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New Huntsville training academy prepares sergeants for supervisory role

When TDCJ correctional officers are promoted to sergeant they go from being just one of the guys on shift to being a shift supervisor overnight.

“It’s going to be a tough transition,” said Ross Williams on the eve of reporting for duty as a sergeant at the Hutchins State Jail near Dallas. “They’re still your friends, but they’ve got to know that you’re the sergeant now.”

To help with what can be a taxing transition, Williams and other newly promoted sergeants are now receiving specialized instruction at the agency’s new Sergeant Training Academy in Huntsville prior to assuming their supervisory positions.

Correctional officers in classroom listening to instructor as they follow along in their learning materials
Kenny Kelly, newly promoted to sergeant at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, looks over materials during the inaugual Sergeant Training Academy class in Huntsville.
Photo by David Nunnelee
“The academy’s objective is to enhance the preparation of newly-promoted sergeants to the supervisory level, to broaden their knowledge in supervisory and leadership skills, and to expand their awareness of agency departmental operations,” said Correctional Training Leadership Development Supervisor Ricardo Jimenez.

The first-of-its-kind academy opened on March 7 at the Sam Houston State University Criminal Justice Center with 35 new sergeants from across the state making up the inaugural class that graduated on March 18. A new class begins the two-week curriculum the first Monday of each month.

“By better preparing our newly promoted leadership, we hope to have a positive impact on our correctional officers receiving the support and direction they deserve in fulfilling their responsibilities both safely and securely,” said Correctional Institutions Division Director Doug Dretke.

Over the course of the academy, 12 classes are taught to better prepare the novice correctional supervisors for their role on prison units. Curriculum blocs include communication skills training, responses to life endangerment situations, a sergeant’s role in Use of Force incidents, and the interaction between sergeants and other departmental personnel on a unit.

“With all of TDCJ’s policies and regulations, there’s no way possible you can learn it all at one time,” said Anthony Brooks, a member of the first academy class from the Boyd Unit in Teague. “Bringing us into the academy and narrowing it down to what we need to know to pass on to our correctional officers is very helpful. I guarantee that every sergeant in this academy will go back and get closer to those policies. It’s going to make you plan before you act.”

Jonell Stringer was promoted to sergeant at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston after working 14 1/2 years as a correctional officer.

“It’s been an eye-opener,” Stringer said about the academy. “It’s been very educational. I learned a lot of policies and learned to apply the skills that we have.”

The Sergeant Training Academy was developed over the course of year with the help of a focus group made up of wardens and working sergeants. Senior correctional supervisors and representatives from the various departments found on a unit are brought in to address the new sergeants one on one.

“You’re given a lot of information you didn’t know,” Williams said. “The information will help you in the long run in your job performance and how you deal with your subordinates and offenders.”

Stinger said she sought promotion after the youngest of her three daughters was raised.

“I do feel more prepared, like I know what the agency expects from its supervisors,” she said. “I hope it’s something the agency keeps up.”

Former TBCJ chairman named to Habitat International advisory board

Carol S. Vance of Houston, former chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, has been named to the National Advisory Board of the Prison Partnership program of Habitat for Humanity International.

vance standing at podium
Former Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Carol S. Vance of Houston is the newest member of the Habitat for Humanity’s National Advisory Board.
Photo by Jene Robbins
Vance, a retired attorney, served on the TBCJ from 1992 to 1999 and was instrumental in opening the state’s correctional system to volunteers. During that period, the number of volunteers working within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice tripled. Vance was also influential in the development of TDCJ’s Programs and Services Division (now named the Rehabilitation & Reentry Programs Division) and of the agency’s substance abuse treatment program.

Vance was also the guiding force behind the development of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative program at the TDCJ prison unit in Richmond that now bears his name. The InnerChange program emphasizes restorative justice through which the offender works to restore himself, the community, the victim and his own family.

As a member of the Habitat advisory board, Vance will assist in implementing the organization’s strategic plan, which calls for providing opportunities to offenders to help restore neighborhood and communities and make positive contributions to society.

Based in Americus, Georgia, Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating substandard housing worldwide. Through its Prison Partnership program launched in July 1999, offenders have constructed more than 600 Habitat for Humanity houses around the United States.

American Corrections Association names Texas parole director “Best in Business”

Portrait of Bryan Collier
Bryan Collier
TDCJ Parole Division Director Bryan Collier has been named the “Best in the Business” by the American Corrections Association (ACA). The international organization annually recognizes outstanding performers in the criminal justice field from among candidates nominated by corrections professionals from all over the globe. Collier was honored for his innovative leadership of one of the largest parole systems in the world.

"This recognition is a great honor,” Collier said. “I believe this acknowledgement is due, in large part, to the fact that I work for the best in the business – the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Board of Criminal Justice.”

Collier, 40, is one of several criminal justice professionals from across the country that is being featured in the June issue of ACA’s Corrections Today magazine. An East Texas native, Collier joined TDCJ as a clerk in 1985 and then became a correctional officer following his graduation from Sam Houston State University in 1986. He became interested in the parole aspect of corrections and after advancing through progressively more responsible assignments he was named director of TDCJ’s Parole Division in January 2002.

The task of supervising more than 77,000 offenders, 67 parole offices and 2,478 employees would be a challenge to most people, but Collier finds it “interesting and fun.”

“My position enables me to spend time with parole officers to get a first hand feel of what’s going on out there, and also allows me to initiate activities that I believe will make offender supervision more effective,” Collier said.

Among the concepts Collier has implemented since taking the reigns of the parole division is implementation of a random visit protocol for sex offenders that might find a parole officer knocking on the offenders door at any time of day, including weekends and holidays.

Collier has also implemented a program of one-on-one meetings with offenders who have been released under supervision for a few months. The objective, he says, is to “concentrate on the offenders true needs, which can dictate the success of that offender’s reintegration into society.”

While pleased with the progress of his division, Collier acknowledges that some areas of his job are difficult - for example, retaining parole officers.

“Being a parole officer is a difficult job,” he said. “You get at least 75 cases assigned to you and each case has a different set of issues. Sudden job vacancies can cause added case load due as those cases are divided among remaining officers, straining an already stressful environment.”

Co-workers describe Collier as an astute employee with a high ethical standard. “Mr. Collier’s reputation as a criminal justice professional, along with his honesty and integrity, serve this agency well,” said TDCJ Interim Executive Director Brad Livingston. “We couldn’t ask for a more knowledgeable, supportive and engaged Parole Division director.”

“It has been, and continues to be, a great privilege to work for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” Collier said.

Collier, wife LaDonna, and their three children make their home in the Austin area.

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