Notes of Conference Call July 8, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler. Some questions and responses from the call have been moved out of chronological order in this summary, in part to place items nearer to related items.

Call convened at 10:02 a.m. by Mr. Oscar Mendoza, TDCJ Deputy Executive Director

 (TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Director of Programs, Sharon McKinney. TIFA Ch L indicates a TIFA Chapter Leader)

Many agency departmental directors or their deputies or staff were on the call to make reports and/or answer questions.

Mr. Mendoza reminded us of Covid statistics available on the TDCJ website. His opening comments acknowledged that questions about telephone access for inmates has been the main topic of calls and emails to the agency recently. He expressed thanks for all who have sent words of appreciation for the agency’s efforts. He also thanks those he calls “naysayers and haters” for continuing to point out areas of need, saying it keeps them on their toes, challenges them to continue to improve. (Mr. Mendoza also indicated obliquely, later in the call, that some of those communications were actually hateful. TIFA reminds prison families that our policy is always to treat agency personnel with the same level of respect we expect for our loved ones.) Mr. Mendoza’s report of work on phone access follows.

Regarding duration of calls for inmates…it is still agency policy that when an area first goes on medical restriction,  limitation of movement is extremely important, and while a unit is analyzing how Covid protocols will be implemented in that area, the 5-minute calls will be in place. As soon as deemed appropriate, the 5-minute calls will go to 15 minutes, not 10, and then to 30 minutes. It is the plan to continue to offer more regular phone access to G5 and AdSeg. Internal adjustments are needed on some units. CID is studying how to make that happen at all units.

Mr. Melvin Neely, TDCJ’s chief information officer, and his team are hard at work on the technical aspects of changes needed to improve communications for inmates and families. Vendors have agreed to provide more phones. TDCJ is studying how many phones can be added and where. Some phones may be old-school landlines. Mr. Neely and team are surveying quantity and placement of lines, conduits, receiver types, including cordless phones. There are a lot of mechanical issues to be worked out but the ball is rolling.

Regarding video visitation…12 units currently have the capability to receive video visitation from other prison sites. All 12 of those sites will be turned on shortly. We are looking at what it will take for families to do video visitation to those units from their homes, with computer, tablet, or smartphone. We are moving toward that.

We want the changes we make to be reliable and sustainable. These are some short-term fixes we feel we can get to fairly quickly, since it is evident that in-person visitation is not returning any time soon. TDCJ has approved these ideas, Mr. Collier has approved them; all hands are working. We are looking at options for increasing video visitation system-wide, something that will be sustainable. We had not previously done all the study necessary for making these changes, but Covid changes everything. We are now ready to take on those challenges. The decision has been made; there is lots of work to do. Keep in mind if you have questions for Mr. Neely, some of the answers may be, “I don’t know.” We are making sincere efforts to improve phone access and to begin video visitation.

We are looking at how to improve access to recreation. It will be different. It won’t be basketball and handball. We will continue to try to use social distancing.

The agency is currently OVER FIVE THOUSAND officers short. No one has ever seen this level of shortage in the agency. Another ONE THOUSAND employees are out on quarantine. That is over SIX THOUSAND employees out of pocket. This has affected the functioning of many areas of the units. Yes, mailrooms are affected on some units, as mailroom staff are taking up slack on other areas of the units. Mailroom staff and records department staff may be making johnnies in the kitchen. Wardens are scrambling for bodies to work the various departments of their units. The number of inmate workers is also limited on some units because of quarantine issues.

We are making progress. It may be slowly, but we are moving. We can’t just open the gate and go back to “normal,” either inside or outside the prisons. There is no return to the way things used to be for any of us. We have to find new ways of dealing with things. We know that is frustrating for families; it is frustrating for us. Health and safety of staff and inmates remains our primary concern. Some of our answers to your questions have to be, “We don’t know.”

TIFA Ch L: We understand the concept of minimizing movement in an area that is on medical lockdown, resulting in the drastic limit on phone calls from those areas. Would it be really detrimental to allow a 10-minute call instead of a 5-minute call from those areas?

Mendoza: When an area goes on precautionary lockdown we look at how best to handle the situation to prevent further outbreak. We try to keep that area as still as possible while we look at next steps. We know it is frustrating for you. There are feasibility problems for allowing longer calls for everyone in a restricted situation. But now, when more freedom of movement is allowed, calls will go from 5 minutes to 15 minutes.

TPAA: We appreciate an increase from 10 to 15 minutes for those calls. At what point in the protocol can calls be expected to go from 15 to 30 minutes?

John Werner, Deputy Director of CID: When an area has fewer issues with Covid and needs fewer people on medical restriction is when we look at increasing phone and rec time.

Prison Show: I think some of the “haters” that have contacted you are mainly frustrated by the fact that you state agency policy on these calls and then when you send that down it is not implemented on the units.

TPAA: Regarding video visits…12 units have some capability already. At some point will that be available from all units?

Mendoza: Yes, we expect to get those 12 up right away and long term to extend that to as many units as possible.

FAITH: Thank you for looking at making video visits possible. I am legally blind, on oxygen, and have limited mobility. This would be an awesome option for me. I do hope you will not do away with in-person visits.

Mendoza: We understand. We are not talking about replacing in-person visits. Video is just another option. Mr. Neely and his crew are working nearly around the clock to get this going.

TX Conn: With in-person visits there is a limit of 10 people for the visitation list. Would that be the same with video visitation?

Mendoza: We don’t know yet.

TPAA: Are you still looking at tablets for inmates?

Mendoza: We are still considering the logistics. That is not off the table.

TIFA: The biggest complaint we continue to hear is about guards not wearing masks. Is that still mandatory? What can be done to ensure compliance?

Mendoza: Yes, it is mandatory, not only for COs but for all TDCJ employees. Wardens, CID, other directors are writing up personnel for not complying with mask rules. When you have specific sites where personnel are not complying please contact TDCJ leadership. We have established compliance teams which visit the units, looking at how precautionary protocols are being followed. They report directly to Bryan Collier. In daily intra-agency calls, Executive Director Collier reminds all TDCJ leadership of the importance of compliance with wearing masks. There have also been signs placed on the units and throughout the agency reminding personnel of the policy. We know there are failures in some areas. Please report them.

TIFA Ch L: a two-part question for medical: How often are patients’ electronic medical records updated? And why would a unit either refuse or be unable to answer medical questions for a family member who has an updated form for release of medical information (HIPAA) on file?

Dr. Lannette Linthicum, TDCJ Director of Health Services: Information is entered electronically at the time of the visit; when a person is seen by medical personnel. When a family contacts medical on the unit they are speaking with the “Facility Practice Manager” on UTMB units, or the “Unit Health Administrator” on TTU units. After taking the call, that person may refer the family member to another person on the unit medical staff, but those are the initial contacts for unit medical; they have been asked to answer family medical calls to the unit. If the calls are Covid related, please use the medical hotline numbers available on the TDCJ website. (TTU units—806-743-3285; UTMB units –409-747-2727; these are manned 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. M-F) If the calls are not Covid related, the general medical hotline, the patient liaison hotline, 936-437-4271, staffed by three medical staff members 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F, may be a better point of contact than the unit. They can answer any health issue questions…medical, dental, or mental health.

TIFA Ch L: Stamps are in high demand right now. When commissary and ecomm are not running, how can inmates obtain stamps?

Eric Johnston, TDCJ Director of Commissary Services: The limited commissary runs for hygiene and correspondence are continuing. They should have access to stamps.

TIFA Ch L: Coffield is not having regular limited commissary runs.

Mendoza: Mr. Werner and Mr. Dunbar will check on that and respond offline.

TIFA Ch L: Inmates on lockdown need some nutritious items in the limited commissary runs, to supplement the johnnies. They also need to be able to buy cooling shirts.

TIFA Ch L: Has TDCJ dropped its commitment to better quality and quantity of food in johnnies for those areas on lockdown? We continue to get reports, especially from Coffield, of getting only two sandwiches, twice daily, no drinks, no additional items. How are johnnies being monitored, other than by family complaints?

FAITH: I have sent an email with inmate journals about the johnnies at Coffield to Lorie Davis, Marvin Dunbar, and Warden Putnam. You can see the daily reports of the johnnies on that unit. There are no fruits or vegetables, or drinks. Last night the sacks included some meat not fully cooked and some frozen burritos. Inmates at Polunsky have major issues with johnnies, including moldy food and frozen food, and johnnies being served as much as 15 hours apart.

Prison Show: We also continue to get reports, including photos, of really bad johnnies.

Mendoza: We have not abandoned our commitment to nutritious and edible food in the johnnies. They are monitored at the unit level by wardens and food service; ARRM teams continue to visit units and eat the johnnies. I have visited the units and eaten johnnies. Please continue to communicate names of specific units where there are problems.

Dunbar: Yes, I will check on specific units.

FAITH: Some of our families are writing daily to inmates at Coffield during the past few weeks of lockdown. Inmates say in calls that mail and JPays are not being received. The mailroom says JPays are being printed and given to COs, but they are not being delivered.

FAITH: Inmates at Stringfellow say water is standing ankeldeep in some showers and some shower heads are broken. They are being told about both issues that they are waiting on engineers from Huntsville to deal with the problems. The shower areas also not being sanitized.

Mendoza: Please do send these details and your food journals in an email, with contact information. We will follow up and respond to you.

FAITH: Thank you. We are also thankful to Dr. L and Myra Walker for their help with issues at Vance Unit recently.

TIFA Ch L: We are concerned about inmate workers being sent from units with high positive Covid numbers to other units with less Covid involvement. Can they be kept separate from other workers?

Werner: Some parts of a unit may be on medical restriction while other areas are not. We are not sending workers to other units from affected areas.

Prison Show: We have complaints of inmates at Littlefield being shackled for extended periods of time. Please investigate that. We also have a number of units reporting people not receiving medications, including one man who said he had been without blood pressure medication for 12 days. Others have not received authorized pain medications. We are also hearing reports of retaliation on inmates who have filed grievances on these issues. These reports include Jester 3, Ferguson, LeBlanc, and Bill Clements units.

Dr. L: About three-fourths of all our medications are now KoP…Keep on Person..and that includes blood pressure medication. Some pain meds are narcotic and have to be administered by medical personnel in person. I will get with the nursing officers on the units you have named. But I am the Step #2 grievance officer for medical grievances and we are not getting a lot of grievances on these issues. If you want to send individual cases, I will look at them. Ask for grievances to be filed.

TX Conn: We have heard there is a new warden at Allred Unit…can you confirm that?

Mendoza: I have not heard that.

TX Conn: We have contacted the Allred warden and Mr. Blackwell about technical problems with the phones at Allred.

Melvin Neely: We know about the problems with phones at Allred. There is an ATT circuit down. They are working on it now.

TX Conn: We have a person approved for release with FI-1 who has been waiting for a while.

Mendoza: Sounds like maybe a problem getting the home plan approved.

Rene Hinojosa, TDCJ Director of Parole: Send me specific details in email, please.

TCJC: My questions are for specific units or individuals. I’ll send them in email.

Mendoza: We hope to have more progress to report to you next week. Please continue to use the ombudsman’s hotline, 1-844-476-1289 for concerns other than medical, and/or email any of the directors.

Call adjourned at 11:03.

Notes of Conference Call July 1, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler. Some questions and responses from the call have been moved out of chronological order in this summary, in part to place items nearer to related items.

Call convened at 10:03 a.m. by Mr. Oscar Mendoza, TDCJ Deputy Executive Director

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Director of Programs, Sharon McKinney. TIFA Ch L indicates a TIFA Chapter Leader)

Many agency departmental directors or their deputies or staff were on the call to make reports and/or answer questions.

Mr. Mendoza dispensed with the usual summary overview of statistics, noting the availability of that information on the TDCJ website while assuring that they would answer questions about the numbers if requested. He affirmed that the agency knows the families’ overwhelming concerns right now have to do with visitation and telephone access. The agency has received an enormous number of calls relating to phone access and use. They appreciate family feedback and hope to deal with many of those questions and concerns on today’s call.

Obviously, visitation will not happen any time soon. We are committed to resuming visitation but we cannot give you a date. Our numbers of virus cases recovered continues to increase but we are also have some new cases showing up. The situation is shifting daily. We are not even talking about visitation right now. We cannot do it safely for inmates, staff, or visitors. When we are ready to resume visits you will hear about it on these calls. It will not come through rumors on the units.

We know that maintaining family communication by telephone is very important during this time without visitation. We are discussing several options. 1)Increasing time limits of phone calls 2) evaluating current equipment and infrastructure and looking at where additional phones could be placed quickly and easily 3) talking about adding equipment and infrastructure we don’t currently have, including tablets 4) other possibilities for what could be done in-house, old-school, with current technology  In short, we are looking at everything, aggressively. We are talking to our partners (Securus? Century Link?) about support and infrastructure for changes.

We know people will be saying we should have done something earlier. It’s always possible to say, “coulda, shoulda, woulda.” We had hoped there would be a short plan for being able to resume visitation, but the crisis has gone on longer than anyone expected. We will plead guilty to not starting to work on this issue sooner, but we are committed going forward to adjusting policies and procedures, to increasing phone access and improving communication equipment as we can. We are working on both short- and long-term plans for improvement.

We are asking for your patience and understanding. There is not a quick fix for these issues. We are looking for sustainable responses that will be good for the long haul. Many of our directors were in a significant meeting earlier this morning to discuss these issues. They are gathering information now. Things are moving, and I would say they are moving very quickly. We are getting ready to deploy some substitute for face-to-face visits. We acknowledge the curiosity, concerns, and even doubt by the families. Our first ideas for resuming visitation did not prove to be workable. I humbly ask you to believe that we are trying. If you have very technical questions to follow up on these comments today, you may get a response of, “I don’t know,” but we are working on it.

TIFA: Do you have plans to restore regular phone access for G5 and AdSeg?

Mendoza: Yes. We are looking at a plan to allow them to continue to have some phone access.

TIFA: If a CO or other employee tests positive for Covid, what is the procedure for testing or quarantining their co-workers?

Dr. Lannette Linthicum, TDCJ Director of Health Services: Any positive test result on a unit, whether inmate or employee, will result in contact tracing by an infection control nurse employed by the University which oversees care on the unit. They will communicate to TDCJ the risk of exposure from that positive…exposure levels are assessed as being high, moderate, or none. From a high risk of exposure, an employee is sent home to self-quarantine for 14 days; an inmate is placed in medical restriction.

TIFA Ch L: Thank you to Mr. Mendoza and the agency for the information about phones. We do want visits but we also want them to be safe. Our biggest concern right now is the limitation of calls to 5 and 10 minutes on so many units.

TPAA: Who controls the phones on a unit…the warden or Huntsville? Some say the wardens make the decision whether calls will be cut off at 5 or at 10 minutes. Who determines that? Can inmates still request to use the phones after 10:00 p.m. rack-up?

Texas CURE: Some units that have come up from medical lockdown and are in Phase 3 status still have only 10 minute calls. When will they be able to go back to 30 minutes? And as phone access goes back to 30 minutes, will phones still be on 24/7?

Tx Conn: Do the discussions include expansion of video visits and the use of tablets?

Mendoza: The IT department in Huntsville has the technical control of the phone system. Wardens have a significant say, so it’s a dual level of control. The wardens will be following directives from CID, Ms. Davis’ office, and from Ms. Alison Dunbar for the private units. All these issues are on the table for discussion. We want to be fair to inmates. We also want to be strategic and offer sustainable solutions. Currently inmates cannot use the phones after 10:00 p.m. We are looking at the possible implementation of tablets.

(Representatives from several groups thanked Mr. Mendoza for the information about phone use and planning.)

Texas Voices: Thank you to Mr. Mendoza for the information and for the evident sincerity of his communications with us today. We suggest a post on social media by TDCJ so that families can hear his tone for themselves. His comments and attitude would be helpful and hopeful for families.

Texas CURE: Is delivery of ecomm happening on all units now?

Tx Conn: Will you consider allowing monthly ecomm spends during the pandemic?

E Johnston, TDCJ Director of Commissary Services: Ecomm just reset today. Delivery of ecomm is still a logistical problem for units on lockdown. We do have a large number of ecomms to deliver, many beyond the 5-day window we try to observe. We are following the lead of CID, Mr. Hirsh and Ms. Davis, working to deliver those orders safely.

Texas Voices: requested the email address for Mr. Hinojosa, the new Director of Parole Services…

TPAA: Regarding the programs backed up for parole, we know transfers between units have started. Is there a goal for that to be accomplished? We know some FI-6s still have not been transferred.

Lorie Davis, TDCJ Director of CID: We had about 1200 inmates to transfer to begin programs. We were about half-way done last week and expect to be finished within the next two weeks.

TPAA: When a Covid vaccine becomes available, will it be available to inmates, and will they be able to either accept or refuse it?

Dr. L: Yes. It will be the same as the other vaccines currently available to inmates.

TPAA: We have a request from some inmates to be able to buy on commissary the type of masks used by staff.

Dr. L: Those masks are not medically indicated by CDC for general use. The recommendation for the general public is “face coverings.” The masks supplied to staff are still in somewhat short supply and should be reserved for health care workers and first responders.

TPAA: We know that the state is pulling back a bit on re-opening. Chain from counties was due to start today. Will that continue or stop again?

L. Davis: It will continue. We are confident our process is safe. We continue to vet and quarantine those coming from counties. We continue to monitor the situation daily and will adjust our actions as needed.

Tx Conn: The Darrington Unit trustee camp poultry workers have had no clean clothes since Friday. What is the expected procedure for that?

Bobby Lumpkin, TDCJ Direct of Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Logistics: The workers should receive clean clothes regularly. I will check on the poultry workers.

Tx Conn: Lane Murry Unit reports no Step 2 grievance forms available.

L. Davis: We monitor the supply of those forms and will send some. Mr. Dunbar:

Marvin Dunbar, TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management: I will look into it today.

Tx Conn: Smith Unit asks if religious classes can resume.

L. Davis: Our volunteer operations are not resuming. That is as big a risk as resuming visitation and we are not comfortable with that at this time.

Tx Conn: We have questions about families wanting to order educational classes, puzzle books, etc. for inmates.

L. Davis: Those things have been allowed in the past and the mail policies remain the same.

Tx Conn: (Unit name not heard) reports no cleaning supplies available.

L. Davis: I will check.

Tx Conn: Thanks to Regional Director David Blackwell. He has been very gracious and prompt in his responses to us.

L. Davis: Thank you for kind words.

Mendoza: We appreciate the family groups helping us get good information out. We ask for your help and understanding. We hope our answers have been helpful. We want to work quickly on these issues, but also in a way that will be sustainable.

Call adjourned 10:40 a.m.

Notes of Conference Call June 17, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler. Some questions and responses from the call have been moved out of chronological order in this summary, in part to place items nearer to related items.

Call convened at 10:05 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar, Director of TDCJ Administrative Review and Risk Management

 (TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek. TIFA Ch L indicates a TIFA Chapter Leader)

Many agency departmental directors or their deputies or staff were on the call to make reports and/or answer questions.

Billy Lumpkin, Director of Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Logistics gave an agency update. He announced that beginning in July limited, slow-paced intake of prisoners from county will begin. They will continue ongoing protocols for dealing with virus issues, including that no active positive cases of Covid-19 will be received from counties and incoming prisoners will be quarantined in TDCJ for 14 days of observation. Limited movement of inmates within TDCJ began earlier this week, with movement for programming the priority.

Billy Hirsh, Deputy Director of CID: We have been fielding many calls from families and advocacy groups dealing with issues of units coming up from precautionary medical lockdown. There are still 26 units in that status. We monitor the units daily and make our decisions based on results of testing, both mass and symptomatic testing. We will lock down a whole unit if we are not able to deal with the virus issues on a more limited basis, such as by restricting one area of a unit.

We know that there are lots of rumors about visitation. We do discuss many options, way in advance, for any major decisions we make, but visitation is a long way off. We know some were assuming that visitation could resume at the same time as intake of new prisoners from county, but we are able to be a lot more careful about who we are taking in from counties and how we deal with them. We are not making any promises about visitation at this time.

We are not hearing as many complaints about johnnies. Mr. Dunbar and the team from ARRM are still visiting units to check on those. As units come up from precautionary lockdown we are able to re-instate hot meals, slowly, and on an altered schedule to allow for appropriate social distancing of cohort groups.

Regarding phone calls…we are having questions about the phone calls for G5 and AdSeg as units come up from lockdown. Phone use will be returning to previous rules for those folks, including that they may send an I-60 request for a phone call if they have a disciplinary record clean for 90 days; then they will be allowed a call as staff has time to do that. With more movement on the units, more staff is needed to oversee the movement of groups to and from various activities and there will be fewer available to accompany G5 and AdSeg to phone calls.

TIFA: We also have many questions regarding phone calls for those inmates, especially since visitation is still not possible. We hope better access to calls would be allowed in lieu of visits.

Texas CURE: We have a report from the Hughes Unit that Bldg 4 is still being restricted to 5-minute calls. The warden has told people that they are not able to increase the length of calls yet. And we have the same concern about needing better access to phones for G5 and AdSeg since there is no visitation. Could we possibly look at calls every 30 days instead of every 90?

Billy Hirsh: I will check on the Hughes Unit and clarify that. We can look at the issue of more calls for G5 and AdSeg but it is primarily an issue of staffing.

TPAA: Will you clarify what is supposed to happen with calls as a unit comes up from precautionary lockdown…we understood calls should be increasing from 5 minutes to 10 minutes in length; is that supposed to be just once a day? And when can we expect calls to go back to 30 minutes in length? 

Billy Hirsh: We first limited calls to 5 minutes per person and allowed those calls in conjunction with movement for other activities, such as showering, to make the best use of staff needed to oversee those activities, and to provide at least some phone access to as many people as possible. Then we have been allowing calls to increase to 10 minutes as movement on the unit is increasing. We know there is increased demand for phones at this time. We also know there are some who dominate the phones if not limited and we have been trying to give access to as many as possible. As demand eases up we will slowly re-instate 30-minute calls. On some units that may be as early as next week. We are evaluating that unit by unit.

TIFA: There seems to be a lot of miscommunication regarding visitation and movement for programming. Some families are saying they have talked with people from Rehabilitation who don’t know anything about movement for programs.

Chris Carter, Deputy Director of Rehabilitation Services: We are definitely tracking those individuals who are needing programs. I think the callers have been talking to the persons making personal calls for inmates, getting messages sent between families and inmates, and those are not the people involved with programming. That’s why they are saying they don’t know anything about movement for programs.

TIFA: There are still a lot of issues with mail service at Robertson, Allred, Stringfellow, and Clements units. Mail is coming out, but is being picked up maybe twice weekly, or only irregularly. Is there an actual schedule? Is this a staffing issue?

Billy Hirsh: Mail should be picked up daily. I will check on those units.

TIFA: You have described many factors that go into deciding when a unit goes on precautionary medical lockdown and how long that lockdown needs to last. Stringfellow seems to have been down an extremely long time. Please check on what is going on there.

Bill Hirsh: We do know that Stringfellow has been deeply impacted by the virus and went on precautionary lockdown early on. We are hoping to bring the unit up soon, possibly as soon as next week. We may be able to limit ongoing restriction to certain areas of the unit. We are trying to do that more and more as possible.

TIFA Ch L: The Smith unit has been on lockdown for 69 days, 23 ½ hours a day, and now they are back to no phone access at all…phones have been turned off. And can you confirm the report of a suicide at Smith?

Billy Hirsh: I will check on the phone situation there. I do not know of a suicide there.

TIFA Ch L: We appreciated it when TDCJ stopped reporting details of a person’s charge when reporting inmate deaths from Covid, but it happened again with the notice of Mr. Garcia’s death on the 15th.

TIFA Ch L: Once an inmate has tested positive, how is it determined to allow them back into general population? Are they retested?

Chris Black-Edwards, Deputy Director of Health Services: We are following the CDC recommendation for time and symptoms as the guideline for when to declare someone cleared. That is usually 10 days from the positive result or time of testing for symptoms, once there is an improvement in symptoms and three days free of fever, they can be released from isolation.

TPAA: So is it the case that now a single new positive case does not necessarily result in the whole unit being locked down?

Billy Hirsh: We are depending on contact tracing investigations to determine the level of restriction needed for that unit. If we can safely restrict only one area we will do that. We are trying to keep staff assignments stable to limit contacts within a unit. We are doing our best to minimize having staff work in several areas of a unit or on more than one unit but there are some areas of desperate need where we have no choice. Some officers have been temporarily reassigned, some have volunteered for a week or so at a time on another unit, to help relieve staff shortages.

Prison Show: When staff moves between units like that, are they being tested or retested before returning to their previous unit?

Billy Hirsh: No; we are doing the best we can with ongoing screening of temperature, symptoms, and questions.

Prison Show: Maybe officers who work more than one unit could be restricted to areas with limited access to inmates, like towers.

TPAA: On the units that have been on lockdown for a long time, some people have accumulated a lot of property…books…that they would ordinarily be putting into property to hold for pickup at family visitation time, but they are unable to do that right now.

Billy Hirsh: They can still mail things out; we know that is an expense. Send me a list of units where that is reported as a problem and we can look at it. Depending on how big a problem it is and what the unit is, we might be able to hold items longer.

Texas CURE: Could we have some written designation so that property is not subject to being destroyed after some length of time, as is ordinarily the case with property left too long in holding?

TPAA: Will more masks be issued? Some are reporting the strings are tearing on their masks and they are being written up for not having a good mask.

Billy Hirsh: We have plenty of masks. Let us know where more are needed.

Bobby Lumpkin: We have an inventory of @800,000 masks, @600,000 of the cotton ones issued to inmates. Availability is not an issue.

TPAA: People are reporting their requests for new masks are being refused.

Billy Hirsh: The masks are treated like any other item of clothing or linen issued by TDCJ; they are turned in to laundry and new items are issued. Laundry should replace any damaged item that comes through. Masks can be picked up, laundered and replaced daily.

Prison Show: Some laundry workers are worried about being exposed to the virus on clothing coming in to their area.

Billy Hirsh: All laundry workers have PPE to wear while dealing with dirty laundry.

Prison Show: We have ongoing complaints from Luther and Polunsky units about the food, even as they are returning to more hot meals; spoiled food is being reported. Families have made complaints and inmates have written grievances. Our numbers show at least 77 reports made to officials at Luther and Polunsky about spoiled food. Now inmates are reporting retaliation because of those complaints.

Prison Show: We appreciate the efforts TDCJ has made and is making to contain the virus and slow its spread and we urge you to go slowly, slower than the rest of the state is going. As the state opens back up we are seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

Bobby Lumpkin: Yes, that is why we are moving very cautiously in restoring intake from counties and movement for programs.

Mr. Dunbar announced the next conference call for Wednesday, June 24th, at 10:00 a.m. and adjourned the call at 10:33.

Notes of Conference Call June 3, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler. Some questions and responses from the call have been moved out of chronological order in this summary, in part to place items nearer to related items.

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar, TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Voices, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition…TCJC, The Prison Show, TPAA, and FAITH.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek. TIFA ChL indicates a TIFA Chapter Leader)

Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff, gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Tuesday, June 2.  On Day 86 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, @66,000 inmates and 21,000 staff persons have been tested for Covid-19. There are currently 4700 active positive cases of the virus among inmates, and 500 active positive cases among staff. The number of persons recovered and medically cleared is 1500 inmates and 470 staff. 44 units are currently on precautionary lockdown, with over 25,000 on medical restriction, and @4800 in medical isolation.

Kristina Hartman, Superintendent of Windham School District, reported that Windham has resumed some in-person instruction on 48 units not on precautionary lockdown. This instruction is a hybrid model, with small groups of 10 students plus an instructor meeting in person for only three hours weekly; practicing social distancing and wearing masks. Other groups rotate into the classroom on other days and students continue with distance learning on the days they are not in the classroom. Teachers and students report being very happy to be able to continue instruction.

Rene Hinojosa, Director, Rehabilitation Programs Division, reported that RPD has made over 760,000 calls to families on behalf of inmates unable to contact family during times of restricted movement on the units.

TIFA: We would like some clarification about medical restriction and the length of time that is in place. When mass testing is done and positive cases are identified, the positive cases are medically isolated and those with direct exposure to the positives are medically restricted, can other inmates in the unit be allowed to come up from restriction?

(Some clarifying of the question took place.)

Dr. Lannette Linthicum, Director of TDCJ Health Services Division: Our policy meets CDC guidelines of sending a person testing positive to medical isolation for 10 days if they are asymptomatic. If they are symptomatic, they are isolated for at least 10 days, but must get to a place of no symptoms, including at least three days without fever, before they can be released from isolation. Medical restriction is for persons who have had a high level of exposure to the positive case. We know that most persons exposed to the virus will show symptoms…if they are going to show symptoms…within five to six days of exposure, but some may not show symptoms until as late as 12-14 days after exposure. The status of precautionary lockdown is enacted based on the occurrence of positive cases on a unit or in a specific area of a unit.

TIFA: Will a unit go on precautionary lockdown for a single case or a cluster of cases?

Dr. L: There are many factors considered, such as whether or not we are looking at the first occurrence of the virus on a unit, multiple cases appearing at once, or daily appearance of cases on a unit.

TIFA: To further clarify my question: If a unit is already on precautionary lockdown; mass testing is done; results are received; the known positives and their direct exposures are taken away to medical isolation and medical restriction, could the rest of that unit come up from their lockdown?

Dr. L: If we are able to that; available space and other logistics play a part.

Lorie Davis, Director of TDCJ’s Correctional Institutions Division: We are having ongoing meetings about altering protocols as we go. We are making those decisions based on how we can make changes while moving forward safely. We are just now receiving the full data from individual units as mass testing is completed. We are committed to evaluating units individually.

TIFA: Thank you. We do have some concerns being expressed about movement on units with positive cases, such as SSIs distributing meals in areas with and without positive cases.

TIFA: There is a recent article by Mark Levin dealing with problems of persons kept in solitary confinement, focusing especially on programming, phone calls, and commissary. Those are all concerns for our inmates on various levels of movement restriction during the Covid-19 crisis. We agree with other groups that we saw some improvement in the quality of the johnny sacks early on, but now things seems to be deteriorating again. Mr. Hirsh had previously said a schedule was being drawn up to make sure some of the meal enhancements would be present in the johnnies each week. Was such a schedule come into practice?

Lorie Davis: We are continuing to order those extra items weekly, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and to deliver them to the units on lockdown until this season of johnnies is done.

TIFA: And we are continuing to monitor the johnnies.

TIFA ChL: Yes, we were thankful for some improvement on the the johnnies, but, for example, Middleton Unit reports moldy food, Clements and Hughes also say they are back to mainly small servings of peanut butter on smashed and/or moldy bread.

TIFA: The Levin article addressed the importance of inmates having access to instructional programs. We have talked about the many inmates having to wait for FI-5 and FI-6 programs. We know that there is a provision whereby the Board of Pardons and Parole can revote if there is difficulty with accessibility of programs. Is there any movement to have that happen for these people waiting?

Rene Hinojosa, Director, Rehabilitation Programs Division: There is communication between RPD and BPP. We do ask them to revisit votes. We have been doing some of this throughout the virus crisis. I do not have exact numbers in front of me, but that is happening.

TIFA: Can alternate programs be made available for these folks? Some have been waiting since mid-2019.

Rene Hinojosa: I know for sure some have been waiting since January. We are looking at different ways to provide the programs at different units. We do not have a solid plan to announce yet.

TIFA: We know that the process got behind because of Hurrican Harvey, and is now more behind because of Covid-19; we are concerned that the whole process just gets more and more behind.

Rene Hinojosa: The agency and the BPP want to make sure inmates complete these programs because we believe they increase their chances of success in the parole process.

TIFA: We affirm the validity of the programs; it is a fine balance between the need for the programs to be completed and the need to get people moving.

TIFA: We appreciated the efforts to get at least 5-minute phone calls in place for the units on precautionary lockdown. As the lockdowns drag on, there is more information that needs to be exchanged, more family news to communicate; could we have a new plan to give more call time while still honoring social distancing?

Lorie Davis: We are studying our data to decide how to be resume a more normal schedule of activity. We are trying to find solutions to increase the out-of-cell time and phone time. Nobody wants longer calls available more than I do, but we are trying to keep people safe and are trying to make good decisions based on safety.

Dr. L: Let me remind the family groups…with this virus we have a LOT of people who are asymptomatic. We have a number of both staff and inmates testing positive over 28 days or more. The CDC says we don’t know at this time if these people are still shedding virus, if they are still infectious, or not. The current antibody tests are somewhat unreliable and are not being used to make medical decisions. We are not making policies to be punitive, but to protect. We have many, many vulnerable inmates. For example, over 20,000 elderly inmates, 9000 diabetics, a fairly large number taking immunosuppressant drugs, some because of organ transplants…we have inmates with kidney, liver, even heart and lung transplants…and other difficult medical conditions.

TIFA: Thanks for that information. We do understand. My personal background is in public health/infectious diseases, but it is helpful to get information out about how things can be improved to our families and inmates…to keep giving them hope of progress.

Dr. L: As the whole country begins to open up again, we are also looking at how we can do that, but we must be safe.

TIFA ChL: We continue to have reports that officers fail to wear masks consistently, but on some units write up inmates for not wearing masks. For example, at Coffield, a Captain told inmates being written up in the chow hall, “If you report my officers, I’ll write you up.” My loved one says officers without masks happens so often he’s pretty much stopped reporting it. Do you have plans to follow up on the problem of COs who do not wear masks? Are they reprimanded? Does a note go into their files? Is it “3 strikes and you’re out?” Is it handled differently on different units? What should we expect to see?

Lorie Davis: If you have specific names, we will follow up. We continue to reinforce to wardens that staff are to wear masks at all times. Our leadership style is to investigate legitimate complaints. We discuss the importance of an issue and restate our expectations. If necessary, we move up the scale of disciplinary actions. I have been in this business for 31 years, and I know not everyone follows directions, but we will doggedly repeat directives and address issues to reinforce expectations.

Prison Show: Where are masks being supplied from? We have received reports that not all units have masks, and that there are still units without sufficient soap or masks, and with no hand sanitizer available for areas without hand-washing capabilities.

Lorie Davis: Let us know specific units. All inmates should have cotton masks, and some have the N95 masks.

Bobby Lumpkin, Director of Agribusiness, Manufacturing and Logistics: Our inventory is strong for all those items.

Prison Show: I will check our mail and see where those reports are coming from. I know some of those issues were reported previously from Luther Unit.

Lorie Davis: Yes, we did do an investigation at Luther Unit. I apologize that I did not get to the phone with the results of that investigation. Send me an email and I will have Deputy Director Werner contact you directly.

TPAA: The main question our people are having is what long-term plan TDCJ has for dealing with so many positive cases. The prolonged lockdowns are very difficult for people inside and outside to deal with.

Jason Clark: We have just come out of a very long meeting dealing with that issue. We have to consider all the data. In about three weeks we should have all our testing data. Those results will determine what we do. We are actively working to develop plans for our next steps. I can tell you that whatever we do will be in a very thoughtful, phased-in manner.

TPAA: Are pill windows running on the units on lockdown?

Dr. L. and Lorie Davis both provided input to this answer: If the pill line is not running on a unit, medications are being delivered to cells by CNAs, or LVNs, someone of the appropriate level of qualified medical staff. At the beginning of the medical lockdowns, we looked at our formulary and changed many routine items to KOP status. There are some medications which have to be administered by staff, or observed by staff. Those are delivered if the inmate cannot go to pill line. If there are problems on specific units, let us know.

TPAA: On several units when inmates request grievance forms, they are repeatedly told there are none.

Lorie Davis: We need units, dorms. We have some ways to validate that, but need details to address it effectively.

TPAA: Is employee screening continuing at units that have no positive cases?

Lorie Davis: Yes.

TPAA: We will send you a list of reports from units that say that is not happening consistently.

TPAA: Please clarify some things concerning mass testing: If guys have been living together and one tests positive and one negative, are they now separated?

Lorie Davis: Yes…the positive goes to isolation and the one with direct exposure goes to medical restriction.

TPAA: Please confirm when the 14 days of restriction/observation start.

Dr. L: It starts from the last exposure to the indexed case.

TPAA: Will you consider restoring the availability of Ecomm for locked down units?

Lorie Davis: We are looking at all aspects of our protocols and we are working on commissary services.

Texas CURE: Following up on a question from last time about rescue inhalers, some inmates report they have received no new inhalers for six weeks. On some units they are being told none are available and that there are problems with the contract.

Dr. L: Our contract is in good order and our supply is ample. The inhalers have 25 metered doses, so we know how long they should last. There is some misuse of inhalers.

Texas CURE: We have a report of four or five asthmatics on one unit not being provided adequate inhalers.

Dr. L: Get specific names to me or to Mr. Dunbar.

Texas CURE: Polunsky Unit reports JPays being delivered to wrong cells, in some cases because inmates are delivering mail late at night while people are sleeping. Should this be reported to the mail room? To the shift captain?

Lorie Davis: To the shift captain and to the warden

Texas CURE: Some are hearing that TDCJ has approved tablets, is just waiting on a vendor to supply, and that email service will be free.

Clark: That is a rumor. It is not happening.

Texas CURE: We had heard that the list of locked down units which were allowing 5-minute phone calls would be posted with the new website Covid-19 data, but we haven’t found that. Could it be provided at least weekly?

Clark: Maybe we can update that on the weekly calls, or in an email.

FAITH: We have a report that Jester 3 has not allowed any calls in over 20 days, not even the 5-minute calls. Are those not mandatory?

Lorie Davis: We have allowed 5-minute calls for locked down areas where it has been deemed safe to do so. There are a variety of factors to consider.

Mr. Dunbar adjourned the call at 10:50 after announcing the next conference call for Wednesday, June 10.

Notes of Conference Call May 27, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler. Some questions and responses from the call have been moved in this summary to be nearer related items.

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar, TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Voices, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition…TCJC, The Prison Show, Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Associates…TPAA, and FAITH.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek.) John Werner, Deputy Director of Support Operations for TDCJ’s Correctional Institutions Division, Chris Black-Edwards, Deputy Director of TDCJ Health Service Division, Christopher Carter, Deputy Director, Rehabilitation Programs Division

Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff, gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Tuesday, May 26.  On Day 80 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 3851 inmates and 847 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. 38 units are currently on precautionary lockdown, with over 18,000 on medical restriction. 1150 inmates and 290 employees have recovered and been medically cleared. About 75,000 tests have been administered, including the mass testing being done. The labs are catching up and those results are beginning to come in quickly… 8 or 9 thousand per day.

Our early projections were that the number of hospitalizations for the virus would continue to rise for some time, but we are now seeing a flattening of that statistic, which indicates that our measures are being effective. There are currently 79 inmates and 3 staff persons hospitalized for Covid-19.

Mr. Dunbar called on representatives of participating groups for questions.

TIFA: We are trying to help manage families’ expectations, so some of our questions and comments may seem redundant. We continue to have complaints about the medical lockdowns and johnny sacks, so we want to get good info into the call notes, which are widely distributed to families and to inmates.

TIFA: With regard to mass testing procedures, specifically at the Wynne Unit, they were on precautionary lockdown for two weeks after the testing, awaiting test results. When the tests results are returned and there is a positive and they have already been locked down for two weeks with no new symptoms how are those cases being handled.

CID: It is the case that some results were delayed. (As you’ve heard, that time is improving.) If they have been locked down for two weeks awaiting test results, we are evaluating those asymptomatic positives within that tested group with the medical group responsible for that unit…UTMB or TTU…to decide whether and when to clear those cases and move forward.

TIFA: When a person is asymptomatic but tests positive through the mass testing, how is that person handled?

Health Services Division: Out of an abundance of caution, those persons are being isolated. They spend 14 days in isolation, being monitored to see if they develop symptoms. If they do, the 14-day observation/isolation period starts over, as we watch to see if symptoms worsen. If they do not develop symptoms they are released back to their area. The 14-day period for an asymptomatic person begins the day they are tested.

TPAA: If during mass testing an inmate refuses testing, and so is presumed to be positive and isolated, if the unit has just come up off lockdown because of another previous positive test result, will the unit go back on lockdown because of the presumed positive of the one refusing to test?

CID: At this time we have no instances where a precautionary lockdown has been caused by a refusal to test. There have always been other known positives to trigger the lockdown in that area. We will be attentive to that possibility and evaluate the situation if it occurs.

TPAA: Could a refusal to test extend a lockdown time?

CID: If the person refusing is symptomatic, yes; they would be monitored in isolation for those symptoms even without a test and persons exposed to them would be medically restricted until symptoms were cleared.

TPAA: Would that person be isolated with other known positive cases?

CID: They would be medically restricted but not with known positives.

TIFA: If only 1 or 2 persons on a wing test positive but they are asymptomatic, they will be placed in isolation. Could the whole wing or dorm left behind come off lockdown so they can have access to phones, commissary and rec?

Clark: We are still learning and considering what are the best practices for all these situations. We are considering that possibility, but we are not ready to share a comprehensive plan for dealing with every eventuality yet.

 TIFA: As you consider how to deal with that scenario, please consider at least restoring regular phone privileges to inmates. Phone calls help so much in relieving stress and anxiety for inmates and for families. Please place that at the top of your priorities.

TIFA: Since there are different entities dealing with the mass testing and the symptomatic testing, there has been some confusion about the HIPAA forms needed for families to receive information about loved ones’ care and virus status. We understand that for the mass testing, inmates are not being prompted to get a HIPAA filed if they don’t have one current; that they will receive a letter about their results and it will be their responsibility to inform family.

FAITH: Are there two different HIPAA forms, one specifically for Covid-19 information? The units served by TTU have declined to release info to families who did not have a “Covid specific HIPPA form” on file.

Health Services Division: Director of Nursing Myra Walker has been communicating with medical personnel over those units today, to clarify that there is only one HIPPA form.

FAITH: At the Michael Unit, where mass testing has been done and inmates have received letters about their Covid-19 status, the results of those tests is not showing up in inmate medical files when family members call the medical hotlines. What is the reason for that?

Clark: Because of the mass testing, there are now over 30,000 lab results being released to UTMB and TTU that have to be logged into patient records. Be patient with them please.

TIFA: Since the weather is getting hotter, we are getting letters from inmates wanting to know how to access respite areas on units on precautionary lockdown.

CID and Clark: There will be opportunities for respite. It is difficult to provide and comply with social distancing requirements. The medical and heat status of each unit is being taken into account, as well as the layout and logistics of movement on a unit. We are also taking care not to co-mingle inmates in respite with others of a different level of virus exposure and have to take into consideration the social distancing.

TIFA: We appreciate the efforts at providing more variety in the johnny sacks, however many units report no improvement seen in the quality of those meals; specifically many have not seen the promised fruits, vegetables, or other items described in previous reports. Again, for the purpose of managing expectations, can you tell us when all units could expect to see those additions and improvements?

CID: There are deliveries of fruits and vegetables expected at all locked down units today and tomorrow. They are receiving apples, oranges, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots. We are building the schedule now to provide at least something from that list to everyone every day.

TIFA: Would it be possible to share that planned schedule with us?

CID: I will check and will follow up with you later.

TIFA: At Stringfellow Unit, they received the onions and raw corn in some johnnies, so they will be glad to hear about the fruits and vegetables coming. They are also having issues with mail…we have reports of people receiving empty envelopes or letters with pages missing. It feels like some mail is being censored.

CID: I will follow up with them.

TIFA: This time last week we were told water was being restored to Smith Unit, but over the weekend there were still reports of no water there.

CID: Yes, the Canadian River Water Authority has had trouble restoring adequate water pressure. We expect full restoration of service soon.

TIFA: Area 7G of Michael Unit reports a power outage this morning.

CID: I will check with facilities management.

TIFA: Could we look at getting some more TV channels up to help with boredom during the medical lockdowns? I understand the cable bill is paid for from recreational funds. Maybe this is a question for Windham Superintendent Hartman?

Clark: It seems she is not on the call. I will check.

(After the call, Jennifer had some interaction with Windham Superintendent Kristina Hartman: Kristina asked which channels we were thinking about and we shared National Geographic and History. Her reply was “Good choices. We will look into it. Also, are you aware that Windham is returning at units without med restrictions June 1 for small group instruction with social distancing and masks? This aligns with TEA guidance and the Governor’s amended order. We will follow TDCJ screening protocols and temp checks.”)

TIFA: Is there any improvement in providing access to required parole programming for inmates approved for parole but awaiting programs?

Rehab: Inmates are completing those programs.

TIFA: Those that are FI-5s and FI-6s are getting programming?

Clark: To clarify, that is if they have reached the date for their programming to start and if they are on a unit where the needed programming is offered. No inter-unit transfers are being done for program purposes, only for medical issues.

TIFA: Who sets the dates for programming to start…TDCJ Parole Division or Bureau of Paroles and Pardons?

Clark and Rehab: BPP

TPAA: Since much of the current programming is being done through packets and not in class settings, why can’t inmates waiting for a move to start programming go ahead and start the programs by distance learning from their current location?

Rehab: There is actual interaction by staff and students in that programming.  Packets are turned in daily and reviewed by staff who give feedback and return them. Staff is actively engaged with those students; it’s not just a matter of turning in papers.

Texas CURE: We are receiving reports of inmates requesting medical attention that is not Covid-19 related getting the canned response that only emergency medical issues are being seen at this time but there seems to be no assessment of whether or not the problem is in fact a critical issue. Who is reviewing those requests on each unit? What about post-op follow-ups?

Health Services Division: A licensed staff nurse reviews all requests for medical attention. They are looking for specific things to decide whether an inmate will be seen at this time….certainly the Covid or flu-like symptoms are a flag; also reports of different types of pain, or a change in condition or symptoms for chronic medical issues. Routine follow-up care with no change of symptoms reported, or request for medication refills, will not result in a visit to medical. Refill requests may be submitted and can be honored without a visit. Post-op follow-up visits should have already been scheduled and should not need a request. If you have specific units where that is not happening, call the medical hotline.

Texas CURE: Some requests for refills of rescue inhalers are being returned with a stamped reply that indicates the requests will not be filled and that there are not sufficient inhalers in stock. Is TDCJ out of inhalers?

Health Services Division: There was a nation-wide shortage of inhalers at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. That has been resolved. Our pharmacy department says we have adequate stock. Please let us know if you have specific instances of denial on a unit. These items are NOT being automatically refilled, but requests are being honored. No appointments for conditions warranting the use of inhalers are being given unless there is a change in symptoms or symptom severity to report.

TPAA: Will persons refusing testing be reported in the website statistics?

Clark: They would show up as one in medical isolation.

TPAA: Will the website show when a unit has completed mass testing?

Clark: “Completed” is a difficult concept. Testing could be repeated if more symptoms appear. Check the website for a unit’s status regarding precautionary lockdown.

TPAA: Will you be returning the statistic for “pending tests” to the website?

Clark: With the mass testing it has become increasingly challenging to manage the various statistics on the website. We are choosing to focus on the numbers of actual positive results received.

Prison Show: We do notice some discrepancies in numbers reported here and what we see on the website. Would you comment on that?

Clark: We are dealing with hundreds and thousands of numbers daily. There are hours and hours of work involved in recording and updating that information every day. We are doing our best to be transparent with our numbers, while acknowledging that we are human. We are not trying to “hide the ball,” but the task is challenging. One example of discrepancy may be the number of positives reported… the difference between positive tests received and the numbers of current positive patients, not medically cleared. We have to back those individuals out of one category while keeping them in another.

Prison Show: We do appreciate your efforts and your level of success in slowing the spread of the virus. Kudos to TDCJ that about half the units still have no positive cases of Covid-19.

Clark: Thanks for the affirmation. We are doing all we can here.

TPAA: Are the numbers being reported of persons “recovered and medically cleared” based on retesting or on observation and reported symptoms?

Health Services Division: We are doing time-based clearance, following CDC guidelines, but increasing the time from 10 to 14 days from last presentation of symptoms or onset of symptoms, including 3 days without fever.

TPAA: Is any retesting being done?

Health Services Division: Those who have been hospitalized may be retested by the hospitals but retesting those with milder symptoms, on the units, is rare.

FAITH: I saw on my local news today that nearly half of Covid-19 tests are being discovered to be invalid, so some are recommending a second test for persons who have been tested.

Health Services Division: That report referred to “Abbott Labs Rapid Response Tests.” That brand has not been used by TDCJ.

TPAA: We were told about the Covid-19 recovery area set up at Jester 1. Now we have reports of chain buses coming through this week to move those persons.

CID: Yes, those in convalescent status at Jester have started returning to their home units. 22 inmates yesterday and another 22 today are returning to Beto Unit.

TPAA: Is there any other chaining going on, for example on bench warrants to county?

CID: Some counties want them and some don’t. Some counties are picking people up from their home units for bench warrants.

Prison Show: We have reports that at the Luther Unit inmates are not receiving any soap except two bars when taken to shower. There are no hand-sanitizing provisions or soap provided at other areas for washing hands. Inmates there also report the difficulty of social distancing in the dayroom but cases being given for refusals to crowd up near others in the area where social distancing is all but impossible.

CID: I will talk with Luther. There should be no shortage of soap.

Prison Show: I have to say I am a little concerned about those recovered inmates being returned to the Beto hotspot!

TIFA Chapter Leader: As Governor Abbott is in the process of re-opening businesses and public places in the state, can you tell us TDCJ’s expected process for that?

Clark: Our situation is unique. We are more like a nursing home than an open business. We are engaged in planning for next steps. We continue to evaluate the incidence of disease in our agency and to watch our numbers. We are formulating a phase-in plan for whatever the “new normal” turns out to be. We are looking for a good flattening of our curve before we can consider things like visitation, intakes, transfers, etc.

The call was adjourned by Jason Clark at 10:50 after announcing the next call for next week.

Notes of Conference Call May 20, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler. Some questions and responses from the call have been reported in a different order than they occurred on the call.

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar, TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Associates…TPAA, and FAITH.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek.)

Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff, gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Tuesday, May 19.  On Day 73 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 2214 inmates and 742 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. 39 units are currently on precautionary lockdown, with about 16,000 on medical restriction. 457 inmates have recovered and been medically cleared.

You have been hearing about our mass testing efforts. So far we have tested 38,000 inmates and 11,000 employees. We received 1600 results yesterday and expect to receive 1200 more today.

TIFA: Are officers who test positive required to do the 14-day quarantine?

Hirsh: Not just officers but any employee who tests positive is required to quarantine at home for 14 days.

TIFA: Are you having staffing issues because of officers in quarantine?

Hirsh: We are having to compensate in some areas. We have a plan of rotation. We do expect more difficulty if many more test positive.

TIFA: Are you transferring inmates who have tested positive but are asymptomatic…specifically to Scott Unit?

Hirsh: We have no intention to do that. I have no knowledge of that happening. No. The only transfers happening right now are for medical treatment.

TIFA: Is the death information on the TDCJ website up to date? There have been no additions in about a week. If so, that is good news…congratulations.

Clark: I will check to make sure. We do have 32 deaths so far attributed to Covid-19 and 27 autopsies pending.

TPAA: Please clarify if “mass testing” and “strike team testing” refer to different testing techniques and whether the results of those tests will be posted on the website.

Clark: “Strike team testing” and “mass testing” refer to the same thing. The strike teams are the trained observers who take the testing materials to the units and oversee the administration of the mass testing. Those tests are self-administered. The person coughs into their arm 3-5 times; opens the sealed kit of testing items; takes the sterile swab and swabs inside the mouth… cheek, top of the mouth, under the tongue, for 20-30 seconds; places the swab in the vial provided in the kit, reseals the packet and turns it in. The website is still being redesigned. Probably today or tomorrow there will be a new look for the Covid-19 reporting; there will be more information to be seen. When we get results from these tests we will post that.

TPAA: How are you handling inmates who test positive using the new testing?

Billy Hirsh, Deputy Director of CID: We are dealing with them as with any other inmate who has tested positive so far. Anyone with a positive test is isolated and those around them are placed on medical restriction. We hope and pray we can contain the virus to minimal spread. We try to get those who test positive but are symptomatic together. They would receive the same twice-daily med checks as others with positive results.

TPAA: So if one person on a pod is asymptomatic but tests positive, the whole pod goes on medical restriction?

Hirsh: Yes.

TPAA: Do we expect that all units will eventually be tested?

Clark: We expect to test at least 110,000 inmates and staff. We are being strategic in our testing and prioritizing hotspots. We will expand testing as needed.

TPAA: If an inmate declines the test they are isolated?

Hirsh: Yes, if they decline we have to assume that they are dangerous, since we can’t show otherwise, and they are placed on 14-day quarantine for the safety of others.

TPAA: Would they be quarantined with others who have tested positive?

Hirsh: Probably on the same cell block, the area we have set apart for isolation on that unit. If possible they would be separated from those known for sure to be positive by an empty cell.

TPAA: We are getting complaints about there being no water on Smith Unit.

Hirsh: We received a message today from the water authority in that area that the line has been fixed. As soon as it is tested safe for drinking, water will be turned back on for the unit. We have had plenty of portapotties and drinking water on site and have even sent a 4-day supply of bottled water to the unit just in case. We thank the Facilities Department for helping with those logistics. We expect to be up again within a few hours.

Other groups on the call had no questions. Mr. Dunbar adjourned the call at 10:16, after announcing the next for Wednesday, May 27, at 10:00 a.m.

Notes of Conference Call May 15, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler.

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar, TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Associates…TPAA, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition…TCJC, and FAITH.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek.)

Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff, gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Thursday, May 14.  On Day 68 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 1798 inmates and 697 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. 38 units are currently on precautionary lockdown, with over 21,000 on medical restriction. 452 inmates have recovered and been medically cleared, as have 116 employees.

Clark: You have heard about our enhanced testing capabilities. We started new mass testing of staff and inmates this week, using the new saliva test. It is a self- administered test. The person waits 20 minutes after eating or drinking, coughs three times, opens a sterile swab and swabs inside the mouth 20-30 seconds, including the cheek and under the tongue. The swab is placed into a vial with a small amount of liquid. This is the same testing currently being used in Los Angeles and by the Department of Defense. It is quick and easy and we have been receiving a positive response from the people being tested with it. Over 1300 employees and @5500 inmates have already been tested. Those numbers will be much higher after today’s round of testing. When we get information back from these tests we will relay the results.

We are redesigning our website. That was put up very quickly to provide information to the public in the beginning of the virus crisis, but there will be a new appearance to the dashboard, probably next week.

Lorie Davis, Director of CID: We continue to monitor the johnny meals. We have procured some fresh fruits and vegetables…especially broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower which can be served raw. We are researching other meal preparation options. We have considered some prepackaged options and continue to look for appropriate items. We have procured cartons of milk, pizzas, and hotpockets for increased variety in the meals. Oversight of johnny preparation by ARRM staff continues and we are calling wardens unexpectedly, sending them into their housing areas to facetime with us on the conditions and contents of the johnnies on their units. We are testing delivery of hot meals on some units. We have procured lids for our cups and have been sending pudding out with some meals. We are committed to continued monitoring of the meals being served to those on lockdowns.

Mr. Dunbar invited questions from advocacy groups to agency directors on the call.

TIFA: We have been hearing reports about the fresh fruit and better quality of johnnies on some units. Thank you. We are still concerned about the quality assurance procedures and the need to prevent thefts of items from the sacks as they are being delivered. Are the sacks sealed?

Davis: Preparers are fed before they work on the sacks, so that cuts down on theft somewhat. The inmates preparing meals are supervised by COs. The sacks are not vacuum sealed as that would be difficult to open. Most meals are prepared by COs because of the limitations on movement on the locked down units.

TIFA: Regarding the mass testing…If an inmate refuses testing, will there be disciplinary action, or will that person automatically be placed in isolation for 14 days?

Davis: No one is forced to accept testing. A person has a right to refuse medical care or treatment. We have no plans to write cases for that. Whether or not the person would be isolated would depend on results of other testing in the area, but we are not necessarily quarantining those who refuse. We have had some discussion of that but that is not happening at this time. If the area around that person is placed on medical restriction, then they would be as well.

TIFA: On the subject of precautionary lockdown, medical restriction, and medical isolation, there was some confusion on the last call. Dr. Linthicum said precautionary lockdown would be for a cluster of cases or several cases on a unit. The website says a unit will go on precautionary lockdown if there is only one positive test of inmate or employee on the unit.

Davis: It will be done for only one case. If there is an individual medically isolated on a unit, because they have likely symptoms of the virus and are awaiting test results, others that have been exposed to them will be placed on medical restriction. Those events are what trigger a precautionary lockdown for the whole unit.

TIFA: On the unit, there is no difference in the experience of the persons under medical restriction and all those on precautionary lockdown, as far as no commissary, limited phone access…?

Dr. Lannette Linthicum, Director of TDCJ Health Services: Precautionary lockdown is the equivalent of self-isolation on the outside…our attempt at social distancing. Persons on medical restriction are placed there because of a medical evaluation and they have daily rounds by health care staff.

TIFA: Right now, when a new positive case shows up on a unit and goes to medical isolation, probably from a previously medically restricted area, the whole unit has their precautionary lockdown extended another 14 days. Could the inmates in the larger group, who have not been under medial restriction be allowed to have some more freedom of movement on the unit…for commissary and phone use for example?

Dr. L: It depends on the location of the person who tests positive and the results of our contact tracing.

TIFA: According to the website those additional positive tests are resulting in extended lockdown for the whole unit.

Davis: It can.

TiFA: Would you consider not keeping a whole unit down when the new cases are showing up in areas that have already been previously medically restricted? We are concerned that with the numbers of asymptomatic positive cases showing up in the new mass testing, the whole system will just be completely locked down.

Dr. L: Please remember that those persons who are positive but asymptomatic are still shedding virus and are highly contagious. The precautionary lockdowns are not punitive but protective. Please see our updated Covid-19 policy on the website. It is document number 14.52, under Correctional Managed Healthcare. (Type 14.52 in the TDCJ website search bar.) This is the 5th revision of the document as we continue to update it, as the national CDC guidelines continue to change. For instance, they have recently extended the recommendation for medical isolation after positive test results from 7 days to 10 days, including 3 days with no fever.

TIFA: Regarding heat issues, how can inmates purchase fans without access to commissary?

Davis: Inmates can submit an I-60 to request a fan purchase and it will be delivered to them as a special purchase.

TIFA: Can ecomms ordered before a precautionary lockdown began to be delivered, or will those orders stay in limbo?

Eric Johnston, Director of TDCJ Commissary Services: We have begun trying to deliver those ecomms at the same time the limited lockdown spends are being delivered.

TIFA: Are there commissary shortages anywhere?

Johnston: We have over 600 items. Do you have a specific concern? Our supplies of soups, water, and toilet paper are good. Where we have shortages of items on a unit we are trying to move inventory between units to cover that.

TIFA: Mr. Hinojosa, you said that in May you would be re-evaluating the status of FI 4 and 5 classes.

Rene Hinojosa, Director of Rehabilitation Services: On units not on precautionary lockdown, those courses continue to be offered with in-cell instruction and small groups of less than 10. For units on precautionary lockdown, there is in-cell instruction only. Regarding those who need new programs, there will be no unit transfers.

TIFA: We were told there would be no disciplinary hearings during the Covid-19 crisis. What about those who need reviews of line classes for parole?

Davis: That would be UCC hearings, not disciplinary hearings. Those are continuing in some form on most units. We are running all we can, some in person, others in absentia. The unit classification officers are working with the wardens.

Texas CURE: Some inmates were caught at incoming transfer units at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis and have not been able to get set up with the Offender Telephone System. Is there any possibility of getting them registered for phone use?

Davis: We are using dial-up phone service for some of those inmates, taking them out individually. The chaplains’ calls are also continuing.

TPAA: Some inmates who are scheduled for release have had their phone and commissary access turned off, but are now on precautionary lockdown or other restriction. Could they be re-instated?

Davis: We need names to look at those on a case-by-case basis.

TPAA: Just comments…Pack Unit reports COs not wearing masks and not changing gloves between tasks. Some units report inmates being threatened with retaliation because of mail with Covid-19 information coming in.

Davis: I need specifics. I will check but there is no rule against that.

TPAA: On units with restricted movement, how are the inmates in 1-man cells with a shower in the cell being allowed to make phone calls?

Davis: Those inmates are being escorted to the phones as time allows.

TPAA: Could we have a commissary cart to deliver regular commissary to the areas on lockdown?

Davis: We have done that in some areas. Beginning about 2-3 weeks ago, after the correspondence and hygiene spend, we went through and did a food spend.

TPAA: We are seeing some improvements and have some good comments to make. I will send a list of units.

Davis: Thank you. We like to recognize good work.

Texas Voices: Thanks for your work on the johnny sacks. It means a lot.

TCJC: Are the self-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes allowed only for religious organizations, or can advocacy groups do that as well?

Davis: I’m pretty sure that is not allowed. I’ll check.

Mr. Dunbar adjourned the call @10:30 a.m. with the announcement that the next conference call will be next Wednesday. (The conference calls are expected to happen only once per week going forward.)

Notes of Conference Call May 8, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler. Some items have been moved out of chronological order to be near related issues in the summary.

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar, TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, The Prison Show, Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Associates…TPAA, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition…TCJC, and FAITH.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Staffer Sharon McKinney; TIFA CH L indicates one of the chapter leaders on the call.)

Oscar Mendoza, Deputy Executive Director of TDCJ gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Thursday, May 7.  On Day 61 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 1379 inmates and 535 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. 40 units are currently on precautionary lockdown. We have many agency directors on the line. Let’s go straight to questions.

Texas CURE: Could we have the list of units now being allowed to make the 5-minute phone calls with showers?

Lorie Davis: I will text for that list to be brought to me. It includes 23 units.

FAITH: What are the protocols for shower sanitizing in areas with inmates who have tested positive for the virus?

Davis: Anyone who has tested positive has been removed from general population. They have been isolated alone if possible or in groups of other positives. They may be showering alone or with a group of other who have tested positive. Showers are being cleaned between uses in both cases.

TIFA: Since we see one third of the inmate deaths from Covid—19 are from the Wynne Unit, are you doing mass testing there?

Jason Clark, Chief of Staff: We are trying to remain flexible and be responsive to needs that arrive. We are looking at all areas, including Wynne. (This question was repeated, twice, later in the call, and received basically the same response.)

TIFA Ch L: Two guards from Powledge Unit have told inmates they have also been working at Beto and Telford. Now there is a positive case of Covid in a staff member at Powledge.

Davis: We do have some COs working at more than one unit. We perform the same screening at all units. We feel that our process is as safe as it can be at this time. We are dealing with some shortages of staff.

TIFA Ch L: Can you tell us if the staff person at Powledge is a CO, medical person, or what kind of staff?

(Ms. Davis contacted staff to get this info and reported later in the call that it was a CO.)

TIFA Ch L: I have a list of comments, problems reported from several units. Darrington is said to be administering tests only when a person shows a temperature of 103 or higher. Johnston Unit says many guards are not wearing masks. Hughes Unit says inmates are being forced to wear the masks while in their cubicles. Lychner Unit reports assistant warden and many COs not wearing masks.

TIFA Ch L: Please describe the process of release for inmates going to halfway houses.

April Zamora, Director of Re-Entry Services: They are provided with masks and go through our standard release screening. Some are being picked up by the contract staff from the halfway house, some are making a short bus ride.

TIFA Ch L: Are they still being allowed to leave from units that have positive cases?

Zamora: Yes, if they are asymptomatic, have not been recently in a medically restricted area, and have no known exposure to the virus.

TIFA Ch L: When a person has a release date and is ready to come home from a unit with positive cases what is your list of safe protocols for them to be released?

Brian Collier: If a person is under medical isolation or medical restriction, they will not be released until they are cleared. They will be given masks; temperature and other medical screening will be done.

TIFA Ch L: We have a person in this situation, who has no symptoms himself but is on a unit where medical restriction is starting over again today, for another 14 days.

Collier: We are releasing people who have been cleared from those units but we are under obligation not to release anyone into the community unless we can say they are cleared.

TIFA Ch L: Could the family say they will take the responsibility?

Collier: Not at this time.

TIFA Ch L: When will regular medical trips to Hospital Galveston resume? We have an inmate waiting for a hernia repair.

Davis: We are continuing to do transfers for any appointment deemed medically necessary by the medical personnel on the unit, in consultation with our doctors. The situation described must not be considered urgent at this time. We are monitoring cases like that to make sure they are receiving an adequate level of care wherever they are located.

TIFA Ch L: So how is it decided what is medically necessary?

Davis: We defer to our medical experts on questions of the needed level of care.

Chris Black-Edwards, Deputy Director of Health Services: Medical needs may be urgent, emergent, or non-urgent. Those not deemed urgent are being asked to wait for further treatment. They are being monitored on their current unit and if the situation elevates they will be transferred as needed.

TCJC: Is Stage 2 cancer chemotherapy treatment not considered essential?

Black-Edwards: That should be continuing. Please forward specific details for investigation if it is not.

TIFA Ch L: We’d like to report that we still have JPays being delayed on many units.

TIFA Ch L: Inmates on lockdown, especially those that have been down for a long time, are getting stir-crazy. Are you planning to give them any rec time…maybe in small groups of five or so?

Davis: We are aware. We make our decisions on a unit-by-unit basis, with safety as our primary concern.

TIFA Ch L: Thanks for these calls and for the improvements we are seeing in the johnnies on some units. However, there are still many reports of frozen items, moldy items, PBJ sandwiches with barely any filling, etc. We appreciate what you are doing at the command center level, but there are too many units where the directives are not being carried out at the bottom level. (Improvements as well as ongoing problems were reiterated by several other callers.)

Davis: We are continuing to monitor the johnnies in several ways, even face-timing with wardens as they are in their kitchens, and the ARRM team continues to make in-person visits to unit kitchens. We have investigated, and will continue to investigate, every grievance written about johnnies.

Brian Collier, TDCJ Executive Director: Please send emails about specific units with complaints about johnnies.

TIFA Ch L: Where should we send those emails? We want to be considerate and also targeted with our reports.

Brian Collier: All our directors are receiving emails. I’m receiving emails. We are answering them; we are working them; we will get a problem to the right person to deal with it.

TIFA Ch L: We appreciate the special commissary runs for those units on precautionary lockdown, and the five-minute phone calls where those are happening. However, there are still problems with mail running extremely slowly on some units. I received a letter from Lopez Unit which was dated inside two weeks before the postmark.

TIFA Ch L: When will the results of the targeted testing at Wynne Unit be posted?

Clark: We are trying to be agile in our responses. We are analyzing results with our medical teams as they come back. Targeted testing results are posted on the website when we get them.

(The question of targeted testing at Wynne was repeated in a slightly different form by another caller. Clark replied with a statement about looking at “hotspots and clusters” of infection and mentioned “testing availability.”)

TIFA Ch L: Fort Stockton is on precautionary lockdown but reports inmates are being called into the kitchen to prepare johnnies. We wonder what kinds of help TDCJ has received from the state during the virus crisis, and specifically wonder if any thought has been given to asking the state for National Guard troops to work in the kitchens of locked down units.

Clark: We are in constant contact with other state agencies, including at least weekly conference calls. We have ongoing discussion with other state agencies. They have been very responsive to our requests so far, including help with thermometers and PPE. We do have contingency plans….not only a Plan B, but Plans C, D, E, and maybe F.

TCJC: Will the Governor help with mass testing for the prisons?

Brian Collier: We have been conducting asymptomatic testing in our high-risk groups for about two weeks.

TIFA Ch L: Yesterday, for the first time, field workers at Hobby Unit had their temperature taken as they returned to the unit from the field. Initial temps were showing 101, 102, 103, etc. The field lieutenant stopped the process and called someone to say she would have a bunch of people to admit to hospital if she continued the temperature taking. She was instructed to have them all wash their faces and forearms and wait in the shade for a while before continuing to take temperatures. We wonder if this is related to virus protocols or to heat mitigation protocols.

Davis: I will investigate. There must be some misunderstanding. Workers are not required to be screened when they return to the unit from work; they are not transferring in from another unit. We will help the lieutenant understand what is required.

TIFA Ch L: In some units on precautionary lockdown, inmates are restricted to their cells most of the time, but then are taken to shower with 100 people. Social distancing is really impossible.

Davis: Those 100 people are not all in the same space, showering shoulder-to-shoulder. Logistics of showers vary from unit to unit. I am aware of the difficulties. We have studied and discussed the management of those facilities. We continue to monitor the situation. I am confident that our planned protocols are being exercised.

TIFA Ch L: Lychner Unit has shown 1 pending test on the charts for over a week. Recently a second one was added to that list. We understood test results were being received in 2 to 4 days. Why has one taken so long?

Davis: The “one” might not be the same “one” every time you see a 1 on the chart. The length of time for results depends on where the testing was done.

Collier: If the testing is done internally we are getting results in 2 to 4 days. If the testing is done in a local hospital, then sent to UTMB or TTU, the report could take longer.

TIFA Ch L: Some COs have been telling inmates who want to update their HIPPA form to write the info on a piece of paper and give it to the COs to take to medical.

Black-Edwards: Inmates should be completing their own forms.

FAITH: Why are the medical release forms only good for 180 days? It seems like it would save everyone a lot of work if those could be good for a year at least.

Black-Edwards: The decision to use that time frame was made in consultation between TDCJ, UTMB, and TTU. We are allowed by law to set our own time for that. It seemed like a good option, given the fluidity of situations within the system.

TIFA Ch L: At Smith Unit inmates on heat restriction have been moved to high-security areas. They have been on medical lockdown now, without commissary or phone calls, for about 30 days.

Davis: We look at individual areas to decide on the safest way to relax movement restrictions. Smith Unit can now make calls.

TIFA Ch L: Not those heat-restricted inmates in high security.

Maybe they have had another positive case?

TIFA Ch L: Powledge Unit had all zeroes on the charts early this week; now they have over 200 on medical restriction. How do the numbers change so dramatically?

Davis: When an inmate or employee tests positive, we do a contact investigation, to see where they have been, what level of contact they have had with anyone. It is the result of contact investigation that determines the extent of medical restriction that will be required while tests are pending or when a positive test is received.

TPAA: Should the number of positive tests and number of pending tests on the charts be equal to the number of persons in medical isolation on a unit? We see discrepancies, specifically at Coffield, LeBlanc, and Cotulla units.

Clark: I will check on that.

TPAA: At Coffield, some inmates were moved from dorms to the gym. What determines who is moved and why?

Davis: I took the individuals at highest risk at Coffield and moved them out of general population and isolated them together at a distance, to minimize their exposure to the virus.

TPAA: The dishwasher is broken at Ramsey. Inmates and families are concerned about cleanliness in the kitchen at this time.

Davis: When equipment is broken there are specific food service protocols to be followed for insuring adequate hygiene. For dishwashing this describes a certain routine and certain chemicals to be used. The process is well-monitored until required repairs are made.

TPAA: Will inmates who want to see UCC about status changes be able to do that while their unit is on precautionary lockdown or will they have to wait?

Davis: Some depends on the level of lockdown the person is under. If the inmate is on medical isolation or in a medically restricted area they will have to wait. Their cases are being flagged to deal with as soon as possible. If they are just in a precautionary lockdown status, those cases are working.

TPAA: On the units where the lockdown commissary spend was allowed for hygiene and correspondence items, how often will that be repeated? And are food items being added?

Davis: We are going back through for a limited food spend in those areas. There are no plans for a regular schedule of those spends. We are evaluating each unit and providing access to commissary as possible. There are many factors to consider.

TPAA: Families with Torres Unit report an employee there with a positive test but the warden’s office denies it. Can you confirm or deny?

Davis: My notes today do not show that.

TPAA: Families report a dialysis nurse at Estelle tested positive.

Davis: We do have positives at Estelle. If a dialysis nurse tested positive, that is not a TDCJ employee and I would not be the one to report that.

TCJC: If a person has been declared eligible for parole and is needing a program like Changes before they can be discharged, are there alternative ways to deliver the course so they can move forward?

Brian Collier: No new programs are starting during the virus crisis. We are enforcing minimal movement, however, the Changes program is available on most units. A person approved for parole in January might not have been scheduled for a needed program until June. Windham continues to work with inmates whose course work was already in process at the time of movement restrictions or medical lockdown.

Call was adjourned about 10:55.

Notes of Conference Call May 1, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar, TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Associates…TPAA, and FAITH.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek; TIFA CH L indicates one of the chapter leaders on the call.)

Oscar Mendoza, Deputy Executive Director of TDCJ gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Thursday, April 30. On Day 54 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 1118 inmates and 395 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. The number of those recovered and medically cleared is 207 inmates and 54 employees. This number is increasing quickly.

Jason Clark, Chief of Staff: We will be introducing a new element on our social media accounts featuring recovery stories from inmates and staff who have recovered from Covid-19 illness.

Dunbar: I took the survey provided last time, regarding johnnies, and sent staff into the field to the units named as having problems. They reported johnnies with a good quantity of food and a variety of items provided. They also ate the food and said it was fresh and good tasting.

TIFA: One of the main complaints we are hearing right now is that mail is being delayed on many units, both incoming and outgoing. We wonder if the delays are at USPS, in the mailrooms, or with officers delivering mail on the wings. There does seem to be a lot of variation. Some report mail being tossed into sacks and only being delivered once a week. We remind you of the importance of good mail service, especially when so many do not have phone access. We are now distributing our current newsletter, which was approved by Ms. Davis. At the Tulia Unit, a previous copy of our newsletter has been repeatedly denied. Also photocopies of greeting cards are being denied on some units. Please communicate our concerns to your mailroom supervisors.

Lorie Davis, Director of CID: We had a conference all with all our wardens and with all our mailroom supervisors this week. We reiterated the guideline regarding greeting cards, clarifying the rules about third-party cards and the admissibility of photocopied cards. We know of a specific situation at Clements, where because of illness and virus-related issues there was a four-day delay of mail coming in and going out. We have done some restructuring of the process there. We are seeing a very high volume of JPays coming in to the units, especially on Mondays. We are implementing different distribution patterns for regular mail and JPays…each will be handled by a different shift of officers. If you continue to see problems please send specific units and specific details. I am receiving large numbers of messages and emails and our staff reviews each one to see if we have already dealt with that issue or if it is one that we still need to address.

TIFA and Texas CURE: Since IPOs are not visiting inmates in person, what is the best way for them to send parole packets to the IPO?

Davis: They may be sent by regular mail or truck mailed. Truck mail continues to operate and may be the most direct way to send mail within a unit.

TIFA: Are the unit IPOs on the units or working from home?

Davis: They may be on the units to pick up or drop off paperwork, but most work is being done from home.

TIFA: Based on the charts provided by TDCJ, there continue to be many transfers of inmates, particularly at Scott, Darrington, and Beto Units.

Davis: We have an obligation to provide our inmates with the best possible access to medical care. We have moved some to be closer to Hospital Galveston. Most current transfers are to Jester 1 to our Covid-19 recovery center. For example, 79 are moving there today. They are coming from various units…Stringfellow, Scott, Hospital Galveston, and others. This is being done in consultation with Dr. Linthicum and our health services group so those inmates can receive the focused care they need for complete recovery before being returned to their home units.

TIFA: How are the lockdown commissary spends going and are you still considering adding at least some soups?

Davis: Some units have been able to do those limited lockdown spends. We are continuing to adapt and adopt as possible. It is a challenging project. We are considering various solutions. We need to be able to execute this safely. We are doing the best we can.

TIFA: People have asked about families declining to have an autopsy of deceased loved ones. Are families charged for an autopsy by TDCJ?

Davis: No

TIFA: There is some concern about TB patients at Beto. Are they receiving their meds? Also at Michael Unit there is a report that the daily med check consists of a quick walk-through and visual check only. Some say they are not receiving daily meds or refills of KOP meds at Michael. How are you handling routine medications for those on precautionary lockdown?

Dr. Lanette Linthicum, Director of Health Services: We have suspended pill lines on the units under precautionary lockdown, for the sake of social distancing. Thousands of routine medications have been made available as KOPs. Narcotics and some other highly regulated medications are being distributed in pill rounds by medication aides. Injectables are being administered by nurses. We have received no grievances regarding medications. If a person has an active TB case that person is in respiratory isolation. When testing shows that the person is not infectious, they will be returned to general population and continue to receive medication. If you have problems at specific units with these issues please call or email Myra Walker, Director of Nursing.

TIFA: During this time of no visitation and mail restrictions, has the incidence of K2 and other contraband on the units decreased?

Davis: No statistics on that but a significant amount of K2 was intercepted this week.

TIFA: Families are concerned about K2, so thank you for that.

TIFA Ch L: We have complaints about cool water not being provided at Michael Unit, and only 5 to 6 bars of green soap being available weekly on Coffield and Michael Units.

Davis: I will check on that. The warden at Michael Unit recently acknowledged they needed to be making more soap available.

TIFA Ch L: Some are reporting an increase in commissary and ecomm prices…seems like a hard time to do that.

Eric Johnston, Director of Commissary Services: I can’t think of recent price increases. I will check.

(Within an hour of the call, Mr. Johnston emailed me this: Becky, I looked back over our price changes for the past six weeks and found two price increases:

  • Sugar free hot chocolate increased to $2.65 from $2.30
  • Stevia sweetener increased to $1.45 from $1.35

All of our pricing is controlled centrally from our warehouse in Huntsville. There would not be a way for a particular unit to change the price on any item. All of the prices on eComm are exactly the same as what is on the unit. Let me know if you need anything else.)

TIFA Ch L: Thanks so much to TDCJ for deciding to delete the details of inmate crimes in the death reports. Families appreciate it very much. Reporting again from the Michael Unit, there are more complaints of meds not being properly distributed, not enough food, and that the paper cups of bleach distributed are not enough to clean their cells.

Davis: We have increased the serving sizes in the johnnies and three times weekly we are adding extra commissary items to the johnnies, including some sweet treats. Thanks to Mr. Dunbar and his staff for their follow up on the johnnies; we did not know they were doing that.

Dunbar: The sacks contain two sandwiches and extra items, plus milk, tea, lemonade, or punch.

TIFA: Have you heard anything about JPay accounts being frozen because of system problems?

Davis: About two weeks ago there was a brief problem which was fixed quickly. I have not heard of problems since then.

TIFA Ch L: We have a report from Estelle Unit, C1 pod, that inmates were all sent to the dayroom together to watch TV, with no masks.

Davis: I’ll check the video surveillance on that.

TIFA Ch L: There has also been no ecomm service and no calls being allowed from Estelle.

Davis: We are taking extreme measures to limit movement to contain spread of the virus. That plays out in different ways on different units. We are constantly assessing our risks and bringing units back up to more routine operations, in phases, as it is deemed safe.

TIFA Ch L: What are the medical criteria for an inmate to be moved from a unit to a hospital?

Dr. L: There will be a medical assessment of the necessity to move someone to a hospital. A person in medical isolation, with a positive Covid-19 test or flu-like symptoms will twice daily have their temperature checked and will be asked diagnostic questions, especially questions regarding shortness of breath and any increase or decrease in that symptom. We have added the additional questions recommended by the CDC for Covid screening, including sore throat, diarrhea, changes in smell or taste. Persons in medical isolation also have routine vital signs checked and have oxygen saturation checked daily. If medical personnel observe an increase in symptoms, especially shortness of breath, the person will be further separated for more evaluation by medical professionals who will determine the appropriate level of care, including hospitalization if needed.

TIFA Ch L: Can you tell us what percentage of inmates who have been hospitalized for Covid-19 have now recovered?

Dr. L: The charts posted have the number recovered but do not sort out those who had to be hospitalized. There have been many discharged from Hospital Galveston or from community hospitals who have now been moved to Jester 1 for convalescence before returning to their unit of residence. We are not only giving them needed care but making sure they are virus free…for more than 14 days.

TIFA Ch L: With Governor Abbott’s return-to-work program, is TDCJ considering a return of visitation privileges on units that have no Covid-19 cases?

Mendoza: We are not comfortable looking at that yet. We feel it is not wise at this time, especially given the possibility and prevalence of asymptomatic carriers. We are working very hard to contain spread of the disease and do not want to risk the safety of officers and inmates.

TIFA: Some families who have been on visitation restriction report that calls for wellness checks have been denied on that basis.

Davis: Let me know the unit; I’ll take care of it. TIFA: Stevenson Unit

Davis: While we have been on the call I have asked wardens to report in about problems with JPay distribution. They report no problems today. If you find that to be otherwise, send names of those units.

FAITH: Are units on precautionary lockdown receiving ecomms?

Davis: We are looking for a way to manage that. It is complicated by efforts to minimize movement. We are doing that as we feel it is safe to do so.

TPAA: We have reports that positive cases from Beto have been moved to cells at Estelle and the persons in cellblock C2 were moved to the gym.

Davis: We have used our evacuation spaces to spread inmates out further. There has been no direct transfer of inmates from Beto to Estelle.

TPAA: Can you tell us how the targeted testing is going at Estelle?

Dr. L: It is in process. We did move our geriatric population at Estelle into the gym for half a day for the purpose of deep cleaning their area.

TPAA: Thank you for your responses to these concerns by our families.

Texas CURE: Could we have an update on the phone policies regarding allowing short phone calls at the time inmates are taken to shower on the precautionary lockdown units?

Davis: We continue to work on that. A couple more units have been able to do that. We cannot have a system-wide policy on that issue because of differences on the units. We will continue to add back phone access as we believe it is safe.

Texas CURE: May we have a list of units that have been approved to do calls at shower time?

Davis: Telford, Beto, Stringfellow, Scott, and Murray are all allowing some degree of inmate calling. Our chaplaincy staff continues to make wellness calls for inmates in other units on precautionary lockdown. They have made over 20,000 calls so far.

TIFA Ch L: The two free calls allowed now are only for inmates who have access to the regular OTS…offender telephone service. What about other availability to call?

Davis: Inmates can send an I-60 request to the chaplain’s office; families can call chaplains and request those calls. The calls TDCJ is allowing AdSeg and G5 inmates to make are continuing, at no cost.

TIFA Ch L: Why was Polunsky on the precautionary lockdown list April 29 but not April 30?

Davis: Will check. Maybe an error?

TIFA Ch L: Thank you to Eric Johnston for quick response to a commissary issue at Polunsky on Tuesday.

TIFA: Thanks to TDCJ for these calls. Families appreciate the information.

Mendoza: We appreciate the opportunity to clear up concerns, dispel rumors, and get more accurate information out to families.

Dunbar: Next call announced for Tuesday, May 5. Call adjourned at @10:50 a.m.

Notes of Conference Call April 28, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA
Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Voices, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition…TCJC, The Prison Show.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek; TIFA CH L indicates one of the chapter leaders on the call.)

Mr. Dunbar gave a quick listing of the various agency directors and assistant directors on the call, to whom questions could be directed.

Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Monday, April 27. On Day 51 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 908 inmates and 425 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. The 908 number includes 4 persons on parole currently residing in TDCJ facilities. The number of those recovered and medically cleared is 97 inmates and 34 employees. There are now 786 active cases of the virus. (This illustrates that some of the positive tests are for persons who are asymptomatic, or not active cases.) Over 17,000 inmates are currently on medical restriction because of exposure to a suspected case of Covid-19, or contact with a confirmed case. This number has remained relatively constant over several days. There are now 37 units on precautionary lockdown (down from 40 at the end of last week.) Manufacturing and Logistics continues to produce cloths masks and has received some new fabrics for manufacture of medical-grade protective gown. (Static…one or two sentences unclear.) There continues to be some movement of inmates to Jester 1 for recovery from illness caused by the virus, before they are returned to their home units.

TIFA: Can you give us any updates on the mass surveillance testing? Is that diagnostic testing for the virus or testing for antibodies to the virus?

Dr. Lannette Linthicum, Director of TDCJ Health Services: We are calling that “focused testing,” not “mass testing,” because we are first targeting our medically fragile or at risk inmates. We have completed that testing at the Murray and Carol Young Units. It is in process at Estelle and we have a schedule we are working through. At Murray we identified 100 inmates to be tested. Some refused the testing and a few paroled before testing started, so we tested 72 individuals and found 18 to be positive but all were asymptomatic. I am waiting for the paperwork from Young, but the verbal report sent to me says there were no positives from the focused testing there. At the Beto Unit, we have tested 293 security employees and yesterday received report that 18 are positive for the virus, but also asymptomatic. Those officers are all now furloughed and on quarantine. They will be tested again before being allowed to return to work.

Texas CURE: Could we have an update on the status of those 5-minute calls during shower time, and also whether indigent hygiene supplies are being provided?

Lorie Davis, Director of CID: Some locations have been doing the 5-minute calls with showers. The logistics are more complicated on other units. Indigent supplies have been being provided on all units. We have also initiated the $10 commissary spend for hygiene items and are looking at making some other commissary items available to the units on precautionary lockdown.

Texas CURE: Could you clarify how the surveillance testing will be showing up in the website numbers?

Clark: We are still deciding how to report the asymptomatic positive tests from focused or surveillance testing.

TIFA Ch L: Our condolences to the TDCJ family on the loss of more employees to the virus. We ask again that the agency consider not reporting details of a person’s crime when their death is reported on social media, out of respect for their families.

Clark: We will consider that.

FAITH: Could you clarify the posted numbers more? Does the total number of inmates testing positive include those now recovered and the deaths?

Clark: The total posted is all positive tests. The total active count is those showing any symptoms at this time. (There is not a column on the website for the active count at this time.)

TPAA: Do you have any other comments to make about the johnnies? We continue to hear lots of complaints from our families. I initiated a survey which shows the problem is higher on certain units. Would you like to receive that survey?

Davis: Yes, please send it. We continue to monitor and assess the johnnies. Warden Gorsuch at Beto reports that he has talked with anyone who calls his office and will provide their name and callback number. The majority of the complaints he is hearing about johnnies seem to be related to their being squashed. They are prepared on other units and are being flattened in transit. We are looking at changing that process. We have reinforced to the wardens that they are to be personally inspecting the johnnies that go out on their unit at every meal. We are also some treats from commissary inventory to the johnnies.

TPAA: We have another survey regarding families’ experiences with the medical hotlines. Some are reporting they have received no information and/or are being told to call other lines.

Dr. L: Our nurse manager, Myra Walker, has her nurses documenting the calls that come in to those lines. They are reporting many calls with questions about parole or re-entry, calls that have nothing to do with medical issues. There are also calls being made by people who are not on the release of information forms for the inmate they are calling about. We have asked families to designate ONE person to the contact person for an inmate, and that person must be on the HIPPA release of information form.

TIFA Ch L: We are hearing that some units ran out of peanut butter and received johnnies with only mayo or butter. Would it be acceptable to transfer supplies from one unit to another when supplies run out?

Davis: We would certainly transfer supplies as needed. There is no evidence that is actually happening. We have tried to investigate the allegation of “butter-only” sandwiches and cannot trace it. We have actually increased our supplies of peanut butter during this time and are closely monitoring it at all levels during the pandemic. We note what units are ordering, compared to what they should need to serve their population, and if there were a disparity we would be finding out why.

TIFA Ch L: We have heard that the employee commissary spend has been raised from $5 to $10. This is hard for families to hear, since officers can shop at stores outside but our loved ones can’t.

Davis: I will check on that.

Eric Johnston, Director of Commissary Services: On Friday, staff asked for that increase and we are trying to help them as well. We have many officers working 12-hour shifts and our inventory is in good shape right now.

Davis: We have many officers volunteering to work overtime, sometimes 12, 14, or 16 hour days, so that our units can continue to operate safely. They’re not always off duty when the outside stores are open.

TIFA Ch L: We have reports that inmates have altered the masks provided to be able to keep them on their faces while working, and then are having cases written for that alteration.

Davis: I have not heard of cases for that, but they have been asked to wear them as designed. What unit is this coming from?

TIFA Ch L: Briscoe Unit

TIFA Ch L: We know that many units are short-staffed even in good times. What about now, with officers out sick?

Davis: Yes, that has been true for a while. But our true, professional staff recognizes the emergency situation and most are willingly working extra and moving as needed. We are constantly working with wardens and regional directors to make sure staffing is adequate. We are thankful for the courage and commitment of the true professionals we have. We know they are tired but understand the need. We are very proud of them.

TIFA Ch L: Is there a contingency plan for if things come to a breaking point with staffing… a point at which the officers simply can’t give any more? They are taxing their own immune systems with long hours and heavy exposure load to the virus on some units.

Davis: We are pushing ourselves to do some creative thinking. We believe we are prepared to continue with an appropriate level of response to the situation.

TIFA Ch L: There is a real need for inmates to get some exposure to sunlight…for their general well-being as well as to boost their immune systems.

Davis: This is on our mind. It is being discussed. We will try to implement that for as many inmates as possible as soon as possible.

Call adjourned by Mr. Dunbar at 10:30 a.m. Next call announced for Friday, May 1st.

Notes of Conference Call April 24, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA
Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Voices, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

(TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek; TIFA CH L indicates one of the chapter leaders on the call.)

Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Thursday, April 23. On Day 47 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 693 inmates and 265 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. The number of those recovered and medically cleared is 47 inmates and 15 employees. Over 17,000 inmates are currently on medical restriction because of exposure to a suspected case of Covid-19, or contact with a confirmed case. 40 units have been placed on precautionary lockdown. In response to a request made on the last call, for the duration of the virus crisis, TDCJ will use direct dial instead of collect calls for those inmates who do not have access to the offender phone system but are being allowed to make calls home during the virus crisis.

Dunbar: Because of time constraints for TDCJ Directors who have another meeting at 11:00, we will go directly to questions from advocacy groups.

TIFA: Condolences for recent TDCJ losses of employees due to tornado and to Covid-19.

Questions and comments about johnny sacks: Ramsey Unit reports field workers often being sent out without breakfast, lunch sometimes being delivered to them in the field and sometimes not, so some days only one meal, and very sparse. Pack Unit reports sometimes only butter, not even peanut butter with bread in johnnies. Reports from Carol Young Unit that pregnant are losing weight because of insufficient calories in johnnies. Beto Unit, receiving johnnies from other units, reports food sometimes frozen, sometimes overcooked, sometimes just peanut butter.  Maybe look at other delivery models for food to those on lockdown…such as packaging regular meals for delivery, similar to Meals on Wheels. What about allowing men to take their bowls to the kitchen and return to cells to eat. Maybe add ramen and tea bags or other items to johnnies to increase substance and provide variety to the meals.

(Lorie Davis of CID was temporarily unavailable on the ZOOM but came back later and responded to all questions related to her division. Her responses are recorded with those questions. Some of Dr. Linthicum’s responses have also been moved in the summary to go with related questions.)

Lorie Davis, Director of CID: We have had minimal complaints from the units about the johnnies. In fact a thank you note from inmates on Pack Unit regarding the johnnies there was received yesterday. I’ve written down the units mentioned and will check on those.

TIFA: We have heard of some unrest at the Beto Unit…a riot last night?…and at the Hughes Unit…notable anxiety and suicide attempts because of the lockdown. A father reported his son who was sick but had no fever was sent back to his cell and no one checked on him for three days while he was sick in his cell.

Davis: There was no riot at Beto last night. We are all concerned about the effects of the lockdown. We are giving the Beto warden and staff as much assistance as we possibly can. The nature of this virus is very confusing to all. We are trying to be proactive and creative.  I am usually notified within two hours of any suicide attempt. I have had no word of any at Hughes. Regarding the sick son left alone, please send details.

Dr. Lannette Linthicum, Director of Health Services: Nurses are making daily rounds of all areas of all units on precautionary lockdown.

TIFA: Regarding the medical hotlines, we understand that people are calling and being asked to leave voicemail to be called back but the voicemail boxes are full.

TIFA: Hotter weather is here in some areas. Has the supply of ice water on the units started? What about respite areas during medical lockdowns?

Davis: We have well-established heat-mitigation protocols, which went into effect on April 15. Cool water is being distributed in all areas. Our commitment to these protocols has not changed during the pandemic.

TIFA: We are concerned about reports of guards working on two different units, especially when one unit has positive cases of Covid-19 and the other does not, such as Gurney and Beto, now Neal and Clements. We urge TDCJ to restrict guards to work at only one unit until the crisis is passed, especially given that asymptomatic carriers of the virus can still be shedding virus wherever they go.

Davis: In a perfect world we would not be sharing guards between units.

TIFA: Are trustee camps being closed? We have heard that Chase Field trustees have been sent to Garza Unit.

Davis: The Chase Field trustee camp was absorbed into Garza East and Garza West because inmates recovering from the virus are being housed there for convalescence. This was determined to be the best use of agency resources.

Dr. L: Jester 1 has been designated as housing for Covid-19 convalescents…those being discharged from Hospital Galveston and from community hospitals who still need some recovery time. The Jester Units have more nursing staff and good medical support. There was definitely a medical purpose for this move.

TIFA: Regarding mass testing…will you be reporting those survelliance numbers separately from the current medical testing being done for those showing symptoms?

Clark: Yes, the targeted testing of Beto staff started today. We will be tracking those numbers separately. The current numbers posted are for those showing symptoms. We are still deciding what will be the best way of presenting that information clearly without confusing the two kinds of testing.

Dr. L: Yes, the numbers of positive cases are increasing at Beto. We do not understand why our mitigation efforts are not working there. In consultation with state health services, we received permission to test all officers there today; that is underway as we speak. Beginning Monday, we will begin mass testing of Beto inmates, starting with the medically fragile. We will be looking at that data with UTMB staff and state health services.

TIFA: Has the modified commissary spend for units on precautionary lockdown started?

Eric Johnston, Director of Commissary Services: Yes, it has started. We will be looking next week at adding some food items to what can be ordered.

TIFA: Were the Beto inmates transferred to Stringfellow placed in the gym or in cells?

Davis: In cells.

Texas CURE: Thanks to TDCJ for the adjustment from direct dial instead of collect calls to families for G5 and AdSeg inmates. Have you heard of Germ Falcon…a company which produces sanitizing equipment for aircraft? They are making some of their equipment available free of charge.

Bobby Lumpkin, Director of Mfg, Ag, and Logistics: We have been doing some research but have not heard of that company. Please forward the info.

The Prison Show: Please give an update on the availability of PPE, masks, sanitizer, and soap for inmates.

Lumpkin: All inmates now have two masks and units are laundering masks daily. Our inventory of bar soap has doubled; there are ample inventories. Inmates should be able to wash their hands as many times a day as they wish.

Prison Show: Will there be more movement of TDCJ inmates in Brazoria county?

Davis: We are moving inmates as needed for best medical care and consult several times daily with health services to see that everyone is getting the right level of care.

Prison Show: Thanks to all for these calls and for your transparency and help.

FAITH: Thanks for the call and condolences to TDCJ on their losses and to the families of inmates who have died. We have complaints of mail and JPays not being received or being very late on several units….Michael, Connally, McConnell, Wynne, maybe others in my notes.

Davis: Send list. Will check.

TPAA: Please clarify what information the hotlines can give out.

Dr. L: Regarding the medical hotlines…3rd line is for organizations, legislators, state officials, to ask questions. The UTMB and TTU family lines are open 2-5 p.m., M-F, after the twice-daily nursing rounds information has been entered into the computers. They are able to release any information in an inmate’s medical records to persons on the medical release form for that inmate. There are other hotlines…for example, the ombudsman’s hotline, the re-entry hotline…

TPAA: Will TDCJ consider allowing some phone access for inmates on the precautionary lockdown status?

David: We are piloting a trial at some units for inmates to be allowed a 5 minute call at the time they are taken out for showers. We’ll see if that works out.

TPAA: Please clarify the 14-day period for precautionary lockdown.

Davis: We need 14 days between symptoms of Covid-19 and no symptoms to declare a unit clear.

TPAA: So would a unit’s count start over when an inmate tested positive was transferred into that unit?

Davis: Only Scott and Stringfellow Units have had anyone with a positive test transferred there and they already had positive cases of their own before those transfers happened. We are not transferring anyone with a positive test to a unit without a positive test.

TIFA Ch L: My son’s ID needed to be replaced…was taken from him because it was old. Then lockdown happened and he/we were given the run-around about getting it taken care of. The problems seemed to be more at the unit level. Thanks to Molly in Huntsville Commissary offices who got it resolved, but there are likely others with this problem who have no outside advocate to help.

Johnston: Our ID replacement procedures changed a couple of years ago and it is more automated now. Replacements are FedExed to the units every Wednesday. There may be some delays getting photos right now, but there is a procedure in place to issue a temporary ID with an old picture.

TIFA Ch L: What is the death toll from Covid-19 in TDCJ today?

Clark: We have had 3 employee deaths and 7 inmate deaths attributed to Covid-19. There are 8 autopsies pending.

Dr. L: Some persons who have died with positive tests for Covid-19 have been given a cause of death for other reasons, such as one who died from an infection after surgery, rather than from the virus. The autopsy will give the official cause of death.

TIFA Ch L: How long do autopsy results take?

Dr. L: Preliminary reports usually take 1 to 2 weeks. A final report including tissue samples and toxicology screens take longer. The final report often does not change the results of the preliminary report.

TIFA Ch L: Is there only one provider doing autopsies for TDCJ?

Dr. L: Offender deaths are attended by a justice of the peace or a physician in the hospital or a county medical examiner. Most autopsies are done by UTMB; some by Tarrant County; some by other county MEs.

TIFA Ch L: What kind of protocols and care are being given to TDCJ inmates hospitalized with Covid-19? And are they being allowed to participate in any clinical trials?

Dr. L: Inmates who are critically ill or near death may be allowed to participate in trials. Doctors have the final word. Community hospitals usually do not have clinical trials going on; that is usually at a teaching hospital, such as with UTMB.

TIFA Ch L: Families are telling us there are 4 confirmed virus cases at Skyview. Can you confirm that?

Dr. L: I learned just yesterday evening of 2 nurses at Skyview who have tested positive, and some areas of the unit are now on medical restriction. I do not have any newer numbers than that today.

Clark: No offenders have tested positive at Skyview.

TIFA Ch L: Why is information about a person’s crime being reported with their death by TDCJ on social media? Is that necessary? It is very upsetting to family members. Please re-evaluate this practice.

Clark: This has been the long-time practice of TDCJ when reporting the death of an offender.

TIFA Ch L: Are there any revocations of parole happening?

Pamela Thielke, Director of Parole Services: Yes, the numbers are reduced because many parolees are sheltering in place and not getting out and getting in trouble.

TIFA Ch L: What about people who cannot pay parole fees or student loans because they have lost jobs?

Thielke: We review a person’s ability to pay and if there is loss of income, fees go on hold but accumulate.

Call adjourned by Marvin Dunbar at 10:50 a.m. with thanks and announcement of the next call for Monday, April 28.

Notes of Conference Call April 21, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Mr. Marvin Dunbar TDCJ Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Voices, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition…TCJC, The Prison Show, Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Associates…TPAA

Department Directors online will give updates from their areas. (TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek; TIFA CH L indicates one of the chapter leaders on the call.)

Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Monday, April 20. On Day 44 of TDCJ Covid-19 response, 468 inmates and 215 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. The number of those recovered and medically cleared is rising. Over 15,000 inmates are currently on medical restriction because of exposure to a suspected case of Covid-19, or contact with a confirmed case. All medically at-risk inmates have been provided with cotton masks. More no-touch thermometers have been procured.

Reports from TDCJ Departmental Directors

Pam Thielke, Director of Parole Services: We’ve had some questions about releasing procedures. There are many steps to the release process, but our business is continuing normally with no delays. We are not behind on processing people who are being released.

April Zamora, Director of Re-entry Services: We are processing those who have been cleared for release. The re-entry hotline at 1-877 887 6151 is open now at 6:30 a.m. and manned by persons ready to answer family questions, even on the day of release. We are also making calls to families to be sure they know where to go to pick up their loved ones.

Rene Hinojosa, Director of Rehabilitation Services: We have sent 1300 religious videos to units, to be played in the dayrooms in place of chapel services during the Covid-19 movement restrictions. We continue to make calls for those in lockdown and on medical restriction. 9300+ calls have been made so far.

Eric Johnston, Director of Commissary Services: Our inventories of water, noodles, and toilet paper are adequate. Commissary Services will implement a modified commissary schedule and procedures for any units that are on the recent administratively imposed lockdowns, or that may subsequently be placed on lockdown. Offenders will be allowed to purchase the following:

  • Correspondence supplies up to $10 (paper, pens, envelopes, etc.)
    • Stamps  – up to 30 stamps, but does not count as part of the $10 limit above
  • Hygiene items:
    • (1) Shampoo
    • (1) Toothbrush
    • (1) Toothpaste
    • (1) Deodorant
    • (1) Comb
    • (5) Soap
    • (2) Toilet Paper
    • (1) Box Tampons (female only)
  • Electrolytes – individual serving drink mix (50)

Operationally, security staff will collect offender ID cards and order slips and bring to commissary.  Commissary staff will fill orders, label the bags with offender’s name, number, and housing location, and return to security staff to deliver to the offenders.

Kristina Hartman, Windham Schools Superintendent: Library services and instructional services on the units are going well. As part of our health and wellness emphasis last week, we sent material on maintaining physical fitness while on cell restriction. This week we are emphasizing career exploration and career pathways. We distributed interest inventories for inmates to complete. These will be scored and returned with a list of careers which might be a good fit for the inmate on return to the community. They can choose three options for further study. These responses will provide good information for future planning by Windham. The governor announced that Texas schools would be closed through the summer. Since our model is distance learning, we will continue to provide our classes. Families are encouraged to visit the Windham Facebook page to see the TDCJ Unit principals.

Eric Guerrero, Deputy Director of CID: We are distributing two masks per offender over the entire state. We are deep cleaning cells of all medically restricted areas. We have instructed wardens to be sure someone is available to answer phones and take questions on all units.

Ron Hudson, reporting for Mfg, Ag, and Logistics: We have made 483,000 masks so far, enough to distribute 2 per inmate. The last 20 units will receive that supply today.

Mr. Dunbar called for questions from the family and advocacy groups on the call.

TIFA: We continue to receive complaints about the quality and quantity of food in the johnnies. Pack Unit reports a reduction in the size of portions. Could we work on enhancing portion size and variety in the johnnies since we have this extended and uncertain time of lockdown? Are there any food shortages?

Jason Clark: We have no food shortages. I will contact food services with the questions about portions and variety.

TIFA: 1) We have complaints from several units that officers are not wearing masks or are not wearing them properly.

2) Wynne and Ramsey Units report 100 inmates at a time being taken to showers.

3) We are concerned about some guards working at both Beto and C. Moore Units.

These were comments made by way of report, for the agency to follow up later. No immediate response was asked for.

TIFA: We had heard about more widespread testing being done. This was mandated by a judge for the Pack Unit. Is it planned for other units?

Dr. Lannette Linthicum, Director of Health Services: We are in ongoing discussions with state health services about our pandemic response. Just yesterday we received approval to expand our testing. I am in the UTMB offices today to plan the implementation of expanded testing. We will begin first at units with high numbers of positive Covid-19 tests and focus on at-risk offenders…those 65 and over, having asthma or COPD, HIV positive, those with kidney disease, diabetics, and those with organ transplants.

TIFA: How many TDCJ inmates are currently on ventilators for Covid-19?

Dr. L: at Hospital Galveston there are 43 inmates who have tested positive for Covid-19. 7 are in ICU. 6 are on ventilators. There are also some in community hospitals around the state…no complete numbers today.

TIFA: We appreciate your plan to move offenders with positive tests but few symptoms closer to care at Hospital Galveston. Are there plans to transfer more of those people to Scott or Stringfellow Units?

Clark: No

TIFA: We know that FI-5 and FI-6 programs are available on all units. Are people mandated to those programs as a condition of release having to wait to start them?

Hinojosa: If they are in the program now, they are continuing on schedule. If they are scheduled to start in June or July, we will evaluate the situation at that time. If they are supposed to be starting this month, while we are in the mode of minimizing movement, they will not be able to start until lockdowns are over.

TIFA: Is there a process in place for people who are on medically restricted units and will be released from there to go to some sort of isolation two weeks before release, like self-quarantining on the outside, so that they and their families can know they are being released Covid-free? Maybe also add some testing at that point?

Guerrero: Since they are releasing from their home units, trying to provide more isolation services might be a matter of logistics.

Zamora: They are being given masks and information about staying safe. We also notify the state health services.

Dr. L: We are required by law to coordinate with the receiving counties and notify them regarding any possible contact with the virus by the person being released.

Texas CURE: Are there still phone calls being provided for inmates without access to the offender telephone system…the G5s and Ad Seg inmates?

Clark: We are still working through the first call for all those inmates.

Texas CURE: We were told the calls would first be tried as collect calls and if no one answered they would try again as direct dial. Reports are that those collect calls are costing families up to $23 for 5 minutes, as assessed by whoever their service provider is. Would the agency consider making all those calls direct dial?

Clark: We will check on that.

TCJC: Do you know how many inmates we have on blue warrants?

Thielke: We receive a monthly jail population report from the counties with that information. I do not have current numbers.

TCJC: Are there people waiting for beds in SAFE-P programs?

Clark: Since we have stopped intake from the counties, there may be some. The programs continue for those who are already working on them.

TIFA Ch L: I want to make the comment that TDCJ has been under a lot of public pressure lately. I hope this experience highlights the complexity of the workings of the agency. I think you are doing a good job. Since we have so many units on medical lockdowns with no way to estimate how long that will continue, will you investigate ways to provide some rec time in sunlight, or at least add Vitamin D to commissary items?

Clark: We are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. We are trying to remain flexible and make adjustments as needed.

TIFA Ch L: Coffield Unit does laundry for Gurney Unit. What kinds of protection against virus spread is being done in laundries?

Guerrero: Masks and gloves are provided for laundry workers.

TIFA Ch L: What kinds of precautions are being taken about correct calibration of thermometers?

Clark: We are replacing and building up our supplies of thermometers and will be calibrating them.

Dr. L: Nursing staff are working with other staff members about proper use of thermometers.

The Prison Show: We appreciate the way TDCJ is working to protect our loved ones. Thanks for scrambling.

Clark: We appreciate your thanks. Last week in Huntsville some prisoner families rallied to express thanks to the command staff and that means a lot.

Called ended by Mr. Dunbar with thanks on all sides; looking forward to the next call later this week.

Notes of Conference Call April 17, 2020, TDCJ and TIFA

Summary and paraphrase of call by Becky Haigler

Call convened at 10:00 a.m. by Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff, and Ms. Frances Gattis, Deputy Director of Administrative Review and Risk Management.

Roll call of groups participating: TIFA, Texas CURE, Texas Voices, TCJC, The Prison Show

Department Directors online will give updates from their areas. (TIFA in these notes indicates TIFA Executive Director Jennifer Erschabek; TIFA CH L indicates one of the chapter leaders on the call.)

Jason Clark gave the agency update, as of the close of business, Thursday, April 16. 328 inmates and 158 employees have now tested positive for Covid-19. Test results are coming back quickly…24 to 48 hours. As of today, 27 units, almost 12,000 inmates, have been placed on precautionary lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus. Thanks for using the TDCJ website updates and charts. The charts are being reworked. Perhaps today, certainly by early next week, there will be a column to show numbers of persons who had tested positive but have now been medically cleared. There will also be a column for the number of deaths.

Reports from TDCJ departmental directors:

Lorie Davis, CID Director: We continue to monitor and evaluate our virus response. We appreciate assistance and cooperation from all divisions.

Billy Lumpkin, Director of Mfg, Ag, and Logistics: We continue production of cotton masks in 10 factories. Masks have been distributed to all inmates 65 and over and those identified as high-risk by medical personnel. They have been provided in sufficient numbers for them to have one to wear and one to wash.

Rene Hinojosa, Director of Rehabilitative Services: We continue to make calls to families on behalf of inmates on medical restriction; more than 5000 have been made. This is helpful for both inmates and family members to receive word on health conditions of the other.

Eric Johnston, Director of Commissary Services: Our inventory of ramen soups is improving. They should return to availability on ecomm by next week. We have a backlog of about 1200 ecomm deliveries.

April Zamora, Director of Re-entry Services: We continue to call family members to let them know the unit their loved one will be released from. If a person being released is on medical restriction, we notify state health services of the date that person will complete their 14-day self-quarantine or medical restriction observation period. No-cost testing will be available to those persons as needed.

Pamela Thielke, Director of Parole Services: We continue our programs, emphasizing social distancing. Since April 6, our employees wear masks in all contacts with clients. We also have masks to distribute to clients who come into the office. We have many virus information documents we are distributing to clients.

Questions from groups on the call:

TIFA: We are hearing many questions and concerns about conditions at the Beto Unit, including shortages of food and staff.

Davis: We did move 98 persons from the Beto Unit. There are no food shortages. Cleaning protocols continue. No current needs are reported by Warden Gorsuch. Most of the persons with positive tests at Beto remain asymptomatic.

TIFA: We have questions about inmates who were not able to go to commissary before medical lockdown who are running very low on stamps and are concerned about being able to stay in touch with family.

Davis: We are working this week on some limited commissary spends, to be starting next week, which would include writing materials and stamps.

TIFA CH L: Ramsey Unit has no Covid cases but recently some inmates were transferred there who had previously been in a quarantined setting. Why?

Davis: Those transferred did come from Stringfellow and Scott, but no one who had been in a quarantine or medically restricted area were moved there. They are being housed in the emergency evacuation space, the gymnasium, and do not have contact with other inmates.

TX Voices: Does TDCJ have an adequate amount of testing supplies?

Clark: TTU and UTMB report ample supplies for current level of testing and for increased levels of testing if that becomes necessary.

TIFA CH L: As of yesterday, the Beto Unit had 118 positive cases and 2346 on medical restriction; Coffield has 0 positives and 2 on medical restriction. Are there testing supplies at Coffield? Do we know why such a large discrepancy despite the proximity of the units?

Davis: Yes, they have testing supplies. We do not understand why some units are affected and not others.

TIFA CH L: How is TDCJ preparing for the isolation and quarantine of vulnerable prisoners?

Davis: Layout and logistics vary from unit to unit. Many have cells, cell blocks, easy to convert for isolation. We are also using the evacuation spaces, or gyms.

TIFA CH L: How is TDCJ dealing with staffing shortages, especially given the number that are either testing positive or remaining home on medical restriction?

Davis: We talk with our regional directors as many as two to three times daily; units report their staffing levels to the regional directors. We are keeping good records of those out, following up with them. There is lots of overtime being worked and some non-uniformed staff who are trained in correctional work are returning to the units.

Prison Show: Kudos to TDCJ that about 80 of the 105 units have no Covid numbers at all. Regarding 90 persons moved from the Beto Unit during these first 40 days…were they tested before being moved?

Davis: That group of Beto inmates had all tested positive but were asymptomatic. They had already been together in isolation and have not been mixed with another population after they were moved. They were moved in order to be closer to Hospital Galveston, to have better access to hospitalization if they do become symptomatic, and to minimize any potential strain on the local hospitals near Beto.

Prison Show: We hear a lot of fear, panic, and rumor from callers on our show and we are trying to help alleviate that with good information.

Clark: We appreciate that.

TIFA CH L: What can you tell us about the percentages of positive tests related to high-risk inmates, or cool-bed inmates? Are there groups or areas that seem to be more likely to have positive test results?

Davis: We are studying our numbers; no patterns are emerging yet; no trends stick out. We have tried to deal with our high-risk populations quickly.

TIFA CH L: What is the number of inmates currently hospitalized?

Davis:  We have 15 in hospitals. We monitor their status twice a day.

TIFA CH L: Does Governor Abbott know about the TDCJ Covid statistics? Does he make any response?

Clark: We share our numbers daily with state leadership. We participate in weekly calls with them. They have been very responsive.

TIFA CH L: What protocols are being used to insure COs follow through with social distancing requirements and wearing of masks? We hear reports that some do and some don’t. Are wardens monitoring?

Davis: Yes, wardens are monitoring and reporting. We are encouraging them to stay mobile on the unit.

TIFA CH L: Please further clarify the 14-day medical lockdown that starts over with every new positive virus test.

Davis: We are following the recommendations developed with health experts…the CDC and Dr. Linthicum… that there should be 14 days between the last symptomatic day and a return to normal operations on a unit. We have some units that have already come back up after being on medical lockdown.

Jason Clark ended the call at 10:34 with appreciation for the work of community groups in getting good information out to families and suggesting the next call for Tuesday, April 21.