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Agency News

September/October 2017
Volume 25 Issue 1

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Executive director’s update

By Bryan Collier

TDCJ executive director Bryan Collier
Bryan Collier

It has been several months since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast and left behind a trail of destruction and flooding. Many Texans whose homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged are still dealing with the hurricane’s aftermath, including a number of TDCJ employees.

To everyone who suffered because of Hurricane Harvey, but most of all to our own employees, I want to wish a full and speedy recovery. I hope those of you who work for TDCJ and were impacted by the storm have benefitted from the generosity of your fellow coworkers and corrections professionals across the country. We have done our utmost to identify affected employees and, through the contributions of agency staff and many other concerned individuals, tried to provide some assistance to help address your immediate needs. The support shown by so many is truly heartwarming. God bless those who were harmed, those who have assisted those in need, and each and every one of you who helped this agency fulfill its vital public safety mission despite an unprecedented natural disaster.

As to the impact of the hurricane on the agency, I am pleased to say it was very limited given the magnitude of the storm. Most importantly, no one was harmed. A few agency buildings sustained minor damage, some of which has already been repaired. Some roads, bridges, fencing and equipment were also damaged, and the agency’s agricultural production incurred some losses as well.

While the damage resulting from Hurricane Harvey may have been minor, the efforts necessary to protect public safety and prevent extensive damage, serious injury and perhaps even the loss of life were anything but. If not for the amazing and inspiring performance of TDCJ’s dedicated public servants, the outcome might have been disastrous for both the public and the offender population. Our staff safely and securely evacuated thousands of incarcerated offenders from flooded areas, continued to monitor thousands of offenders on street supervision in the affected communities, and maintained all the essential services necessary to support every unit, every parole office and every other vital function performed by the agency.

Hurricane Harvey was a terrible natural disaster which presented the agency with a monumental challenge, and only through the Herculean effort of our employees was success made possible. To say I’m proud is an understatement. I simply cannot thank you enough for your public service.

This issue of the Connections newsletter is largely devoted to telling the story of how TDCJ employees responded to the challenges of the natural disaster. It would require a book to even begin to do justice to the exemplary work performed by our staff, but I hope the articles and photos convey the magnitude of the challenge and the dedication and determination of our workforce. To all employees, let me once again say thank you, not just for your actions during the hurricane, but for what you do each and every day. It is an honor to be the Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

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TDCJ handles Hurricane Harvey with readiness, response, recovery

Before it began, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was predicted to be average, likely to produce only three major hurricanes. But it’s important to remember that even a single storm, depending on its strength and where it makes landfall, can make for a busy season.

That storm struck in late August.

Like no other event in TDCJ history, Hurricane Harvey tested the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission while enduring a catastrophic and widespread weather emergency. TDCJ staff responded to this unprecedented storm event, perhaps the greatest logistical challenge in the history of Texas corrections, with practiced skill and professional expertise.

Photo of television weather report warning of deteriorating conditions as Hurricane Harvey approached
Conditions worsened quickly as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas coast.

By the time it dissipated, Harvey had left a trail of destruction along the Texas Gulf Coast that extended miles inland. Hurricane winds and flooding rains struck densely populated, low-lying areas from Beaumont to Corpus Christi, including Houston, the fourth most-populous city in the nation and home to 2.3 million people. In four days, parts of East Texas received more than 40 inches of rain, and accumulations of almost 65 inches – nearly 5.5 feet – of rain along the upper Texas coast make Harvey the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the US.

In Texas, the storm displaced more than 40,000 people, damaged hundreds of thousands of buildings and threatened operations at dozens of CID and Parole Division facilities along its path.

TDCJ has the benefit of experience dealing with weather disasters, including other strong hurricanes such as Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. The agency carefully studies its response to such disasters, creates or revises preparedness plans, and organizes response exercises to help all staff understand their role during an emergency. A well-timed emergency management simulation exercise, which simulated a Category 4 hurricane striking the Gulf Coast, took place only days before severe flooding overwhelmed the Brazos River Basin during the Memorial Day floods of 2016. In that case, the training exercise helped TDCJ’s many divisions and departments work together to manage the emergency. And while institutional experience and effective training are important parts of the agency’s disaster response preparations, TDCJ relies on the professional commitment and perseverance of its workforce to fulfill its mission despite the devastating effects of these natural disasters.

Harvey began on August 13, first as a tropical wave off the African coast, then growing into a tropical storm four days later. After entering the Caribbean the storm gained strength as it continued moving north-northwest. On August 23 Harvey was predicted to make landfall within 72 hours as a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane, and the National Weather Service issued storm surge, tropical storm and hurricane watches for most of the Texas Gulf Coast; these watches turned into warnings as the storm suddenly intensified, producing the first major hurricane of the season. Late on August 25, Harvey had grown to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of more than 130 mph.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier described agency preparations for the approaching storm, “As Hurricane Harvey developed in the Gulf, moving from a tropical depression to a Category 4 hurricane in record time, our agency command center began 24-hour operations and staff began making preparations by increasing fuel, food and water supplies to units in the potential impact area, and also staging resources such as buses and staff near impact areas to assist, if needed. Prior to landfall we evacuated community treatment centers in Victoria and Corpus Christi, and also evacuated high-risk parolees who were living in impact areas who did not have other residential options.”

Harvey made landfall around 10:00 p.m. on August 25 near Rockport. Here it stalled, producing rainfall totals never before measured in the continental United States. Within hours, more than 20 inches of rain had fallen in the Corpus Christi metropolitan area and parts of Houston received at least 30 inches. Large areas along the coast lost both power and water service.

Photo of flood waters surrounding the Jester I Unit, taken through window of vehicle
Flooding along the perimeter of the Jester I Unit.

Collier also explained how the agency staff and emergency responders around the state were kept informed of the storm’s progress. “As the storm made landfall, our team closely monitored all of our operational areas to ensure needs were being met, but we also were in regular contact with the State Operations Center. We monitored daily conference calls with the SOC and state hydrologist which helped us forecast possible flooding near many of our facilities.”

TDCJ’s emergency command center coordinated administrative, operational, and communications tasks to address the changing circumstances of the storm. Evacuations were ordered to ensure the safety of staff and offenders. “Based upon the information we received, we evacuated the Ramsey, Stringfellow and Terrell units as the Brazos River was expected to rise above levels at the end of 2016 when we had floods,” said Collier. “We also evacuated the Jester I and the Vance units, when the state hydrologist advised that the Brazos River near Sugar Land would exceed its banks. As the storm continued, we evacuated halfway-houses and treatment centers in Houston and Beaumont. Overall, we evacuated nearly 7,000 offenders, most of whom were housed in TDCJ correctional facilities in south and east Texas, until their unit or facility was ready to be reoccupied after the storm.”

Hurricane warnings were discontinued as Harvey moved over land and weakened, but were reissued as the storm moved back out over the Gulf of Mexico. By August 28, a tropical storm warning was again in effect for the entire Gulf Coast of Texas, from High Island northward. The storm strengthened again before making a third and final landfall in Louisiana on August 29, inundating Beaumont-Port Arthur with 32 inches of rain, flooding the Neches River and cutting off the city’s water supply. Executive Director Collier explained how advance planning helped the agency avoid a water-supply problem. “For the units in the impact areas that sheltered-in-place during the storm it was largely business as usual, with the exception of units in the Beaumont area who lost water service when the City of Beaumont water supply was affected by flooding. Fortunately, due to our preparations, we had water tankers with portable water onsite, porta-potties at those locations, as well as a robust supply of bottled water.”

Immediately after the storm, agency leadership teams went to each of the impacted facilities to help assess damage and to address any concerns expressed by staff and offenders. In areas where the storm hit hardest, many employees stayed on their units, working and sleeping onsite to ensure each facility had adequate staff on hand. After the storm had passed, staff members from areas unaffected by the storm were brought in to relieve employees who had spent days working on storm-hit units. Harvey then drifted inland, weakening and dissipating on September 3.

Before it was over, Harvey had caused at least 88 deaths in Texas. Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency for 50 counties, with six entire counties and parts of others under mandatory evacuation. An estimated 450 square miles of Harris County were under water and more than 300,000 Texans were without electricity. In Texas, financial losses due to property damage and lost production are estimated to exceed $150 billion.

The hard work and professional commitment demonstrated by TDCJ employees kept losses due to Hurricane Harvey at a minimum, while offender oversight was maintained, and public safety preserved. As of mid-October, offenders evacuated by TDCJ had been returned to their assigned facilities, damage assessments were complete, and structural repairs were in progress, with an estimated cost of less the $1 million.

Even before the flood waters had receded, the department was receiving calls and emails from individuals, businesses, organizations and correctional agencies from across the nation asking how they could help. The Association of State Correctional Administrators, the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation, the Texas Correctional Association and state corrections departments in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky were among the organizations that offered assistance. TDCJ staff also donated much-needed supplies and funding to support recovery.

The urge to help even included offenders incarcerated within TDCJ who donated more than $53,000 in commissary funds to the American Red Cross. Offenders requested and were granted permission to donate to the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when they donated almost $44,000 to the organization.

Looking back on the event, Collier expressed his thoughts on the performance of agency employees, saying “There’s so much that our agency did each and every day to stay one step ahead of a very unpredictable situation, it’s hard to put all that into words and explain it to you. What I do want to tell you is that each piece of this operation was complicated.”

Collier continued, "The preparations, the evacuations, the housing of evacuated offenders, staff who remained onsite with offenders, staff who provided relief, staff who kept generators running and water being delivered, hours without rest, yet focused on getting the job done. Our correctional officers, our parole officers, our clerical staff, division directors and everybody in between did a phenomenal, heroic job. They all ensured that our offenders and staff were safe and that we delivered on our promise to provide public safety at all times. I could not be prouder of the team that we have at this agency and just remain in awe of the amazing things they do so well."

Natural disasters on the scale of Hurricane Harvey are, thankfully, very rare. TDCJ staff responded to this unprecedented storm event with hard work and professional commitment which kept losses to a minimum, while offender oversight was maintained, and public safety preserved. Fortunately, response planning and training programs, reinforced by practical exercises, provided critical support during this disaster response, though most of the credit for TDCJ’s success dealing with a direct hit from a record-breaking major hurricane must be awarded to its frontline workforce, whose professional commitment never wavered during the storm.

Planning, preparation and response

The Office of Incident Management (OIM), which began monitoring Harvey’s approach on August 18, is the agency’s central oversight authority for emergency management preparedness and response. The OIM helps develop and update emergency response and continuity of operations plans, and coordinates logistical and law enforcement support for the State Emergency Management Plan for the use of various transportation assets, including those of other state agencies, during an emergency. The OIM also trains agency staff on roles and expectations during emergencies and, in conjunction with agency divisions and departments, coordinates training for security staff and unit personnel on the In¬cident Command System. For details about OIM activities before, during and after Hurricane Harvey, go to the Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Office of Incident Management article in this issue of Connections newsletter.

Preparation and response activities are largely overseen by the agency’s Correctional Institutions; Parole; Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics; and Facilities divisions, with other agency divisions, departments and sections providing critical support.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier surveys the flooding at the Ramsey Unit following Hurricane Harvey.
TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier surveys the flooding at the Ramsey Unit
following Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Correctional Institutions Division explains how CID kept offenders under secure supervision while preparing for the hurricane, and during shelter-in-place, evacuation and repopulation activities. How frontline unit staff rode out the storm, and what was done to expedite a return to normal operations are also discussed.

Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Parole Division describes how parole supervision was maintained despite the closure of district offices due to flooding and storm damage, and how Parole staff worked with parolees to secure home plans or return them to their facilities as they became available.

Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics recounts the many challenges which had to be overcome to prepare for a hurricane and continue delivery of critical provisions to facilities scattered across hundreds of square miles, over roadways covered with water and debris.

Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Facilities Division details how dozens of secure facilities, offices and other infrastructure items are prepared to withstand strong winds and flooding rains, how units were cleaned of debris, and how damages were quickly and efficiently assessed and repaired.

While these divisions handled most emergency response activities during the storm, many other groups within TDCJ worked in coordinated support.

Five high-profile vehicles designed for mobility in rough road conditions were procured by TDCJ’s Office of the Inspector General and used to transport employees, monitor roads for flooding and make damage assessments. OIG officers also assisted some municipalities who needed and requested security help during the storm.

Photo of large, high-profile utility truck used to drive in hight water.
One of the five high-profile vehicles procured by OIG to help with transport through
flood waters.

The Private Facilities Contract Monitoring/Oversight Division evacuated and repopulated several contract residential facilities, including a Houston halfway house, which had been isolated by floodwaters. The Community Justice Assistance Division operated an offender hotline to help coordinate offender services, issued weather and facility status updates, and compiled reports to comply with the Federal Emergency Management Act.

The agency’s Health Services Division worked to continue provision of appropriate medical care, and the agency’s Reentry and Integration Division assisted with the evacuation of parole and probation clients from contracted facilities, and continued working with those clients while they remained at their alternate locations. During this time, RID continued providing for offenders’ needs by finding residence options, potential employment opportunities, and other reentry resources, and coordinated with the Parole and Correctional Institutions divisions to continue offender release operations while keeping offender families informed about release plans for their family members. RID also worked to help ensure the safety of offenders whose release plan involved travel to a storm-affected area.

The agency's Information Technology Division and CID Support Operations worked to maintain telephone service and to keep computer networks, including the TDCJ Mainframe, in operation. The Public Information Office posted regular updates on the agency’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages, and TDCJ staff provided the Board of Criminal Justice and various state officials with daily updates.

The agency’s Human Resources Division set up an employee assistance hotline to assist employees who had been affected by the storm and the TDCJ Ombudsman answered questions from concerned family and friends about the location and safety of their offender. A conference call with organizations representing offender families also helped address questions concerning their loved ones.

To learn how you can help victims of Hurricane Harvey or if you were affected by the storm and need assistance, go to the Texas Hurricane Center website for more information.

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Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Office of Incident Management

The Office of Incident Management is the agency’s central oversight authority for emergency management preparedness and response. OIM helps develop and update emergency response and continuity of operations plans, coordinates logistical and law enforcement support for the State Emergency Management Plan, and trains agency staff on roles and expectations during emergencies.

Kirk Moss, who was director of TDCJ’s Office of Incident Management during Hurricane Harvey, is a 23-year veteran of TDCJ and was involved with the agency response to hurricanes Ike and Rita and the Memorial Day flood of 2016. As Command Center Manager, Kirk’s job included monitoring ocean weather patterns and informing agency staff of tropical disturbances that may affect agency operations.

During hurricane season, Moss checked the storm forecast every day – no matter where they form, from the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of Africa. Harvey was a tropical storm as it approached the Caribbean and weakened to a “remnant low” as it moved over land, but close monitoring continued as it skirted the Yucatan as a tropical wave moving north.

Aerial photo of the Ramsey and Terrell units surrounded by flood waters after Hurricane Harvey
Aerial view of the Ramsey and Terrell units following Hurricane Harvey.
(Photo courtesy of Brazoria County/Texas DPS)

On August 22, Moss began monitoring conference calls and weather updates provided by the State Operations Center housed at the Department of Public Safety in Austin. Forecasters predicted landfall as a possible Category 1 or weaker storm, though Moss knew that the agency had to be ready to deal with unanticipated changes in the storm’s movement and strength.

Moss credits agency planning and training for enabling implementation of a proactive strategic response plan. He explains, “These storms can move unexpectedly, you have to be ready to respond to the changing situation. As the storm develops, you just have to ready to move.” While OIM kept executive management informed regarding storm predictions and agency activities, employees throughout the agency began to prepare for landfall: Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics staged supplies in areas likely to be hit by the storm and the agency’s fleet of vehicles was prepared for action, while the Parole Division developed contingency plans for maintaining supervision of high-risk offenders and the Correctional Institutions Division determined the capacity of potential host units should staff and offenders need to be evacuated from an affected facility. Kirk said, “At this stage, every division is involved in some level of preparation in anticipation of possible offender, employee and livestock movement.”

As Harvey suddenly and rapidly intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane, the predicted landfall moved from the mouth of the Rio Grande, up to the Corpus Christi area, then up to Rockport. “It was very, very fast, and that happened overnight. These are the storms that are hard to predict,” explained Moss. “But, that’s why we train so extensively. We want to be prepared for the unexpected.”

When the forecaster’s storm models agreed that Harvey would hit somewhere between Corpus Christi and Rockport, staff at the agency’s command center focused resources on TDCJ facilities which were most likely to be hit, leading to the evacuation of Parole offices and treatment facilities in Corpus Christi and Victoria.

Command center staff closely monitored projected precipitation totals. Moss explained, “We knew it was going to rain, we knew the storm was going to slow down. There were predictions that we may see 18 to 20 inches of isolated rain but there were other predictions that we could get 35 to 40.” When the Brazos River was predicted to rise to the level of the previous year’s Memorial Day flood, the agency took quick and prudent action.

By the time the storm had dissipated, TDCJ staff had demonstrated they could overcome some of the most demanding logistical and operational challenges that nature could contrive. More than 6,800 TDCJ-supervised offenders had been evacuated to safe areas, with nearly 5,840 coming from five TDCJ Correctional Institutions Division units, and more than 970 parolees and probationers from halfway-houses, treatment centers or homes in the Houston and Beaumont areas.

During an emergency such as Hurricane Harvey, the agency’s uses a simple conference room in Huntsville as a central information processing hub, and Moss hesitates to call it a “command center,” as he credits frontline staff for taking the initiative to get things done. Moss noted, “We don’t really command anything. We make the big decisions, but once that decision is made, the frontline staff is the one taking command of their area. We’re a resource for a well-trained workforce acting according to a well-designed emergency response plan. If someone needs fuel, we get them fuel. If they need water, we’re going to get it to them, so they don’t have to worry about it, because they need to focus on other problems the storm is throwing at them.”

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Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Correctional Institutions Division

TDCJ’s Correctional Institutions Division is responsible for the secure confinement of adult felony offenders. CID consists of three components: Prison and Jail Operations, Management Operations and Support Operations. Working in conjunction with other agency and emergency response groups, CID was responsible for successfully evacuating and housing most of the nearly 6,800 offenders, including parolees and probationers, who were moved to safe areas beyond the reach of Hurricane Harvey’s most devastating effects.

CID consists of six regions across the state, and Hurricane Harvey first struck at CID Region IV along the southern Gulf Coast, then Region III along the northern coast, and finally moved inland to Region I. Altogether, Hurricane Harvey threatened 13 units in Region I in East Texas, 20 units in Region III and 16 units in Region IV. Due to Hurricane Harvey, nearly 5,840 inmates were evacuated from the Ramsey, Stringfellow, Terrell, Vance and Jester III units, along with more than 970 parolees and probationers evacuated from their homes in the community, or halfway houses and transitional treatment centers in Houston and the surrounding areas.

Photo of flood waters around the Ramsey Unit following Hurricane Harvey
Flooding at the Ramsey Unit.

The agency’s Incident Command Center opened for operation on August 25 and CID Deputy Director of Support Operations Leonard Echessa described the scene, saying “From the executive leadership, to all the agency’s divisions, all of them, everybody had some representative in that command center and it ran like clockwork. Everybody worked together and everyone stayed in communication. If CID needs something from the Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics Division, somebody is right there. We let them know, they get on the phone and it’s done. It was amazing to be in there to see it in action. We worked day and night, for the first five days. For the agency, that’s a very positive result of a bad situation.”

In the days leading up to the storm, command center staff estimated the broadest possible scope of the storm and made as many preparations as they could in as many areas as possible. Landfall was expected somewhere along the coast near Corpus Christi and Rockport, so preparations were focused on those areas beginning three days prior to the storm’s anticipated landfall. It was decided that the best course of action was for staff and offenders in most units to shelter-in-place until it was clear where the storm would make landfall.

As storm conditions rapidly worsened and the forecast began to call for higher-than-expected rainfall totals for the Houston and surrounding areas, it was decided to evacuate the Ramsey complex and, as the Brazos River continued to rise, the Vance and Jester III units were also evacuated.

Deputy Director Echessa described the complexity of the response logistics and how the agency’s transportation assets were brought in from regional transportation offices around the state to take part in the successful evacuation of offenders. “We had to bring the majority of our fleet from around the state, even from places like Palestine and Abilene, to the affected area. We had a total of 77 TDCJ transport buses moving at the same time, and that does not include offender transport vans.”

Lorie Davis, director of the Correctional Institutions Division, commented on the work done by CID transportation office employees, saying “I can’t tell you how lucky we were to have a transportation team who knew when they should rest and hand over driving duties to another officer, they had practiced that. If a bus breaks down, we had a plan to use backup transport buses that had been staged along the route so no one has to wait too long. We’ll be right there to recover and get the inmates to their destination.”

One of the biggest transport challenges involved moving offenders who use walkers and wheelchairs. To accommodate this population, Echessa explained, “We had multiuse vans and wheelchair accessible vans, especially at Jester III and Terrell. We also had to make sure the host unit could meet all their medical needs. You can’t just put them in any unit. That’s a real challenge, to put these offenders in the right place.”

Another transportation hazard grew worse as the storm moved inland and roads were being closed due to flooding. Fortunately, offender transport buses are equipped with a monitoring system, which allows the agency’s incident command center to track their movement. As major roads in storm-affected areas were being closed, transport officers began using smaller roads to move offenders.

After Houston and the surrounding area had endured record-setting amounts of rainfall, Harvey moved back out over the Gulf of Mexico, strengthened, and made a second landfall east of the Beaumont–Port Arthur area. Torrential precipitation and the flooding Neches River caused the city to lose both primary and backup water service for several days. Before the storm, the agency had prepared for this potential problem by deploying supplies of bottled water, water tankers and porta-potties to CID units in the area, replenishing them until water service was restored and tested to ensure it was safe to drink.

When asked for words of advice for other correctional administrators who might face a similar event, CID leaders agreed that staff must be well trained, practiced and prepared to do hard work. Echessa added, “You have to get your employees prepared mentally, physically and emotionally for what’s about to happen. You have to have tabletops and real, practical emergency response exercise training drills. You have a unit full of offenders sleeping in the gym, something happens, what do you do? You’ve got to have a plan and put in the practice. You’ve got to plan for and practice dealing with all the buses coming in and out of the back gate.” He continued, “And after this kind of event, you have to review and revise your emergency response plans. In every incident, every year, something new comes up every time, and you have to do things a little different.”

During emergencies like Hurricane Harvey, TDCJ is fortunate to have a professional staff deeply committed to preserving public safety. Each year the department must stand ready in the event another storm develops in the Gulf and threatens Texas. Echessa noted, “Once they’ve done it, people will remember what to do when another emergency happens. Flooding happened to us last year, and it helped prepare us for the work this time around. We found that experienced staff members will take the initiative and step in to do some very hard work, and no one has to order them or even ask them to do it.”

CID Director Davis commented, “We have people who do amazing stuff. They take care of each other, they make sure staff and offenders are safe. It’s a lot of commitment.” She continued, “From a security aspect, we generally don’t have much trouble, even from offenders who have sheltered-in-place or have evacuated and are staying in host units. Everybody pulls together and it becomes a human thing. Offenders understand we’re doing our best to keep them safe, they know their safety relies on us doing the job right.”

As always, there was a tremendous positive response from agency staff. A lot of correctional officers took care of their homes and families, then packed their vehicles with whatever they needed for five or six days and came to work. COs spent night after night in the units putting the mission before themselves. Word spread quickly across the state and soon correctional officers were volunteering to relieve their brothers and sisters in gray. Civilian correctional staff also helped throughout the response, keeping offices open and working, tracking offender movements, and even bringing home-cooked food to other staff who couldn’t take a meal break.

Echessa commented, “Everybody banded together, that’s where success came from.” He continued, “Our leadership, you saw them go out onto units handing water out to offenders. When people see that, and it’s all hours of the day and night, it’s not like they’re at home sleeping and everyone else is working. When you see that, you say, ‘I’ve got to join in. I’ve got to do my part.’”

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Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Parole Division

The Parole Division supervises offenders released from prison on parole or mandatory supervision to complete their sentences in Texas communities. Parole officers monitor an offender’s compliance with conditions of release and society’s laws, applying supervision strategies based on an assessment of each offender’s risks and needs. Offenders must report to parole officers and comply with release conditions established by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and violations can result in increased supervision, arrest or re-incarceration.

Parole Division facilities are located throughout the state, including along the entire length of the Gulf Coast. Pamela Thielke, director of TDCJ’s Parole Division, described how her staff deals with the inevitable hurricane strike. “Preparation and practice drills help ensure that parole staff, our clients and our equipment are protected during extreme weather events. Each spring we make sure parole offices have adequate food and supplies on hand in the event of a storm. We make sure everyone knows that, if floods are expected, they should move their hard drives off the floor and state vehicles to a safer place.”

Photo of flood damage in a TDCJ parole office. Furniture covered in plastic and sheet rock cut out from lower half of walls
Hurricane Harvey flood damage at a TDCJ parole office.

Every year, before the beginning of hurricane season, Parole identifies clients who may have to be evacuated during a storm. This includes offenders who are monitored, sex offenders, and those residing in facilities who have no alternate housing options. This list is updated every two weeks during the hurricane season. Before the hurricane was over, hundreds of parolees and probationers were evacuated from halfway-houses, treatment centers and from their homes in the community.

During the storm, TDCJ division directors worked from the emergency command center in Huntsville. Thielke noted “That worked out really well, being right there, at the frontline, to oversee operations. We were having daily teleconferences with agency leadership, and Parole continued to have daily teleconferences among regional management, myself and my deputies, and anyone else we needed to add, such as other agency divisions.” Parole Division deputies were in the central command center in Huntsville if they hadn’t been dispatched to a remote location.

Constant communications allowed for effective collaboration and response. Teams of Parole employees, led by a team leader, reported directly to a division deputy to tell them how response actions were working. Cell phones, laptops and chargers were kept on hand to take to evacuation sites. Parole managers kept updated staff emergency contact lists available at all times for any emergency that may have occurred. That way, even when an unexpected emergency comes up, supervisors can account for and communicate with staff members. Agency cell phones proved especially useful for taking photos of extensive and detailed client evacuation lists, which could then be exchanged electronically.

Thielke described how Parole worked to make sure all clients were accounted for during the complex evacuation process. “We worked with CID and Private Facilities to set up a protocol where nobody would be evacuated from a prison unit until the parole director, parole deputies and CID chain-of-command all knew that the person was leaving and who they were leaving with, so there was no chance of losing a client. As issues came up, we were constantly evaluating what people needed. If clients got restless, we came up with ways to keep them occupied at evacuation sites.”

Parole officers, assisted by Reentry and Integration Division staff, helped transport many offenders, so most of the agency’s large transportation vehicles would be available for other uses. When possible, Parole staff even coordinated with clients’ family members so they could come and pick them up. Due to Hurricane Harvey, more than 970 parolees and probationers were transported and temporarily housed in safe areas around the state, including several secure CID facilities away from the coast, where they were kept separate from the unit’s regular inmate population and safe from the storm’s reach.

Parole staff came in from areas unaffected by the storm to help supervise clients who had been evacuated to a secure facility in a safe area, and they worked in coordination with correctional officers to make sure potential problems were quickly identified and resolved. Parole also rotated different staff teams to help keep everyone fresh and alert to attend to their client’s needs.

Even during a disaster such as a hurricane, offender release processing must continue and Parole worked with other agency divisions to continue these operations. Releases to Harris County were suspended during the flood event, but release operations continued elsewhere. Thielke noted, “We were able to adapt because we’ve had experience in working through other, smaller weather events. We deal with these problems all the time with smaller storms and floods, even a broken down bus. We know how to respond. Staff already has been through these kinds of adverse situations.” She continued, “Adaptability is the key, we stress it beginning in the training academy, that we have to be flexible and adaptable, because we’re dealing with people, human nature, and you can’t always predict what they will do and how they’ll react.”

Almost all Parole facilities damaged by Hurricane Harvey are back in use, though some cosmetic fixes are still being made. The number of employee response teams has been reduced, but daily meetings and monthly video conferences are still held to help reestablish a sense of normalcy.

Thielke underscored how the division managed to continue parole operations despite the widespread catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey. “Preparation and practice make up the foundation of an effective disaster response. Every spring we go back and review emergency response drills, so everyone knows and understands their responsibilities.” She went on to praise the work done by Parole Division employees, to include the collaboration with other divisions and agencies, saying “They stepped up and performed at high levels with very little needed direction. Even under difficult circumstances, our employees don’t need a lot of direction to accomplish the division’s mission.”

Thielke summed up her observations by noting “Good communication and strong leadership are essential. Our agency’s leadership works hard to make sure we have the right people in the right position. If you do that, all divisions will be able to make the right decisions. I credit my deputies and all Parole staff for understanding the agency’s action plan and their individual duties, for making good preparations to deal with a record-setting hurricane, and for identifying potential evacuees early in the game. Unfortunately, we’ve had prior experiences dealing with disruptions due to extreme weather, so the practice allows us to get better and better.”

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Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics Division

The Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics Division provides warehousing, manufacturing, freight transportation and fleet management services, as well as agricultural oversight and management of the agency’s land resources.

Land resources are used to produce fresh vegetables, grain, hay and the cotton used to manufacture offender clothing. MAL manages and operates several food processing plants and livestock production facilities that provide the canned vegetables, eggs and various finished meat products to feed the offender population. MAL’s Fleet and Freight Transportation section has oversight of approximately 2,200 active vehicles, including 200 tractor trucks and 450 tractor trailers, as well as several thousand trailers and other equipment. In preparation and response to Hurricane Harvey, MAL’s dispatch offices coordinated more than 135 freight hauls and truck drivers logged approximately 32 thousand miles.

Photo of the Ramsey Unit Ag office surrounded by flood waters coming up several feet
Flooding at the Ramsey Unit Ag office.

Even before the command center began 24-hour operations the morning of August 25, MAL Director Bobby Lumpkin and his team were working behind the scenes to coordinate staff and stage supplies and equipment in areas that were expected to be impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Pallets of emergency supplies, such as flashlights, batteries and rain gear were staged in unit warehouses, additional food, bottled water, ice, water tanks, cots and sandbags were shipped to affected areas, and bulk fuel levels were monitored more closely. In addition, MAL staff began to monitor food, mattresses and necessity item supplies at units that could potentially receive evacuated offenders.

Once offender evacuations began, MAL staff at the emergency command center coordinated the transport of food and mattresses to units receiving offenders. They also provided agency wrecker services, and strategically placed high profile vehicles to assist with flood responses. Lumpkin explained, “By maintaining our position at the command center, we were able to act as a conduit for information from the field and route requests for supplies to the proper location.” He continued, “If the Wynne Unit needs additional supplies because they’ve received additional offenders, our job is to find how to meet that need.”

During all of this, the safety of livestock also needed to be taken into consideration. In all, 5,730 heads of cattle, 629 heads of swine and 54 horses, as well as hay and feed were moved to higher ground or relocated to other units to avoid low water areas.

Through it all, Lumpkin praised the work of the frontline staff. “They worked tirelessly and showed incredible dedication and perseverance. We had some staff who came to work even though the roadway was flooded – their house was flooded.” He went on to describe their dedication to their job duties. “They worked under some incredibly difficult conditions yet still manage to exhibit the agency’s core values of Courage, Commitment, Integrity and Perseverance.”

As of November 1, most Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics operations affected by the hurricane have returned to normal. Some animals were relocated to other areas of the state until waters recede from flooded pastureland, and most damage on agency farmland affected roads, bridges and fencing has been repaired. Lumpkin estimates the MAL will need to replace several miles of non-security fencing around the perimeter of pastures and crops.

The agency’s cotton crop sustained the greatest loss. Lumpkin estimated that more than 2,500 acres of cotton were lost to flood waters. “While cotton is used in our sewing operations to produce offender clothing and necessity items, we always have an inventory on hand from the previous crop season. We will just need to be strategic with our supply going forward.” MAL staff is working to restore farmland for future crops.

Lumpkin credits extensive planning and training, and effective lines of communication for the agency’s successful navigation (link to overview) through an unprecedented storm, “If we’ve learned anything from previous storms, it’s that we have to expect the unexpected, and our agency as a whole has done an excellent job preparing for situations like this.”

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Hurricane Harvey: Inside the Facilities Division

TDCJ’s Facilities Division is responsible for plan¬ning, design, construction, maintenance and environmental quality compliance assurance for agency facilities, and each state-owned-and-operated facility has a Maintenance office. Regional offices have specialty crews who make construction repairs, and facilities’ employees are among the first responders who evaluate, assess and repair the damage caused by storms, hurricanes and other events.

Like other TDCJ storm-response groups, Facilities’ command communications were routed through the command center in Huntsville during the storm. Facilities’ staff kept in voice contact using both land lines and cell phones that were issued to both regional managers and maintenance supervisors, supported by email and text communications sent by staff members with cell phone or computer access.

Photo of Ramsey Unit maintenance buliding surrounded by flood waters
Flooding at the Ramsey Unit.

Before Harvey hit, Facilities’ emergency response staff members were made available “on-call” to assist with storm preparations and help fulfill any urgent needs. Emergency purchase credit limits were increased for regional staff to allow for quick acquisition of critical supplies, and emergency contact lists were updated and distributed. A comprehensive list of all transportable assets was compiled and uploaded to the agency’s OneDrive information storage system, allowing staff to quickly and easily find and relocate emergency response resources to where they were most needed.

Facilities’ major response activities during Hurricane Harvey included deployment of portable generators and water tankers, response to power and water outages throughout the state, relocation of all equipment located in the flood zone impact area, and filling and deployment of sandbags where necessary. The director of TDCJ’s Facilities Division, Frank Inmon, described the emergency preparation and response actions of his staff as outstanding, saying, “Many maintenance employees never left their units, and the performance of both unit and regional employees went far beyond their standard job duties. Even while employees were losing their homes and belongings, they remained on the job to perform preventive maintenance and to make sure emergency equipment was ready for use before Hurricane Harvey impacted the area.”

Standby generators were checked to make sure they were operational and filled with fuel, and regional staff made sure all portable generators were operational, installation cables were available and transport trailers were ready for deployment. Enclosed tool and material trailers were prepared to be sent into storm-impacted areas, as were Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, and FEMA reporting logs were distributed to staff. Water tankers and generators were deployed to areas where they were most likely to be needed, and all state vehicles, to include heavy haul trucks and equipment, were kept fueled and ready for use.

Unit and regional staff made sure all fuel tanks were filled, tree limbs were trimmed to keep them clear of transformers and power lines, and sandbags were filled and sent to flood-threatened areas. In areas where the storm was expected to hit, buildings were boarded up and TDCJ staff members living in employee housing were instructed to secure any loose items.

As soon as possible, Facilities’ staff moved in and quickly assessed and began to repair storm damage. It took only three days to restore unit wastewater plants to full operation, and five days to test all water-delivery systems in the impacted areas to make sure they could provide safe drinking water. In the interim, water tankers and bottled water remained available for use on affected units. All emergency response equipment, including water tankers, had been returned to its original assigned location one week after the storm.

Based on his experience dealing with weather-related emergencies, and that of his staff, Facilities Director Inmon offered advice for other administrators and managers who might have to deal with a natural disaster, “Always have an emergency command staffing and response plan, and make sure it includes regular mock emergency disaster drills. Keep up with preventive maintenance so your emergency response equipment is ready for use, and perform regular tests on that equipment to make sure it’s operating correctly.”

Inmon also stressed the importance of collaboration, saying “Always team up with stakeholders from other groups in your organization, and keep in mind that you’re not acting alone. Each division and every employee should be part of the coordinated emergency response, so preplanning, regular practice and maintaining good communications before, during and after the storm are the foundation for an effective emergency response and quick recovery.”

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SECC thanks TDCJ employees

SECC; State Employee Charitable Campaign. Thanks to all TDCJ employees who supported the 2017 SECC with generous payroll contributions and fundraising activities. Results of the 2017 campaign will be posted in a future issue of Connections.

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Hinojosa named RPD director

New TDCJ Rehabilitation Programs Division Director Rene Hinojosa.
Rene Hinojosa

Rene Hinojosa has been selected as director of TDCJ’s Rehabilitation Programs Division, effective November 1. He replaces Madeline Ortiz who retired in September.

Hinojosa began his career with TDCJ in 1994 as a parole officer and has more than 23 years' work experience with the agency. He has held positions within the Parole Division and the Private Facility Contract Monitoring and Oversight Division to include district parole officer, parole analyst, program administrator, contract monitor and region supervisor. He also served as the deputy director of Operations Monitoring for PFCMOD and most recently held the position of deputy director over the Administrative Review and Risk Management Division.

As director of the Rehabilitation Programs Division, Hinojosa will oversee the delivery of evidence-based treatment services for offenders throughout their incarceration and post-release supervision.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier congratulated Hinojosa on his promotion, saying “Rehabilitation is one of the core functions of this department. Rene’s wealth of experience working with our offender population will help ensure the continued success of individuals transitioning back into society.”

Hinojosa has a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi.

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Clark named Deputy Chief of Staff for TDCJ

New TDCJ Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Clark.
Jason Clark

Jason Clark has been named Deputy Chief of Staff for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, effective November 1. Clark began his career with the department as a Public Information Officer in 2006, and was promoted to director of the agency’s Public Information Office in 2013.

Clark holds a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Sam Houston State University. Prior to coming to TDCJ, he worked as a producer, reporter and bureau chief.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier congratulated Clark on his selection, saying “Jason’s extensive and diverse background will serve this department well as he transitions into this critical position.”

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Fox named RID deputy director

New TDCJ Reentry and Integration Division deputy director Stephen Fox.
Stephen Fox

In October, Stephen Fox was selected as deputy director of TDCJ’s Reentry and Integration Division.

Fox has more than 20 years’ experience with TDCJ, first as a correctional officer at the Allred Unit in Iowa Park beginning in 1996. He moved to the Private Facilities Contract Monitoring and Oversight Division (PFCMOD) in 2004 where he worked as a contract monitor at the Bridgeport Correctional Center and most recently served as deputy director of PFCMOD Programs Monitoring.

As RID deputy director, Fox will help oversee daily operations of Reentry Planning and the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments.

RID Director April Zamora congratulated Steve on his new position, saying “Steve brings a wealth of knowledge in contract monitoring and leadership that will serve the division and agency well.”

Fox holds a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Texas A&M University-Commerce.

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MAL selects three deputy directors

New TDCJ manufacturing, agribusiness adn logistics deputy director Ron Hudson.
Ron Hudson

In October and November, three TDCJ veteran employees were selected as deputy directors for the Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics Division. Ron Hudson was named deputy division director over Agribusiness, Land and Minerals; Kirk Moss was chosen to manage Texas Correctional Industries, and Robert Cade will oversee Transportation and Supply.

Ron Hudson has 25 years of experience with TDCJ, beginning as a correctional officer at the Huntsville Unit and eventually holding key positions within Texas Correctional Industries and Transportation and Supply. His most recent position was as assistant director of Laundry, Food Service and Supply within the Correctional Institutions Division.

In his role as deputy division director for Agribusiness, Land and Minerals, Hudson’s responsibilities include management oversight of the agency’s land and mineral resources, along with several food processing plants and livestock production facilities that provide vegetables, eggs and meat products used to feed the offender population.

Ron holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Sam Houston State University.

New TDCJ manufacturing, agribusiness adn logistics deputy director Kirk Moss.
Kirk Moss

Kirk Moss has over 23 years of experience with TDCJ. He began his career in 1994 as an Accountant II for TCI and eventually served key roles in CID’s Plans and Operations Department. He most recently served as director of the Office of Incident Management.

As Texas Correctional Industries deputy director, Moss will oversee 33 agency facilities that produce goods and provide services for sale to state and local government agencies and a work-training program which offers offenders the chance to gain work experience and marketable skills for their eventual transition back into society.

Moss has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Sam Houston State University.

New TDCJ manufacturing, agribusiness adn logistics deputy director Robert Cade.
Robert Cade

Robert Cade has more than 24 years of experience with the TDCJ. He began his career in 1993 as a correctional officer and has held key supervisory positions within Texas Correctional Industries. He most recently served as a Manager I for Transportation and Supply.

As deputy director for Transportation and Supply, Cade will have oversight of thousands of agency vehicles used for freight transportation throughout the state.

MAL Director Bobby Lumpkin congratulated Hudson, Moss and Cade on their recent promotions saying, “Each of these three employees brings considerable knowledge and experience with agency operations to their new positions. This, combined with their strong leadership qualities, will serve the division and the agency well.”

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ARRM Division names Gattis, Carter as deputy directors

New TDCJ ARRM deputy director Frances Gattis.
Frances Gattis

Effective November 1, Frances Gattis and Christopher Carter assumed the job duties of deputy directors for TDCJ’s Administrative Review and Risk Management Division.

As deputy director, Gattis will oversee ARRM’s Access to Courts section, which makes sure TDCJ offenders are provided their constitutional right of access to the courts, counsel and public officials. Gattis will also manage the ARRM division’s Offender Grievance Program, which helps identify and resolve offender issues, and the TDCJ Ombudsman Program, which provides information about the agency to both the general public and elected officials.

Gattis has more than 28 years of experience with TDCJ, beginning as a classification and records clerk and subsequently holding key job positions in Classification, Count Room and Intake areas. Most recently, she held the position of Manager III in the Reentry and Integration Division.

Gattis holds a Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice Management from Sam Houston State University.

New TDCJ ARRM deputy director Christopher Carter.
Christopher Carter

As deputy director, Carter will oversee ARRM’s Monitoring and Standards Department, which works to ensure operations are in accord with agency policies and procedures, court orders, and nationally accepted standards established by the American Correctional Association. Carter will also manage the ARRM division’s Risk Management Department and supervise Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) audits.

Carter has more than 22 years of experience with TDCJ, beginning as a correctional officer and moving up through the ranks to his most recent position as senior warden of the Estelle Unit.

Carter holds an associate degree from Penn Foster College and a bachelor’s degree from Ashworth College in Norcross, Georgia.

ARRM Director Kelvin Scott congratulated Gattis and Carter on their new positions, saying “Both Frances and Christopher have extensive experience and leadership skills that will serve the division and agency well.”

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CID selects Martinez, Blackwell as region directors

New TDCJ CID region 4 director Miguel Martinez.
Miguel Martinez

In September, TDCJ’s Correctional Institutions Division selected Miguel Martinez as director of CID Region IV, based in Beeville, and David Blackwell as director of CID Region V, which includes the Texas Panhandle.

Miguel Martinez began his career with TDCJ in 1995 as a correctional officer at the Connally Unit and has held many correctional supervisory positions within the agency, including assistant warden and warden. Martinez most recently served as senior warden at the McConnell Unit in Beeville.

As director of CID’s Region IV, Martinez oversees 17 units in an area that stretches from the southern Gulf coast to El Paso. Martinez replaces Joe Grimes, who retired.

Martinez holds an Associate of Arts degree in Correctional Science from Coastal Bend College and is a member of the American Correctional Association.

New TDCJ CID region 5 director David Blackwell.
David Blackwell

David Blackwell has more than 27 years of experience with TDCJ, having started his agency career in 1989 at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota. Blackwell rose through the security ranks and served as the senior warden at the Hightower Unit in Dayton and the Skyview/Hodge Complex in Rusk. Most recently, he held the position of senior warden at the Hughes Unit in Gatesville.

As director of CID’s Region V, Blackwell oversees 17 units in North Texas.

Blackwell is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Southwest University and is a member of the American Correctional Association, Texas Corrections Association and the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents.

Lorie Davis, director of the Correctional Institutions Division, congratulated Martinez and Blackwell, saying “Their strong operational oversight and leadership abilities will serve the agency well as we pursue new opportunities and face future challenges.”

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Rutledge named RPD Chaplaincy Operations Manager, Drum retires

New TDCJ chaplaincy operations manager Michael Rutledge.
Michael Rutledge

In September, Michael Rutledge was named Chaplaincy Operations Manager for TDCJ’s Rehabilitation Programs Division. Rutledge had served as Religious Support Services Manager for Chaplaincy since 2013.

Rutledge began working for the agency in 2008 as a chaplain for the Parole Division in the Houston area. In addition to his agency duties, Rutledge currently serves as pastor of the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in Houston, where he has worked since 2006. Rutledge previously presided over Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Mt. Carmel Community Baptist Church, both in Steubenville, Ohio.

Rutledge has a bachelor’s degree from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he majored in History. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Ashland University’s Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from New Vision University in Lincolnton, North Carolina.

Rutledge fills the vacancy left by Chaplain Vance Drum, who retired in August after 32 years of service with TDCJ.

Retired TDCJ chaplaincy operations manager Vance Drum.
Vance Drum

Drum began his TDCJ career in 1985 as staff chaplain at the Eastham Unit in Lovelady. He held that position until 2012 when he was appointed as regional chaplain for Region I. In 2014, he was selected as Chaplaincy Operations Manager to oversee the agency’s chaplaincy program.

Drum holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Abilene Christian University. He is an active member of the American Correctional Association and its affiliate, the American Correctional Chaplains Association, where he served two terms as president from 2013 to 2017. Chaplain Drum has published several articles and is a sought-after presenter of American Correctional Association workshops on ministry and criminal corrections.

RPD Deputy Director Marvin Dunbar commended both Rutledge and Drum, saying “While we were saddened at the announcement of Chaplain Drum’s retirement, we are grateful for all of the years of service and leadership he provided to Chaplaincy Operations and the agency as a whole. We also know that the division is in good hands with Pastor Rutledge, whose experience both within and outside of the agency will serve us well moving forward.”

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