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Sunset staff review recommends that TDCJ continue mission

illustration of a sunsetThe Texas Department of Criminal Justice incarcerates offenders less expensively and with greater success than the national average and should continue to operate for at least a dozen more years as an independent agency responsible for providing public safety by confining, rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders into society. That is the recommendation contained in the staff report released recently by the Sunset Advisory Commission.

The Texas Legislature created the Sunset Advisory Commission in 1977 to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies. The 12-member Commission reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 state agencies and questions the need for each agency, which typically undergo review once every 12 years. Since the first reviews, 47 agencies have been abolished and another 11 agencies have been consolidated. Estimates from Sunset reviews conducted between 1982 and 2003 indicate potential savings to the state of $736 million.

According to the Sunset staff report, TDCJ has made significant progress since it last was subject to Sunset review in 1999.

“TDCJ has taken on several initiatives to improve its operations,” the staff report states. “For example, TDCJ has streamlined its organizational structure, consolidating several separate divisions into a single division to improve coordination and oversight. TDCJ also plans on having all its prison units accredited by the American Correctional Association by 2009.”

In all, the staff report identifies 10 issues pertaining to TDCJ, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, and offers recommendations for each.

“The Sunset staff report clearly recognizes TDCJ’s ongoing commitment to fulfilling its mission in a responsible and focused manner,” said agency Executive Director Brad Livingston. “I believe this also speaks highly of our employees and their dedication as public servants.”

“By supporting community supervision of less serious offenders, TDCJ helps divert these offenders from traditional incarceration,” the report states. “For the more serious offenders, providing a secure environment as well as rehabilitative programs both in prison and under parole supervision helps ensure successful reintegration back into society rather than returning to prison.”

The report notes that TDCJ incarcerates offenders at an average cost of $40 per day – well below the national average of about $69 a day – and that the agency’s three-year recidivism rate for 2000-2003 is also lower than the most recent national recidivism rate. During that period, TDCJ’s recidivism rate fell from 31.3 percent to 28.2 percent. In 2000, California reported a three-year recidivism rate of 60.5 percent, while the rate in Pennsylvania stood at 45.9 percent.

To review the Sunset staff report, go the TDCJ web site under the Announcements section (click on the “View the Sunset Staff Recommendations for TDCJ” link).

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The Internet is all business for
TDCJ employees

illustration of two men working on computers with lines connecting to different website and earth image At the office, the Internet is all business. It must be if any private or public organization is to effectively manage the costs associated with being online. That’s why TDCJ’s Information Technology Division (IT) recently installed software to block access to Internet sites that have no clear connection to an employee’s job or are considered inappropriate in the workplace.

The significant demand on Internet bandwidth has led IT to begin blocking web sites,” said TDCJ Communications & Networks Assistant Director Wendell Stewart. “The initial effort is focused on sites that could harm agency networks or are inappropriate.”

More than 6,500 TDCJ employees have access to the Internet. Stewart said the agency expanded its Internet capacity by 50 percent in December 2004 and that about 70 percent of that capacity is now being used at a cost of more than $92,000 annually.

“Ultimately, as we watch the traffic, we may find that, at worst, we don’t have to increase the capacity further,” Stewart said. “At best, we can look at it and say that we can reduce the capacity we have, which would cost the agency less each month.”

Individual web sites are placed into categories by the maker of the software that was initially installed in January to combat spyware. TDCJ decides only on which categories to block. Through September, IT had blocked sites falling into the categories of Spyware, Hacking, Adult/Mature Content, Intimate Apparel, and Violence/Hate/Racism. Stewart said other categories containing hundreds of different web sites could be added over time.

“Overall, agency employees have used the Internet wisely over the years,” Stewart said. “My general guidance to employees continues to be that Internet capability is provided to meet agency business needs and its use should reflect that intent.”

But while some sites are clearly unsuitable for the workplace, Stewart acknowledges that others may fall into a gray zone. For an employee to have a blocked site opened, his or her supervisor must submit a written request explaining why access is needed. Depending on how critical the need, Stewart said the appeal could be decided almost immediately or within just a few days.

“It’s possible that the software maker will have put a web site in a certain category when there may be a valid business need for one of our employees to access that site,” Stewart said. “So we’ve put steps in place so that if there is a problem like that we can go in and make an exception. But to this point, we have not had any complaints that we have interfered with business.”

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Ramsey Unit instructor named Windham Teacher of the Year

Tillustration of apple on book with letters A,B, and C on cards in backgroundimothy Simon, a cognitive intervention instructor at the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon, has been named the 2005-2006 Windham School District (WSD) Teacher of the Year. WSD Superintendent Debbie Roberts announced Simon’s selection for a field of eight regional finalists in August.

Simon has worked in the field of education for 21 years and has taught with WSD for 12 years. He is currently teaching cognitive intervention to offenders participating in the Gang Renunciation and Disassociation program at Ramsey.

“Mr. Simon demonstrated exceptional talents during the selection process and is honored as the Teacher of the Year for his support of the WSD mission and goals, exemplary leadership expertise, learner-centered instruction, collegiality, and professionalism,” Roberts said.

Other regional finalists for Teacher of the Year honors included, Shelli Carter, Northern Region, Beto Unit; Alton Farris, Northern Region, Eastham Unit; Riva Martinez, South Texas Region, Torres Unit; Dusti Morgan, West Texas Region, Neal Unit; Karen Rothe, South Texas Region, Ney State Jail; James “Jack” Simpson, West Texas Region, Clements Unit; and Donna Sitterding, Gulf Coast Region, Pack Unit.

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