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Friday, 24 August 2012

It's not what you know, but who you know - and TDCJ wants to know too

A few months ago, TDCJ started telling its officers that if they had people on their personal Facebook accounts who were currently under parole or probation conditions, or who had been incarcerated in the past, then the officers would have to delete those individuals from their Facebook account. TDCJ rules state that TDCJ staff are not permitted to associate with any offenders or their families.

More recently, TDCJ has been saying to officers that it requires their Facebook log in details so that TDCJ can check to see who might be on their friends list.

TDCJ is saying to its employees that they cannot "associate" with any of those people (anyone). How easy do you think that is to comply with? Especially if by "associate with", TDCJ means "go to the same church as", or "use as a babysitter", or even "teach your children at school". And what if TDCJ should find out about someone on the officer's Facebook page, when the officer does not actually know themselves that that person is related to an inmate for example. Can TDCJ trample over an individual's privacy by telling the Officer what they have found? It would appear so.

This would be funny if it weren't so serious. TDCJ is an agency with a high level of staff turn-over, poor retention rates, an inability to attract enough new recruits, and one that continually advertises for new staff in Nigeria. And yet it is determined to reduce its current staff base even further by carrying out a witch-hunt for anyone who might just be connected in some way to those horrible, nasty, criminals who would surely murder each and every one of us in our beds if they were ever to be released (except around 70,000 do get released each year and fewer are returning to TDCJ year on year).

How far will TDCJ go with their policy? Will they eventually insist that an officer moves house because their next-door-neighbour's cousin's son has just been sent to prison? Will they start looking further back into an individual's family history to see if any of their ancestors were ever incarcerated back in the day when inmates were lucky to leave TDCJ alive (though it wasn't called TDCJ back then, there are still some in the agency who mourn the loss of their perceived power to inflict physical abuse on inmates who weren't "respectful" enough).

I see a lot of officers complaining about how they are now treated worse than the inmates. I have a small amount of sympathy when it comes to the foibles of the administration and petty rules that hinder rather than help keep officers and inmates safe. But I have no sympathy for them when they complain about having to be searched when they enter the unit. That's no different to friends and family of inmates, and officers have collectively looked down on us with scorn for long enough. They usually say that we choose to be there supporting our inmates, so we should just suck it up. Well, now it's their turn to suck it up, because they choose to work there. Perhaps they should try some reverse psychology and see it as keeping themselves safe from those who would happily bring in weapons for inmates to use.

By keeping officers and those related to inmates separate, TDCJ are operating a divide and rule policy. Keep the two sides at arm's length, don't allow either to educate the other that the stereotypes are not true, keep everyone in the dark, and TDCJ can just keep doing what it always does: spending tax-payer's (that's officers' AND inmates families') money without having to be fully accountable for how much and what it spends it all on. The old red herring of "reduced public safety" is peddled liberally by TDCJ, and yet if 70,000 inmates are already released each year without mass violence on the streets of Texas, how safe is TDCJ actually keeping the public right now? 

But the point really is this: TDCJ cannot afford to keep alienating its current officers and expect them to keep sucking it up. TDCJ needs staff, but can't afford to pay for them. They either need to raise some more money (hello? International phone calls? extended visits where the family pays a premium? a care package system that actually gets off the ground?), or they need to reduce the number of inmates so they can operate with a lower staff count. Doing nothing is not an option; the lessons of Ruiz should not have to come back to haunt TDCJ again.

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