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Agency News

Statewide tour program leads to better understanding of TDCJ operations, needs

By Oliver J. Bell, TBCJ Chairman

portrait of Oliver Bell
Oliver J. Bell
TBCJ Chairman
The primary responsibility of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice is to supervise the administration of the Agency, approve the operating budget and requests for appropriations, and develop and implement policies that separate the policy making responsibilities of the Board and the management responsibilities of the Executive Director and staff of the Agency. The Board is also responsible to provide oversight to agency functions, help assess future system needs, challenge the status quo, and support the men and women who serve our state. In keeping with this spirit, we must constantly strive to better understand the operations and needs of the Texas criminal justice system from probation through incarceration and parole. To do so, an initiative we began earlier this year is a statewide tour program.

Working with the Agency’s leadership, tour schedules were developed covering both state and privately contracted correctional facilities, parole offices and the local community supervision and corrections departments. Through these tours, facility and office staff will have the opportunity to interact with Board members and explain the operational aspects of their areas of responsibility. They will also have a chance to report on successes and provide suggestions for new initiatives or improvement. Agency staff will have the opportunity to receive on site feedback from visiting Board members about our perceptions of their operations based on the information delivered.

The visitation program for correctional facilities is very broad. Board members may visit facilities at any time - day or night. The visits may be announced or unannounced. We have a clear expectation that facilities are and will be properly run regardless of the leadership and staff present on site and will function well regardless of the time of day. During these tours, members will want to visit and be briefed on a number of areas to include security and medical operations, count room activities, food service and laundry operations, library and recreational facilities, industrial and agricultural operations, as well as the unit’s programmatic activities, including rehabilitation and re-entry initiatives. Where school facilities are located on the units, members will also visit Windham School District staff and tour their education operations. The goal will be to get an even better working knowledge of academic and vocational initiatives as well as those activities designed to positively impact behavior and character so offenders are better prepared to re-enter their communities.

The Parole Division tours will primarily target the Institutional Parole Offices (IPO) and the District Parole Offices (DPO). These visits may also be announced or unannounced. Within the IPOs, the members will be interested in viewing the procedures used to produce case summaries, which are used by the Board of Pardons and Paroles to make parole decisions and by the district parole officers to form the initial foundation for supervision. Through the visits to the DPOs, members will want to observe the processes associated with the actual supervision of parolees. In conjunction with these visits, members may wish to attend preliminary/revocation hearings or to ride along with a parole officer as they make home/work visits.

Through their visits to the Community Supervision and Corrections Departments (CSCD), members will be afforded the opportunity to view the counties’ adult probation supervision and rehabilitative efforts first hand. They may wish to tour the treatment and residential programs, such as community corrections facilities, as well as any intervention programs in operation like drug court. As many CSCD initiatives divert participants from actual prison facilities, success in these areas has the potential to positively impact overall incarceration rates and return participants more quickly to their communities to become productive citizens if they emerge from the programs with the right attitude.

Considering this a rotational plan, it is the Board’s goal to visit as many sites as possible on an annual basis. Our ultimate goal is to touch every facility and to reaffirm for all Agency staff as well as local probation officials that our Board is very interested in and supportive of their efforts to implement successful operations and programs. With the implementation of the CID tour program in June, members have visited 41 facilities as of October 1. The parole and CSCD tour plans started in mid-September, and three (3) CSCDs and one (1) parole office were visited as of October 1. In the scheduling of additional visits and traveling to various locations, the Board will continue to be mindful of our current economic times and the need to be good stewards with state resources.

This statewide tour program will afford the Board an opportunity to see first-hand the operations of the three supervision venues that are vital parts of the Agency’s operations. We will also be able to visit with staff, obtain feedback and grasp a stronger understanding of how these supervision sectors intermingle with the other divisions of the Agency to make up our state’s criminal justice system.

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