Despite Reforms, Juvenile Offenders in Texas Remain Endangered

By Matt Clarke / Prison Legal News

Two studies by the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin found that juveniles held in Texas jails while awaiting trial as adults are often isolated with no access to education programs, and that violence remains prevalent in state juvenile facilities in spite of recent reforms.

Texas’ juvenile system, which has been renamed the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), was rocked by months of violence during 2012 in the agency’s six secure facilities – especially the Giddings State School and Corsicana Residential Treatment Center. The spike in violence echoed widespread reports of abuse and misconduct in 2007 that resulted in substantial changes in the state’s juvenile justice system.

For the first study by the LBJ School of Public Affairs (LBJ), 41 jails were asked to complete a survey related to incarcerated juveniles, their access to programs and whether they were separated from adult prisoners. The results indicated there were few prisoners under the age of 17 held in Texas jails – only 34 during the survey months of October and November 2011. The survey also showed that in 30 of the jails – roughly three-fourths – adults and juveniles were incarcerated separately. However, the report noted that juveniles might come into contact with adult prisoners during showers, recreation or meals.

“National research indicates that juveniles in adult facilities are five times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and rape than youths who are kept in the juvenile system,” according to the report.

On May 7, 2012, two days before the LBJ report was released, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a ruling requiring jails to separate adult and juvenile prisoners.

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CDCR Prison Guard Convicted of Accepting Bribes

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Prison Legal News

A veteran prison guard at the California Men's Colony was sentenced to 30 days in jail in August 2013 for accepting bribes.  Kevin Jon Venema, 50, was confronted by internal affairs officers who accused him of selling tobacco and cell phones to prisoners.  Venema, initially charged with three felonies, pleaded no contest to one count of accepting a bribe as a correctional officer.  His sentence included three years of probation in addition to the jail term.

Jails Face Backlash, Class-action Lawsuits Over Debit Card Fees

By Matt Clarke

The sheriff of Dallas County, Texas had a good reason for giving prepaid debit cards to prisoners containing the balance of their trust fund accounts when they were released from jail.

“There was too much money handling,” said Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

The cards contain the funds the prisoners had with them when they were booked into the facility, plus any money they received during their incarceration, less what they spent at the jail’s commissary. But Valdez and the Dallas County Commissioners were surprised to learn that the debit cards come with fees, and that prisoners who use the cards are charged for accessing their own money.

The issue came to light when former prisoner Steve Mathis addressed the commissioners at the end of their first regular meeting in January 2013, to complain about the fees. County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner John Wiley Price didn’t like the idea of released prisoners having to pay debit card fees.

“But let me just tell you, it’s his money,” Price said, noting that was the first he’d heard about any fees. “He said he didn’t give us no bank card [when he was jailed], he gave us cash. He should be able to get his money back. I got a real problem if they’re being charged a fee.”

Sheriff Valdez agreed, but said she didn’t know much about the issue since Mathis was the first to complain about it. However, she promised to look into whether an ATM or kiosk could be placed in the jail complex so the debit cards could be redeemed with no fees.

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Commissary in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis

One of the few highlights in the life of an inmate in the Federal Bureau of Prisons is the once-per-week privilege of going to commissary, which is the prison equivalent of the local supermarket.  Since packages from family and friends are not allowed in the BOP, the commissary is an inmate's only opportunity to get the amenities that can make serving their time more bearable.

Who Can Shop at the Commissary?

Commissary is a privilege granted to inmates at all general population institutions in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  In general, all inmates that have money in their trust fund account (and who have nor already spent more than $320.00 that month) will be able to shop at commissary.

There are three exceptions to this rule:

  • Inmates that are serving a period on commissary restriction due to a disciplinary infraction;

  • Inmates that have refused to participate in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program; and

  • Inmates that are housed outside general population (for example, the Special Housing Unit).

Inmates that fall into these categories are limited to purchasing from a very restricted list, spending a maximum of $25.00 per month, not the regular $320.00 per month.

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