Thursday, Nov 6, 1997



By Mary Alice Robbins
Morris News Service

AUSTIN, Texas- Margi Young of Fort Worth wants justice for her brother who died in April after being beaten by a fellow inmate in the Tennessee Colony prison where he was incarcerated for burglary.

"I believe an officer had it done," Young said after testifying before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Young testified that her brother, James Barker, was placed in a cell with an inmate who previously had assaulted four other inmates. She said Barker was moved to the cell after filing a grievance accusing a prison guard of tripping him while his hands were handcuffed behind his back.

Beverly George of Magnolia said her 23-year-old son, Aaron, who's serving a 100-year sentence for murder of his infant son, was placed in the general population at a Houston area prison despite statements from two psychologists that he would be sexually and physically assaulted. He was gang raped, beaten, starved and abruptly taken off psychiatric medication that he needed and now is totally psychotic, the mother said.

"I've lost my son," George testified.

Others told similar stories regarding abuse and mistreatment of family members in Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities during the somtimes tense hearing. But Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the committee, told the crowd that he isn't conducting an investigation and urged witnesses with facts to back up their tales of horror to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"I'm not a posse," Whitmire told one witness. "We're a legislative committee. We can't do anything until the next session."

The panel has been directed by Lt. Governor Bob Bullock to study safety conditions for inmates and correctional officers in the state prison system.

However, several witnesses complained the committee is more interested in supporting TDCJ officials than in hearing about what's wrong with the prison system.

"I heard you pat these people on the back," Shirley Norman of Fort Worth said to Whitmire at one point. "If they're doing such a good job, why are we here? Why are all these people here?"

One of the witnesses came to testify about the problems facing those who guard inmates.

Amarillo attorney Selden Hale, a former chairman of the prison board, said the state has been so intent on building the United States' biggest state prison system that it's neglected the correctional officers. More than 900 incidents of convict assaults on officers occurred last year, Hale said.

Hale said the system is about 1,000 officers short and is having difficulties in hiring. Officers are undertrained and underpaid, he said, citing a prison system sergeant whose take-home pay is 1,600 a month after nine years on the job.

"How many of you would put up with danger, having urine thrown in your face on daily basis for $1600 a month?" Hale asked the committee.

Jim Bush, TDCJ director of human resources, said the starting pay for a correctional officer is $17,724 a year, but the officer is promoted after two months and given an annual salary of $20,544. The top pay for a sergeant is $27,180 a year, Bush said.

The TDCJ Executive Director Wayne Scott said the prison system is doing a good job with the resources it has available. He said Texas compares favorably with other similar-size systems in terms of safety and assaults.

Checks and balances are in place to refer serious cases of abuse to prosecutors, Scott said. "We can always do better. We aspire to do better, but the checks and balances are there," he said.

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Originally From: Beverly George (by way of JusticeNet Prison Issues Desk) Return to Prison List

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