An open letter from David Bellow to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board of Directors and the Texas Legislature about the Problems that allowed for the Escape at Stiles Prison. These problems are most likely problems in most Texas Prisons. Basically, the problem is Overworked Staff and Bad Correctional Officers.
David Puckett recently broke out of the Administrative Segregation section (Ad Seg) of Stiles Maximum Security Prison in Beaumont, TX . This is the MOST SECURE place in all of the Prison. In order to get out he had to saw through solid steel bars that are over 1 inch thick. Not to mention he had a phone in the prison to help him plan the escape .
How could this have happened?
As a person who just recently worked as a correctional officer in the Administrative Segregation section of Stiles Prison, I can tell you how this could happen.
Ad Seg is the place where the worst of the worst and most violent offenders stay in at Stiles Prison. There are about 80 inmates per section (called a pod) and 3 officers per pod (one officer locked in a room pushing the door open buttons and 2 officers roaming around with the inmates) These 80 inmates in the section are individually locked in a cell and they get a hot meal 3 times a day, they get to come out once a day for an hour of recreation (rec), and they also get to come out to take a shower daily. That does not sound too bad, except that there are only 2 correctional officers to do the job and 80 inmates. Stop and do the math. 80 inmates, each of them come out for an hour for rec. The two officers have to stay together and take out each inmate one at a time because no two inmates can be out of their cell at the same time. The inmate has to be handcuffed and escorted to one of the 10 rec areas. As soon as the 10 rec areas are filled (one by one) it is already time to start taking out the inmates from rec and putting in 10 more inmates back into rec one at a time. Not to mention you have to take them out and let them shower. Did I mention that the correctional officers serve a hot meal to each inmate one cell at a time 3 times a day. Oh, and the two officers are required to thoroughly search about a dozen cells each day and also every inmate who comes out of the cell is supposed to be strip searched to search for weapons on their person.
What does all of this mean?
It means those 2 correctional officers are literally running from door to door all day trying to get everything done for the day. It is nearly mathematically impossible to get everything done if it is done properly.
So In order to get everything done, these officers have to cut corners. The strip searches do not get done as the inmate leaves the cell (this is how the inmates can bring something like a saw into the rec yard), the cell searches do not get done (this is how inmates can hide saws , or cell phones and drugs for months in their cells), and the inmates do not get watched because there is just no time for the officers to get everything done so the officers are running around it is IMPOSSIBLE to watch the inmates in the rec (This is how an inmate has time to climb to the ceiling and saw through the bars).
All the problems I just mention compounded together to create a situation where it was possible for Puckett to get a saw into the rec yard and climb to the ceiling and saw the bars so he can escape. When Puckett escaped out of the building he ran across the roof to the perimeter fence and climbed over without being seen by the perimeter towers. The fence directly behind the maximum security ad seg building just so happens to be in a blind spot. Everyone knows about the blind spot. These are areas where the guards in the tower cannot see the perimeter fence and inmates could potentially climb over with no one seeing them. There is a camera pointed to that blind area but it is in the Ad Seg building control center and the officer in that control center does not have time to sit and watch the camera because that officer hands out all the keys and equipment for the building and that officer also opens and shuts the door to let everyone in and out of the building.
I am not bashing the correctional officers. I used to be one there at Stiles too. Some of the officers are great officers and follow policy (like the officers who shot the Texas inmates as they tried to escape ) and some of them are not good officers (well, there are too many stories of bad officers to link to so here is one example of a bad officer arrested bringing drugs into Stiles Prison ). There were just several hundred cameras installed in Stiles Prison and those bad officers there will be caught when they try to have a relationship with an inmate or bring an inmate phones and drugs. Without Bad Officers Puckett Probably would have never had the cell phone. So bad officers are certainly a major factor, But the bad officers in prison are not at all the point of this letter because we already know there are bad officers and measures are already being put into place to catch the bad officers. The mostly overlooked point that I am trying to make is that ALL of the officers are put in an terrible position of having to either follow security policy and get looked down on for not getting everything done, or cut security corners so that you get everything done in the day and don’t get a talking to from a Lieutenant (and the LT has to ride the officers because they are told to make sure everything gets done so they are put in this bad position just like the officers) And that is the bigger problem that most likely happens in all of the State Prisons and leads to corners being cut. This problem of too much that an officer has to do for the inmates stems from various factors, for instance, frivolous lawsuits by inmates lead to unreasonable policy to cater to inmates wants and that stretch the officers thin.
Personally, when I worked at Stiles I just DID NOT get everything done on my shift because I was security minded. I searched those inmates and I especially searched their cells to find the weapons they might use against me. I took my time to ensure safety which meant I did not always get everything done. The inmates did not like me cause I did my job and found their weapons and other contraband, and on the other hand I was always wondering what supervisor was going to pull me into their office and write me up for not getting all the inmates into rec on my shift. But I didn’t care. I was going to follow policy and do my job and if there was just not enough time to get everything done then there was just not enough time. I would not cut security corners though because that is how officers get hurt.
Well there is no money for new correctional officers, and we definitely do not want to cut out any of the time consuming security measures because of safety reasons.
What needs to happen is a simple change in operation of the prison.
Changes in the way the Prison is run could drastically cut back on the correctional officer work load and allow the officers to have the time to follow policy and not cut security corners.
For instance, why do inmates need 3 hot meals a day? What is wrong with a less time consuming and less expensive sack meal for one or two of the meals a day and a hot meal once or twice a day? Reducing the number of hot meals could save a couple of hours of time per day per correctional officer in Ad Seg. It would also save money in the Texas Budget. TDCJ is currently looking into taking one desert a week out of the inmate menu to save money . Why not take out an entire hot meal? I can’t even count how many MRE’s I ate in the military so I don’t see why inmates cannot eat a simple sack lunch for one of their meals a day.
Also, why do the inmates have to come out EVERY day for one hour of rec? Why not have them come out for 2 hours at a time EVERY OTHER day? The inmates would get the same amount of rec time and the work load of the officers would be CUT IN HALF because they would only have to take 40 inmates out of their cells for rec a day instead of taking out 80 inmates out of their cells per day.
Simple changes like these would drastically reduce the daily work load and would ensure that the officers have plenty of time to follow all of the time consuming, yet needed, security measures. Changes like these would also reduce the new officer turnover rate. TDCJ cannot seem to keep new employees. It is already stressful to work in a prison with convicts, but add in the pressure of having too much to do with not enough time to do it and it is a recipe for a high turnover rate.
Another idea is there needs to be an officer in TDCJ that is designated as a Dispute Resolution Officer and he/she would not be a part of the TDCJ command structure. This person would be an eye on TDCJ that reports directly to the TDCJ board. They would receive complaints or suggestions from TDCJ employees and either kick it back to the employee supervisor or investigate it and present it to the TDCJ board. You see, most employees do not want to bring a problem up to a supervisor for fear of reprisal or fear of looking like a complainer. Also, many times when complaints are given to a supervisor the supervisor might just say there is nothing that can be done and the issue does not get addressed. With a Dispute Resolution Officer, many of the current and future problems would get addressed because there would be a person to go to other than the chain of command so important issues do not just get buried by supervisors. This Dispute Resolution Officer would also drastically improve morale of the average TDCJ Correctional Officer. Most correctional officer I worked with did not feel like their voice was worth much to the supervisors in the prison. Think about this, there are no unions in Texas but most of the TDCJ correctional officers are part of a “fake” union. But why would they pay dues to a group claiming to be a union even though it isn’t a union? (There is no collective bargaining in Texas) They join this group and pay the monthly dues because they feel it will give them a voice for working condition complaints. This is troubling that so many employees feel as though they cannot go to their supervisor with a problem. The Dispute Resolution Officer would solve that issue and also give the correctional officers better morale because the officers will have someone to voice their complaints to. Now to be clear, the correctional officer would have to utilize their normal chain of command first before going to the dispute resolution officer unless the officer feels there is something about the complaint that would create a need to go directly to the Dispute Resolution officer, and in that case the officer can go straight to the Dispute Resolution Officer. Otherwise, most small issued can just be addressed through the chain of command first or else the Dispute Resolution Officer would get thousands of small complaints.
So now you have an inside view of Stiles Prison and the problems that more than likely played a major part in how David Puckett was able to escape.
David Puckett ended getting caught a week after he broke out but the bottom line is that something needs to be done and changes need to be made or this type of thing will keep happening. Remember that It was only last year that a couple of guys broke out of a Texas Prison . One was captured but the murderer has still not been captured.