Texas prisons: More than 500 inmate disciplinary cases tossed
The move comes in the wake of revelations about short-lived CO quota systems at multiple units across the state
By Keri Blakinger
HOUSTON — Texas prison officials have tossed more than 500 inmate disciplinary cases and fired a fifth official in the wake of revelations about short-lived CO quota systems at multiple units across the state.
The development Monday comes less than two weeks after four officials were fired and a fifth quit under investigation in connection with allegations that officers planted a screwdriver in a prisoner's cell at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Ramsey Unit in Brazoria County.
"Violations of TDCJ policy will not be tolerated and swift action will be taken if any are found," said prison spokesman Jeremy Desel.
For inmates and their families, the latest news came as a welcome relief amid longstanding claims of "bogus" disciplinary cases against inmates and quotas for COs in a slew of prisons.
"It breaks my heart to know that there were this many cases that weren't deserved, that were written on these inmates," Jennifer Erschabek of the Texas Inmate Families Association said Monday. "And you don't know how that impacted them, whether they were kicked out of their classes or lost their jobs or lost other privileges. I'm just speechless."
The quotas for inmate disciplinary reports at the Brazoria lock-up came to light in mid-May after the Houston Chronicle obtained copies of an email from Capt. Reginald Gilbert ordering officers to write up prisoners or face disciplinary consequences themselves.
"Effective March 10, 2018, each Sergeant will be required to turn in at least two (2) cases written by officers for a Level 2 Code 35 'Unauthorized Storage of Property,'" he wrote. "Two each day is my requirement. Remember this is to be done each workday without exception."
A couple hours later, Major Juan Jackson responded, noting that the "below instructions will help greatly in fighting a gig," which former union president Lance Lowry said is slang for an audit.
Weeks later, prison officials abandoned the quota system, but TDCJ started investigating after the Chronicle reported on it.
According to Desel, a statewide audit found similar systems in place at three other units: Lychner State Jail in Harris County, Travis County State Jail in Austin, and the McConnell Unit in Bee County.
At the first of those, the state jail in Atascocita, an official emailed out orders for a quota system, but it was quickly cut off and only resulted in one disciplinary case, which has since been removed from the system. A captain who would have been demoted over the scheme was instead fired in connection with a subsequent disciplinary action, though it's not clear what that entailed.
At the McConnell Unit, officials tossed out 293 cases that had already been written, and hit the brakes on another 83 in the midst of being processed. It's not clear how the quota system started there, and just one major was disciplined with a demotion there.
At the state jail in Austin, the prison tossed out 91 cases and demoted and moved an assistant warden, a captain and a sergeant.
At the Ramsey Unit, prison officials eliminated 180 disciplinary cases. But as officials probed the cases there, an inmate's mother wrote in to say her son had been set up by COs who allegedly planted two screwdrivers in the man's cell, possibly in connection with the disciplinary quota.
The Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation, and four men were fired and another resigned under investigation.
Desel described that as an "isolated incident" and said it's not clear that was connected to the quota.
But the quota system as a whole, advocates stressed, appears to be more than a one-time occurrence.
"This is a systemic error and it deserves thorough investigation both internally and an external monitor to figure out why it took a Houston Chronicle investigation and a leaked email to come to light," said Elizabeth Henneke, executive director of the Lone Star Justice Alliance. "So I would call on the state to examine its own procedures."
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, vowed to monitor the situation moving ahead.
"We must have zero tolerance for manufactured charges," he said. "My fear is that this is not an isolated instance."
©2018 the Houston Chronicle