Frequently Asked Questions
Q. For the purposes of these rules, who is an offender?
A. An offender is any individual incarcerated in any local, state or federal correctional institution, to include juveniles incarcerated in Texas Youth Commission (TYC) facilities.
Q. When offender-to-offender correspondence is approved, is the correspondence subject to inspection?
A. Yes. Offender-to-offender correspondence is general correspondence; this includes offender-to-offender correspondence related to legal matters. General correspondence is subject to inspection and rejection if the content is found to be in violation of the correspondence rules. Be advised that if content in an offender-to-offender letter discusses using a third party to facilitate correspondence with other offenders not approved for offender-to-offender correspondence, the letter will be subject to rejection and disciplinary action may result.
Q. How may an offender prove an individual is a relative?
A. There are several means that will be utilized by the unit Records Office to confirm a familial relationship. The unit Records Office will review the information provided on the Family History Page and the offender Visitors List. The unit Records Office may also require a copy of a pertinent birth certificate or other written documentation traditionally used to prove family relationships.
In order to correspond with an incarcerated family member, an offender will have to submit an I-60 to their Unit Records Office. The I-60 must:
- State the requesting offender's name, TDCJ number, unit of assignment, living quarters, and work assignment;
- State the offender's request to correspond with an offender;
- Provide that offender's name (as contained in TDCJ records);
- Provide that offender's TDCJ number;
- Provide that offender's current unit of assignment; and
- Note the relationship to the offender (can only be a parent, grandparent, step-parent, spouse, common-law spouse, child, grandchild, step-child, brother or sister).
Q. How may two offenders get married?
A. The Family Code, Sections 2.006 and 2.007, permits two individuals to be married by proxy when neither individual can be present.
Q. What is currently active litigation?
A. A lawsuit that has been filed and has not terminated in the courts. For the purposes of the correspondence rules, an offender will submit an I-60 to the law library supervisor requesting approval to correspond with an incarcerated co-party. The following information (similar to the "Verify" form currently used for Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), property box reviews, certified mail, etc.) will be required:
- The offender's name (as contained in TDCJ records);
- The offender's TDCJ number;
- The offender's current unit of assignment;
- Specific litigation information: cause number, case style, whether it is a criminal or civil case, the presiding court (to include state or federal division or district); and
- The requesting offender's name, TDCJ number, unit of assignment, living quarters, and work assignment.
Q. What is the definition of co-party?
A. A co-party is any person (i.e., co-plaintiff, co-defendant) who is listed in the legal action's case style (i.e., John Doe v. State of Texas) and who has "appeared" in the case by signing pleadings as a party. Simply having one's name in the style of the case is not enough to be a co-party.
Q. How will it be determined that an offender is providing a relevant witness affidavit?
A. There will not be a difficult test. The affidavit should relate directly to the subject matter of the lawsuit for which the affidavit is being provided. An offender may not provide a letter outlining his knowledge of relevant facts for another offender engaged in litigation. Also, offenders may not include other correspondence (such as pleadings or letters) when sending an affidavit.
Q. Does the term "affidavit" include an unsworn declaration in accordance with state or federal statutes?
Yes. So long as the affidavit complies with Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Chapter 132 or 28 U.S.C. §1746, it is included within the meaning of "affidavit."
Q. For purposes of the rules, does "currently active litigation" include non-criminal offender disciplinary cases?
A. No. If all witnesses are assigned to the same unit, the Access to Courts Rules permit offenders to visit in the law library or via an offender-to-offender legal visit in order to discuss legal matters. For witnesses assigned to another unit, offenders have access to counsel substitutes for the investigation of their disciplinary cases.
Q. If an offender files a class action suit to include all offenders in TDCJ, may he then correspond with all offenders in TDCJ?
A. No. However, if the court certifies a class and does not appoint counsel, then an exception will be considered.
Q. May offenders continue to correspond with the offender staff at THE ECHO?
A. Yes. Although THE ECHO is an offender newspaper, a TDCJ employee supervises the day-to-day operations. As such, the mail an offender sends to THE ECHO is treated like any TDCJ office.
Q. The Access to Courts Rules state that "offenders shall be permitted to assist or advise each other on all legal matters" and that "offenders on different units or on the same unit may correspond with each other about legal matters." With the changes to the Correspondence Rules, how is it possible that either statement is still correct?
A. While the Texas Board of Criminal Justice did make changes to the Offender Correspondence Rules, the direct effect of these changes to the Access to Courts Rules will be minimal. Offenders assigned to the same unit are still permitted to assist or advise (i.e., during law library sessions or offender-to-offender legal visits) each other with legal research and the preparation of legal documents. Additionally, offenders who are assigned to different units will continue to be allowed to correspond with each other about legal matters as long as they are immediate family members, co-defendants, co-plaintiffs, or one offender is providing a relevant witness affidavit.
Q. If offender "A" is currently assisting offender "B" with his lawsuit and offender "A" is not a co-party to the lawsuit, but is located on the same unit, what action can offender "B" take to retrieve his legal material?
A. Offenders having direct access to the law library may visit in the law library and exchange documents, if they so desire. Offender "A" may also continue to assist offender "B" and retain the legal materials, assuming that both parties agree.
Offenders with indirect access to the law library but still on the same unit must submit a request to the unit's Law Library Supervisor and request a legal visit. Upon approval by the Law Library Supervisor, the visit shall be scheduled and both offenders will be afforded the opportunity to exchange documents.
Offenders not on the same unit will need to contact their respective unit's Law Library Supervisors and give the Law Library Supervisors the appropriate information. The Law Library Supervisors will then contact one another and arrange for the return of the legal material via TDCJ Truck Mail from one supervisor to another.
Q. If offender "A" gave offender "B" a power of attorney, would offender "B" be permitted to correspond with offender "A" about legal matters?
A. No. One offender is not permitted to give another offender power of attorney. Should an offender be suspected of giving another offender power of attorney, both offenders will be written a Level 3, Code 43, "Exerting any authority over another offender," offense report. No offender shall ever be placed in a position to exert control or authority over another offender. However, offenders will be permitted to assist each other in legal matters assuming they reside on the same unit and meet the criteria for legal visits.