on felony charges of tampering with governmental records and misdemeanor charges of official oppression in the incident.