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Fewer restrictions not an option
Life without parole offenders face a lifetime
of tight supervision

hands gripping cell barsA lifetime of tight supervision awaits offenders sentenced to life without parole in Texas.

In fact, offenders who commit a crime of capital murder after September 1, 2005 and are sentenced to life without parole are not eligible for a less restrictive custody than General Population Level 3 (G3), a level that restricts where they are housed and the jobs they can perform. Specifically, such offenders cannot be assigned to dormitories located outside of the main building and are kept from jobs where they would be allowed access to multiple areas of a unit. But unlike other G3 offenders who can eventually become eligible for promotion to a less restrictive custody, those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole cannot.

“With life without parole, G3 is the highest custody level an offender can receive,” said Classification and Records Operations Manager Becky Price.

TDCJ designated G3 as the entry-level custody status for offenders sentenced to life without parole after lawmakers made it a sentencing option in capital murder cases during the last regular legislative session. Previously, jurors could sentence a convicted capital murderer to death by lethal injection or to life in prison, a punishment that required the offender to serve 40 years before becoming eligible for parole consideration. The new legislation replaced life with the sentence of life without parole and is applicable only in capital murder cases.

The agency consulted other states while developing its final approach to classifying offenders sentenced to life without parole.

The G3 custody level is designed primarily for offenders serving sentences of 50 years or more. It falls in the middle of the agency’s five general population custody categories and is assigned to long-term offenders who abide by the rules and regulations. The more restrictive G4 custody is often attached to chronic rule violators, while G5 custody offenders generally have histories of assault against staff or other inmates. Thirty-six units across the state are designated to house the more than 4,100 offenders now assigned to the G3 custody level in TDCJ.

As with offenders sentenced to death in capital murder cases, life without parole offenders will be brought into the prison system through two designated units, the Byrd Unit in Huntsville and the Reception Center in Gatesville. They can then be assigned to any of the units designated to house them.

Texas had been one of the only four states that had no life without parole sentencing option. Seven states – California, Florida, Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – have more than 1,000 prisoners each serving sentences of life without parole. With 10 percent, Louisiana leads the nation with the highest percentage of inmates serving life without the possibility of parole. At the end of July, Texas had 8,088 offenders serving life sentences, including 1,756 for capital murder. The state’s death row population numbered 411 as of the end of August.

Opponents to the life without parole sentencing option argued prior to its passage that it would make Texas prisons more crowded and dangerous because there would be no incentive for good behavior. But because life without parole is a sentencing option only in capital murder cases, TDCJ officials don’t expect it to have an adverse effect on the prison population.

“The life without parole that passed in Texas is strictly for capital murder, whereas a lot of the other states have a lot of different ways to get to life without parole,” Price said. “Louisiana has the life without parole sentencing option available for a number of offenses, as does New Jersey and California. In Texas, capital murder is it. So we don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact here because capital murder offenses are not that frequent.”

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TDCJ reimbursement for Hurricane Katrina
expenses tops $73,300

Donna lot sorting through boxes of supplies outside of the prison gates
Donna Lott organizes food and water provided to Goodman Transfer Facility employees through the Federal Emergency Management Agency a month after Hurricane Rita blew through Jasper.
Photos by David Nunnelee
Wanda Turnbeaugh working at computer
Administrative Review & Risk Managment employee Wanda Turnbeaugh works on a spreadsheet verifying the number of hours worked by TDCJ employees during Hurricane Rita for possible reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been refunded $73,312 by the federal government for costs associated with its part in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Under an emergency disaster declaration approved for Texas by President Bush, TDCJ was able to apply for 100 percent reimbursement of eligible costs incurred during the disaster declaration period running from August 31 to October 1.

The agency’s projected eligible costs for the period included $21,394 in employee overtime expenses, and another $54,552 to cover the costs of the equipment and materials TDCJ put into the hurricane relief effort. The agency is not eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for another $31,052 in employee time contributed to the relief effort during regular working hours.

A breakdown of expenses incurred by the agency included $33,921 for laundering 45,229 pounds of clothing during the disaster declaration period. In all, the cost of materials provided by the agency totaled $42,009. Equipment expenses, mostly the use of agency cars and trucks, added up to $12,543.

Overtime amounted to 643 hours worked by 140 employees, most of whom were investigators with the Office of Inspector General who provided security at shelters set up for hurricane victims. Employees involved in the production and delivery of mattresses also put in extra hours on the job in support of the relief effort, as did many unit laundry employees and correctional officers assisting in the daily cleaning of shelters and in the distribution of food from food banks.

More than 240 man-hours went into the compiling and verifying of costs associated with Hurricane Katrina. Agency expenses associated with Hurricane Rita were expected to far exceed those of Katrina.

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TCA accepting nominations for annual
awards presentation

The Texas Corrections Association is accepting nominations for statewide awards to be presented at the association’s annual conference in Corpus Christi in June.

The awards recognizing outstanding work among adult and juvenile corrections professionals in Texas include the Dr. George J. Beto Hall of Honor Award and the Ellen Halbert Crime Victims’ Advocacy Award. Awards will also recognize the year’s outstanding adult corrections line officer, outstanding juvenile corrections line officer, outstanding adult corrections administrator, and the outstanding community services administrator/provider. TCA Star Awards and the Amador Rodriguez Memorial Outstanding Juvenile Corrections Administrator Award will also be presented.

Nominations are due by April 1. While all nominators must be current TCA members, recipients of the Beto, Halbert and Star awards are not required to be members of TCA. Other award recipients must have been active TCA members for the past year.

The awards will be presented during the TCA Conference and Exhibition scheduled June 11-14 in Corpus Christi. For nomination forms and further information online, click on or call TCA at 512-346-5820.

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