Texas Prison Break - How He Broke out and the Problems that Caused it | Texas GOP Vote

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Texas Prison Break - How He Broke out and the Problems that Caused it

An open letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board of Directors and the Texas Legislature about the Problems that allowed for the Escape at Stiles Prison. These problems are most likely problems in most Texas Prisons. Basically, the problem is Overworked Staff and Bad Correctional Officers.

David Puckett recently broke out of the Administrative Segregation section (Ad Seg) of Stiles Maximum Security Prison in Beaumont, TX. This is the MOST SECURE place in all of the Prison. In order to get out, he had to saw through solid steel bars that are over 1 inch thick. Not to mention he had a phone in the prison to help him plan the escape.

How could this have happened?

As a person who just recently worked as a correctional officer in the Administrative Segregation section of Stiles Prison, I can tell you how this could happen.

Ad Seg is the place where the worst of the worst and most violent offenders stay in at Stiles Prison. There are about 80 inmates per section (called a pod) and 3 officers per pod (one officer locked in a room pushing the door open buttons and 2 officers roaming around with the inmates) These 80 inmates in the section are individually locked in a cell and they get a hot meal 3 times a day, they get to come out once a day for an hour of recreation (rec), and they also get to come out to take a shower daily. That does not sound too bad, except that there are only 2 correctional officers to do the job and 80 inmates. Stop and do the math. 80 inmates, each of them come out for an hour for rec. The two officers have to stay together and take out each inmate one at a time because no two inmates can be out of their cell at the same time. The inmate has to be handcuffed and escorted to one of the 10 rec areas. As soon as the 10 rec areas are filled (one by one) it is already time to start taking out the inmates from rec and putting in 10 more inmates back into rec one at a time. Not to mention you have to take them out and let them shower. Did I mention that the correctional officers serve a hot meal to each inmate one cell at a time 3 times a day. Oh, and the two officers are required to thoroughly search about a dozen cells each day, and also every inmate who comes out of the cell is supposed to be strip searched in order to search for weapons.

What does all of this mean?

It means those two correctional officers are literally running from door to door all day trying to get everything done for the day. It is nearly mathematically impossible to get everything done if it is done properly.

So in order to get everything done, these officers have to cut corners. The strip searches do not get done as the inmate leaves the cell (this is how the inmates can bring something like a saw into the rec yard), the cell searches do not get done (this is how inmates can hide saws, or cell phones and drugs for months in their cells), and the inmates do not get watched because there is just no time for the officers to get everything done so the officers are running around. It is IMPOSSIBLE to watch the inmates in the rec (This is how an inmate has time to climb to the ceiling and saw through the bars).

All the problems I just mentioned compounded together to create a situation where it was possible for Puckett to get a saw into the rec yard and climb to the ceiling and saw the bars so he could escape. When Puckett escaped out of the building he ran across the roof to the perimeter fence and climbed over without being seen by the perimeter towers. The fence directly behind the maximum security ad seg building just so happens to be in a blind spot. Everyone knows about the blind spot. These are areas where the guards in the tower cannot see the perimeter fence and inmates could potentially climb over with no one seeing them. There is a camera pointed to that blind area, but it is in the Ad Seg building control center. The officer in that control center does not have time to sit and watch the camera because that officer hands out all the keys and equipment for the building. That officer also opens and shuts the door to let everyone in and out of the building.

I am not bashing the correctional officers. I used to be one there at Stiles too. Some of the officers are great officers and follow policy (like the officers who shot the Texas inmates as they tried to escape) and some of them are not good officers (well, there are too many stories of bad officers to link to, so here is one example of a bad officer arrested bringing drugs into Stiles Prison). There were just several hundred cameras installed in Stiles Prison and those bad officers there will be caught when they try to have a relationship with an inmate or bring an inmate phones and drugs. Without Bad Officers Puckett Probably would have never had the cell phone. So bad officers are certainly a major factor, but the bad officers in prison are not at all the point of this letter because we already know there are bad officers and measures are already being put into place to catch the bad officers. The mostly overlooked point that I am trying to make is that ALL of the officers are put in an terrible position of having to either follow security policy and get looked down on for not getting everything done, or cut security corners so that they get everything done in the day and don’t get a talking to from a Lieutenant (and the LT has to ride the officers because they are told to make sure everything gets done so they are put in this bad position just like the officers). That is the bigger problem that most likely happens in all of the State Prisons and leads to corners being cut. This problem of too much that an officer has to do for the inmates stems from various factors, for instance, frivolous lawsuits by inmates lead to unreasonable policy to cater to inmates wants and that stretches the officers too thin.

Personally, when I worked at Stiles, I just DID NOT get everything done on my shift because I was security minded. I searched those inmates and I especially searched their cells to find the weapons they might use against me. I took my time to ensure safety which meant I did not always get everything done. The inmates did not like me cause I did my job and found their weapons and other contraband, but on the other hand, I was always wondering what supervisor was going to pull me into their office and write me up for not getting all the inmates into rec on my shift. But I didn’t care. I was going to follow policy and do my job and if there was just not enough time to get everything done then there was just not enough time. I would not cut security corners though because that is how officers get hurt.

The Solution?

Well there is no money for new correctional officers, and we definitely do not want to cut out any of the time consuming security measures because of safety reasons. What needs to happen is a simple change in operation of the prison.

Changes in the way the Prison is run could drastically cut back on the correctional officer work load and allow the officers to have the time to follow policy and not cut security corners. For instance, why do inmates need 3 hot meals a day? What is wrong with a less time consuming and less expensive sack meal for one or two of the meals a day and a hot meal once or twice a day? Reducing the number of hot meals could save a couple of hours of time per day per correctional officer in Ad Seg. It would also save money in the Texas Budget. TDCJ is currently looking into taking one dessert a week out of the inmate menu to save money. Why not take out an entire hot meal? I can’t even count how many MRE’s I ate in the military so I don’t see why inmates cannot eat a simple sack lunch for one of their meals a day. Also, why do the inmates have to come out EVERY day for one hour of rec? Why not have them come out for 2 hours at a time EVERY OTHER day? The inmates would get the same amount of rec time and the workload of the officers would be CUT IN HALF because they would only have to take 40 inmates out of their cells for rec a day instead of taking 80 inmates out of their cells per day.

Simple changes like these would drastically reduce the daily workload and would ensure that the officers have plenty of time to follow all of the time consuming, yet needed, security measures. Changes like these would also reduce the new officer turnover rate. TDCJ cannot seem to keep new employees. It is already stressful to work in a prison with convicts, but add in the pressure of having too much to do with not enough time to do it, and it is a recipe for a high turnover rate.

Another idea is there needs to be an officer in TDCJ that is designated as a Dispute Resolution Officer and he/she would not be a part of the TDCJ command structure. This person would be an eye on TDCJ that reports directly to the TDCJ board. They would receive complaints or suggestions from TDCJ employees and either kick it back to the employee supervisor or investigate it and present it to the TDCJ board. You see, most employees do not want to bring a problem up to a supervisor for fear of reprisal or fear of looking like a complainer. Also, many times when complaints are given to a supervisor the supervisor might just say there is nothing that can be done and the issue does not get addressed. With a Dispute Resolution Officer, many of the current and future problems would get addressed because there would be a person to go to other than the chain of command, so important issues do not just get buried by supervisors. This Dispute Resolution Officer would also drastically improve morale of the average TDCJ Correctional Officer. Most correctional officers I worked with did not feel like their voice was worth much to the supervisors in the prison.

Think about this, there are no unions in Texas but most of the TDCJ correctional officers are part of a “fake” union. But why would they pay dues to a group claiming to be a union even though it isn’t a union? (There is no collective bargaining in Texas.) They join this group and pay the monthly dues because they feel it will give them a voice for working condition complaints. This is troubling that so many employees feel as though they cannot go to their supervisor with a problem. The Dispute Resolution Officer would solve that issue and also give the correctional officers better morale because the officers will have someone to voice their complaints to. Now to be clear, the correctional officer would have to utilize their normal chain of command first before going to the dispute resolution officer unless the officer feels there is something about the complaint that would create a need to go directly to the Dispute Resolution officer, and in that case the officer can go straight to the Dispute Resolution Officer. Otherwise, most small issues can just be addressed through the chain of command first or else the Dispute Resolution Officer would get thousands of small complaints.

So now you have an inside view of Stiles Prison and the problems that more than likely played a major part in how David Puckett was able to escape. David Puckett ended getting caught a week after he broke out, but the bottom line is that something needs to be done and changes need to be made or this type of thing will keep happening. Remember that It was only last year that a couple of guys broke out of a Texas Prison. One was captured but the murderer has still not been captured.

at Mar 19, 2011 10:35 AM
       

Comments

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Well who ever wrote that letter is partially correct but is leaving alot out.  First I do agree with the fact that all units are undermanned but the fact is some of the things he is saying are just not thought through.  1. It would be great for rec to be held every other day but you could not up the time to 2 hours due to the fact that this would make rec for the offenders run into the night shift which is only allowed 2 officers on these seg pods instead of 3 like on day shift.  So you only have 1 officer to escort the offenders to and from the rec yard and that again is against policy. 2. if you have been around TDCJ for any amount of time it is pounded in your head that a sack meal due to having to buy the paper bags is not cheaper then a hot meal and would end up costing more money to serve these daily then hot meals.  Ill tell you what you need to do is collect officers and supervisors from different types of units to come up with a staffing plan and not someone who has never stepped foot on a unit telling units how to man a unit.  I hate to say it but this is just the start of things to come if the state doesnt realize that you cant expect 24 officers to watch 585 ( which is about the amount assigned to an Ad- Seg building on a 2250 unit) of the most aggressive inmates and do their job as they need to.  Also TDC needs to realize that  raising the bar for hiring standards is a must which may include a pay raise to attract some more qualified applicants.  So Mr. Perry stop talking the talk and walk the walk and dip into that rainy day fund and protect the citizens of this state as you took an oath too, in my opinion one to many times.  OOOO and may you might realize it takes a little more then a blind monkey to do this job... 

If a blind monkey coukd do this job, the state would have already have tried it their cheaper than officer and they don't ask why, or how, am I supposed to do that and everything else you want done and still search all those offenders?  We work for an understaffed overworked unaware government.  And what makes it worse it they plan to reduce the number of officers so they don't have to pay as much.  How about asking some bigwigs to take a small pay reduction for a few months to make up the difference?  We need officers to run the unit, maybe they can multitask like we are asked to do.  Most at my unit are asked to do two or three jobs.  It does make a difference in the workload.

....Texas didn't incarcerate people for such ridiculously long sentences,you wouldn't have even half of the problem you have now. FACT. I'm not some bleeding heart liberal,I believe that people should pay for their crimes but locking them up for like 40,50,60+ years when no one was hurt or killed. Crazy.

Then obvioulsy you have not been a victim! Being a victim means you have been hurt of a crime, you loose alot when you are a victim, most of all your self security! And when and only when you will stop thinking it is ridiculously too long of a sentence, what price can one pay when drug dealer, DWI accident or a burgeler does not have to spend the rest of their life paying for the crime they committed. The victim pays for the rest of ther life (if still living) so why not the one that did the crime?

To the last comment. you are right and you are also wrong. You are on the same page as Bellow I think when it comes to too much stuff to do and not enough employees.

I do believe you have underestimates the ideas from Bellow. I do not believe Bellow literally a lunch in a plastic bag. A sack lunch is a way of saying something that does not have to be cooked. I think he probably simply meant something that does not require food service workers having to cook the food and then the CO's having to spent half their day serving hot meals and dealing with the trouble from the inmates wanting to throw it back because the inmate beside them got a few green beans more.

Also, I question assumption that a 2 hour recreation every other day would not work. What Bellow was proposing was taking out 40 inmates per day. You said that is not feasible. Well if 40 inmates per day it not feasible, how in the heck is 80 inmates taken out every day, which is currently what they have to do, any better? Taking 40 inmates out per day is obviously going to cut down on CO workload instead of taking out 80 inmates per day like they currently do.

Otherwise, you seem to agree with the general ideas by Bellow that there are some serious problems with the way Texas Prisons are run

Anything that I could add to Mr. Bellows brief description would just take away from a masterpiece.  Our small segregation area at R3 has serious problems and we do not have near the officer / offender ratio problems.  It is known all over TDCJ that the ability to segregate prison is of primary importance.  We have had many serious problems from prisoners dying do to the failure of officers to check on inmates at least every thirty minutes to officers getting assaulted due to recklessness.  Rather than trying to initiate remediation, our Captain F.R. just conceal the incidents.  The only reason we know about officer D.D. getting assaulted on 2pm is that he was concerned that he may have been exposed to hiv from a recent assault and had to get tested.  It would only take one or two cameras to view this entire segregation area, but again, our Captain does not want anyone to know anything.  It is likely that he will retaliate against everyone that he can think of, once he hears about this article.  He is an enabler for the rouge officers that journalist Dean reported about.  Those issues were concealed too. 

rLeroyG5577 you obviously don't know what your talking about!  What cameras???  There are no cameras in Special Housing!  What the heck does Captain F.R. have to do with being an enabler?  He is assigned as the disciplinary hearing officer for the R3 cluster.  You obviously don't know him well at all, because if you did you would know that he is one of the only supervisors on the R3 facility that even takes the time to train officers and supervisors as well and is anything but a "Enabler for Rogue Officers"  You obviously have a personal vendetta against him for doing his job!!  You must be a lazy, worthless piece of crap who needs to get a life and his/her facts STRAIGHT!!!  Don't hide behind a made up name be a man/woman and sign your name you coward!!!  There are plenty of supervisors on R3 who DON'T DO THEIR JOB so if you want to expose something expose that because there has been plenty of wrong doings.  PUT UP OR SHUT UP.....I'M JUST SAYIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If "doing his job" includes Francisco making babies with employees who are subordinate to Francisco while his lawful wife waits for him to return home, I do have a problem with that.  Francisco was calling in other younger female employees in for overtime for the purpose of  romance, while his lawful wife waited for him to return home.  That is why Francisco doesn't have any time to supervise the segregation area and opposes the installation of electronic surveillance so close to his rendezvousing routes.  He, his paramours, and the rest of the debris need to be taken out before much security is going to take place at C.T. Terrell.  Officer Davila would not have been assaulted if Francisco and his paramours had been performing their duties pursuant to TDCJ policy.

I heard that they only found out he escaped when they saw the status change on his facebook page.

Do your job, make no excuses or leave. It's that simple.

To Anonymous:

You are a tool.  For one thing, you couldn't even spell "escape" right.  The officers are not making excuses, they are fighting and winning a daily battle the public doesn't see.    

I am throroughly appalled that the prisoners get ANY hot meals.  How many are their victims getting?  How much exercise are they getting? 

The coddling of prisoners in this country is mind-boggling.  The waste of money to house and feed them, not to mention the legal fees . . .

We currently have an "administration" that wants to ration medical care, but we waste all of these resources on worthless scum criminals.  Unbelievable.  Force them to work for their meals and to earn enough to pay for their upkeep, or let them starve and die of exposure.  Mercy to scum prisoners is cruelty to the innocent. 

Drive by the Wynne Farm in Huntsville and take a look at the "offenders" at the trustee camp.  Very Easy to see them from the road, plain as day.  You want truth in advertising, just watch them from the road play baseball, run, sunbath in their boxer shorts, basketball, handball and whatever else they want to do.  Watch this and answer me this, what is the incentive to not break the law?, when I can get 3 hot meals a day, workout, and go to college and education classes that you, the public pay for.  This was a very bad idea by TDCJ, when they should have kept their business private, but do they, NO.

Enjoy paying for an "offender" to do what they want.

i am a correctional officer at a tdcj max unit working ad seg as well. i couldn't have said it any better myself.  i've talked about this problem in turn out many times.  another thing that factors in, is the frequent escorts for non-uniformed staff that need to be done on the pods throughout the day, and if there is a problem with any inmate, all recs and showers, or all feeding stops.  it's virtually impossible to get everything done in the day.  the prison is a 24 hour operation, and i think that night shift really needs to take some more responsibility.  there are so many things to do, and so little time.  high turnover rate is a big issue too, on our shift, most don't last more than 8 months. there are very few experienced officers on shift.
of course everyone needs to do their job responsibly, but there needs to also be some understanding, and a change in policy.

Before you start trying to delegate some more duties to we who work at night you should no doubt be aware that the number of officers assigned to a pod at night is fewer than for the day shift.  I work high security and on our seg pods there is only one officer assigned, not 2. 

While we at night do not have to deal with rec or showers (each cell has its own shower) policy requires we make 30 minute routine rounds,  conduct 6 counts and then distribute clothing necessities and mail.  Because we have all this "time" we also are responsible for catching up legal visits between inmates, phone calls, and the requisite and endless paperwork.  Did I leave out the 12 cell searches?  All this and it is our shift that has to pass out one of those 3 meals referred to.  In addition, when the nurse comes around with meds and later for insulin, we have to stop to escort him or her around and again stop to escort any other non-officer around during the early morning hours prior to the day shift coming on.

Several times in the past the responsibility of having the barber work on our shift has been tried but lack of a utility officer to escort him around stopped that.  End result is you'd have to work the night shift and vice versa to know exactly what each shift is assigned to do and what it can actually do with the staff assigned.

the last comment was right about the officers in ad seg having to escort people all day long. how could I have forgotten about that! So basically, on top of all the duties a correction officer has to do in ad seg, they also have to stop what they are doing every 30 minutes to escort medical officer, the library officer, and anyone else who comes into the ad seg area who is not an officer. That takes up a large part of an officer's time too.

how many maximum security prisons are there in Texas?

You and Bellow is both correct, I work for the highest AD SEG unit in Texas, and we have camera's everywhere, (including inside the pickett), but  NIGHT SHIFT has to pick up where day shift leaves off, and work till very late at night, and the inmates get mad, and state " we are suppose to have 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep ", but if we dont work until 1:00 am sometimes they dont get a rec or a shower, and feeding 2 times a shift, then we in the wrong "because an offender is suppose to have a daily rec and shower no exceptions", We are over worked and underpaid (like any worker) and UNDERSTAFFED and wait on KILLERS like they were a king! Thank You Bellow for putting it out there for the public to have somewhat of an idea of what we as correctional officers have to go through on a daily basis, and PLEASE don't get me started on "DIRTY or BAD Officers", Higher pay means a higher moral minded people.

As a former inmate in TDCJ, I have to agree with Mr. Bellows, 100 percent..I was there for burglary, sent from Smith County, in 1987. I served 8 yrs, got out in 1995, never broke the law again, and enjoy a wonderful business and family life. My prison time is a distant memory, until I read some liberal article bemoaning the treatment of these poor prisoners..then it all comes back to me. I went from Hughes to Briscoe to Darrington to Clements..I saw the prison system ruined by the liberals during that time. One cause of the current chaos is "workplace equality"..when I first got to TDC, the bosses were ALL big, bad, mean cowboys..every one was a man to respect and obey. They would jump off their horse and beat the crap out of a disrespectful inmate, no help needed...inmates did what they were told to do, and when they didn't, they received bread for a couple weeks, or even a wooden shampoo or two. There were no lawyers to cry to. By the time I left, the inmates were being supervised by nervous women, senior citizens, and criminals without records. When a new inmate arrives he is "checked" for weakness, fear, and naivety. If he is strong he will eventually be allowed to do his time, as the pressure let's up...if weak he will be forced to "ride", meaning become an errand boy, smuggler, sex slave, maid, or pay for protection against assaults. It is no different for C/O s..if they are scared, nervous, overly friendly, they will ride" E

I have just read this entire page - at first I thought it was for disgrunted employee's. Sure lot's for stories from guard's about what the guard's did wrong. Yikes, its sad to think you guys are the ones responsible for keep law and order in the prison system. No wonder there is such abuse in the system.  Not everyone in ad/seg is a gang member or murderer, rapist. Being thrown in a concrete cage for decades certainly removes any life form a person. Now before you get in a uproar screaming take away hot meal's - rec time - what about the victim. You are right - they should be punished for there crime. But eventually these men will be released. Yea, and what kind of positive attitude will they carry into the streets with them. Not every person in our prison is bad person - some just made bad choices.