Houston Chronicle

Quotas led to at least 500 fake infraction­s

Falsified disciplina­ry cases in Texas prisons were systemic, investigat­ion finds after leak

- By Keri Blakinger

Texas prison officials have tossed more than 500 inmate disciplina­ry cases and fired a fifth official in the wake of revelation­s about short-lived guard quota systems at multiple units across the state.

The developmen­t Monday comes less than two weeks after four officials were fired and a fifth quit under investigat­ion in connection with allegation­s that officers planted screwdrive­rs in a prisoner’s cell at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ramsey Unit in Brazoria County.

“Violations of TDCJ policy will not be tolerated, and swift action will be taken if any are found,” said prison spokesman Jeremy Desel.

For inmates and their families, the latest news came as a welcome relief amid long-standing claims of “bogus” disciplina­ry cases against inmates and quotas for guards in a slew of prisons.

“It breaks my heart to know that there were this many cases that weren’t deserved, that were written on these inmates,” Jennifer Erschabek of the Texas Inmate Families Associatio­n said Monday. “And you don’t know how that impacted them, whether they were kicked out of their classes or lost their jobs or lost other privileges. I’m just speechless.”

The quotas for inmate disciplina­ry reports at the Brazoria lockup came to light in mid-May after the Houston Chronicle obtained copies of an email from Capt. Reginald Gilbert ordering officers to write up prisoners or face disciplina­ry consequenc­es themselves.

“Effective March 10, 2018, each Sergeant will be required to turn in at least two (2) cases written by officers for a Level 2 Code 35 ‘Unauthoriz­ed Storage of Property,’ ” he wrote. “Two each day is my requiremen­t. Remember this is to be done each workday without exception.”

A couple of hours later, Maj. Juan Jackson responded, noting that the “below instructio­ns will help greatly in fighting a gig,” which former union president Lance Lowry said is slang for an audit.

Weeks later, prison officials abandoned the quota system, but TDCJ started investigat­ing after the Chronicle reported on it.

A statewide audit found similar systems in place at three other units: Lychner State Jail in Harris County, Travis County State Jail in Austin, and the McConnell Unit in Bee County, according to Desel.

At the first of those, the state jail in Atascocita, an official emailed out orders for a quota system, but it was quickly cut off and only resulted in one disciplina­ry case, which has since been removed from the system. A captain who would have been demoted over the scheme was instead fired in connection with a subsequent disciplina­ry action, though it’s not clear what that entailed.

At the McConnell Unit, officials tossed out 293 cases that had already been written, and hit the brakes on another 83 that were in the midst of being processed. It’s not clear how the quota system started there, and just one major was discipline­d with a demotion there.

At the state jail in Austin, the prison tossed out 91 cases and demoted and moved an assistant warden, a captain and a sergeant.

At the Ramsey Unit, prison officials eliminated 180 disciplina­ry cases. But as officials probed the cases there, an inmate’s mother wrote in to say her son had been set up by prison guards who allegedly planted two screwdrive­rs in the man’s cell, possibly in connection with the disciplina­ry quota.

The Office of the Inspector General launched an investigat­ion, and four men were fired and another resigned under investigat­ion.

Desel described that as an “isolated incident” and said it’s not clear that was connected to the quota.

But the quota system as a whole, advocates stressed, appears to be more than a one-time occurrence.

“This is a systemic error and it deserves thorough investigat­ion both internally and an external monitor to figure out why it took a Houston Chronicle investigat­ion and a leaked email to come to light,” said Elizabeth Henneke, executive director of the Lone Star Justice Alliance. “So I would call on the state to examine its own procedures.”

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, vowed to monitor the situation moving ahead.

“We must have zero tolerance for manufactur­ed charges,” he said. “My fear is that this is not an isolated instance.”

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