Need­less quo­tas

Bo­gus dis­ci­plinary re­ports harm in­mates and the in­tegrity of our jus­tice sys­tem.

Houston Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER -

Every now and then, po­lice de­part­ments will get in trou­ble after be­ing caught en­forc­ing ticket quo­tas for traf­fic pa­trols. Un­for­tu­nately, this type of mis­guided man­age­ment isn’t lim­ited to speed­ing tick­ets and chang­ing lanes with­out sig­nal­ing. Ap­par­ently, some of our jails have suf­fered un­der a sim­i­lar manda­tory en­force­ment mech­a­nism.

Some law en­force­ment of­fi­cers have been or­dered to find a cer­tain num­ber of dis­ci­plinary in­frac­tions within the Texas crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem — or else — as Chron­i­cle reporter Keri Blakinger re­cently re­ported.

This per­ver­sion of jus­tice came to light in mid-May after Blakinger ob­tained copies of a leaked email from the TDCJ’s Ram­sey Unit in Bra­zo­ria County that re­quired of­fi­cers to write up pris­on­ers or face dis­ci­plinary con­se­quences them­selves.

“Two each day is my re­quire­ment,” Capt. Regi­nald Gil­bert or­dered of­fi­cers at the Bra­zo­ria lock-up in an email. “Re­mem­ber this is to be done each work­day with­out ex­cep­tion.”

Al­though quota sys­tems for dis­ci­plinary prob­lems vi­o­late Texas De­part­ment of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice pol­icy, in­quiries ul­ti­mately found them to be in use at more than one cor­rec­tional in­sti­tu­tion.

As a re­sult of in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the TDCJ has since de­moted a hand­ful of em­ploy­ees and tossed more than 500 in­mate dis­ci­plinary cases. That’s a good start, but Bryan Col­lier, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of TDCJ, needs to do more to re­store the public’s trust.

Any Texas driver in­stinc­tu­ally un­der­stands how quota sys­tems for traf­fic tick­ets are an un­fair way to eval­u­ate of­fi­cer per­for­mance and serve only to in­cen­tivize bad de­ci­sions and mis­treat­ment of the public. It’s a les­son that Col­lier needs to ex­tend to his own of­fi­cers.

The direc­tor should take a hard look at the de­part­ment’s train­ing sys­tem. Al­though this overt pol­icy at Bra­zo­ria has since been aban­doned, Col­lier should dig deep to in­sure that no quo­tas — ei­ther ex­plicit or im­plied — un­der­gird Texas crim­i­nal jus­tice dis­ci­plinary pol­icy.

The de­part­ment should also adopt a prac­tice of more closely mon­i­tor­ing the com­plaints of in­mates and their fam­i­lies re­gard­ing cor­rup­tion at Texas prison units. That’s how of­fi­cials learned about an­other prob­lem at the Bra­zo­ria lock-up.

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.

A spokesman for the TDCJ said it’s not clear the screw­driver in­ci­dent was con­nected to the quota, but the fact re­mains that quo­tas can pro­vide an in­cen­tive for em­ploy­ees to man­u­fac­ture ev­i­dence. Bo­gus dis­ci­plinary ac­tions carry se­ri­ous con­se­quences for in­mates. In­mates can get kicked out of their classes, lose their jobs or be de­nied other priv­i­leges.

“One of the big­gest com­plaints we have from fam­ily mem­bers is that an of­fi­cer has writ­ten a bo­gus case and there's no way for peo­ple to fight that be­cause it be­comes a he said-he said type of sit­u­a­tion and an in­mate has no re­course,” Jen­nifer Ersch­abek of Texas In­mate Fam­i­lies As­so­ci­a­tion told Blakinger.

The un­fair quo­tas also add un­nec­es­sary anger and ten­sion to al­ready stress­ful lock­ups. In the weeks lead­ing up to the 10-day hunger strike at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, Ersch­abek said she'd fielded nu­mer­ous com­plaints about “bo­gus cases” spark­ing wide­spread un­rest at the unit.

Claims of quo­tas within prison walls have been ram­pant for years, and re­cent de­vel­op­ments prove pris­on­ers and their fam­i­lies right in too many cases. Col­lier needs to set things straight. And if he can’t, it falls on our Leg­is­la­ture to pro­vide proper over­sight.

Com­pe­tent man­age­ment shouldn’t have to de­pend on a leaked email.

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