New TDCJ visitation/mail policies punitive and arbitrary

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is changing its visitation, mail and commissary policies for Texas prison inmates in ways which seem arbitrary and unnecessary.

Let’s start with visitation. TDCJ will begin running a drug-sniffing dog past all potential visitors, even children, and deny entry if the dogs alert. If a dog alerts twice, that person will be denied entry permanently.

The move is being billed as preventing contraband smuggling, but that doesn’t justify it. For starters, nearly all the contraband smuggling is done by guards, and the biggest problem is the agency can’t fire them because they wouldn’t have enough people to staff the prisons.

Consider this example from the French Robertson Unit in Abilene last year:

A list obtained by KTXS from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) said that 51 French Robertson Unit staff members were disciplined and one of those staff members was fired for bringing in contraband between January 1, 2013 to July 3, 2019, a six-and-a-half-year span.

Moreover,

The TDCJ also said that out of the 400 staff members at the French Robertson Unit, the number of contraband disciplines “are below average for disciplinary action and contraband issues as compared to the other 103 state prisons in Texas.” 

So one staffer out of 400 was fired for bringing in contraband to the prison, while 51 were allowed to continue working there. And that’s “below average” for other units. So it takes a lot of chutzpah for TDCJ to blame families for contraband! That’s absurd.

Anyway, why not just run the drug dog past inmates before they go back to their cell, or search them, for that matter, if need be. If you’re trying to find contraband, the policy makes no sense.

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Theophalis Wilson Exonerated After 28 Years in Pennsylvania Prison

Theophalis Wilson was released on Tuesday after a Philadelphia court vacated his wrongful conviction and dismissed all charges against him. He is the 12th person exonerated by District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).

Mr. Wilson was arrested and charged with murdering three people in North Philadelphia when he was just 17 years old. Mr. Wilson and his 29-year-old co-defendant, Christopher Williams, were convicted in 1993. Because he was under 18, Mr. Wilson was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole; Mr. Williams was sentenced to death.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the prosecution’s case turned on the testimony of James White, a six-time convicted first-degree murderer who claimed to be an accomplice in the murders. Prosecutors admitted in a court filing in 2001 that they had no case against Mr. Wilson or Mr. Williams “unless the jury believed White.”

At a 2013 hearing in Mr. Williams’s case, James White admitted that he lied at trial in exchange for a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty. Forensics experts also testified that the physical evidence discredited Mr. White’s story that the three men were shot and pushed out of a moving van. The court granted Mr. Williams a new trial because his trial lawyer failed to present this expert evidence, which “would likely have changed the jury’s mind” about believing Mr. White and resulted in acquittal.

But even after its crucial witness was completely discredited, the District Attorney’s Office planned to retry Mr. Williams. In response to pretrial discovery requests, prosecutors steadfastly refused to turn over their case file to the defense. READ THE REST

How Private Prisons Are Profiting Under the Trump Administration

There are more people behind bars in the United States than there are living in major American cities1 such as Phoenix or Philadelphia. According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 2 million adults2 were being held in America’s prisons and jails. Of these 2 million prisoners, about 128,0633 were detained in federal or state facilities operated by private prison facilities, a 47 percent increase from the 87,3694 prisoners in 2000.

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Meat Executives Plead Guilty to Selling Bad Beef to 32 Prisons

Two meatpacking plant executives pleaded guilty Tuesday to their role in a scheme to sell 800,000 pounds of adulterated meat to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox.

According to plea papers, the two men admitted to selling uninspected, misbranded, or adulterated meat–including whole cow hearts labeled as “ground beef”–to 32 prisons in 18 states.

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