Editorial and Business Offices: The Texas Observer, 600 W. 7th St., Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone 477-0746. 7431130V Behind the walls By Cyndy Allen Austin It’s been anything but quiet in the Texas Department of Corrections lately, and an increasing number of “free world” Texans want to know what all the commotion’s about. For most of them, the escape attempts at Huntsville and the Potter County jail were the prime cause of concern. But the two abortive breakouts did more than draw attention to the facts that a lot of Texans are incarcerated and that some of them are willing to take hostages in efforts to get opt. Rep. Mickey Leland, vice-chairman of the Joint House and Senate Committee on Prison Reform, thinks the “inane acts” of “idiots” like Fred Gomez Carrasco will make it considerably harder for reformers to implement changes in the TDC. In late July, the Joint Committee held a day-long session here. It was the committee’s last meeting before Carrasco’s escape attempt, which began four days later. At the time, though, the committee was more interested in the normal operations of the TDC than in barricaded libraries and gun battles. The members heard staff reports on prison conditions and beating incidents in TDC installations, and testimony from ten inmates currently Allen is a reporter for KLRN-TV, the public television station in Austin and San Antonio. serving time at various units around the state. The committee also decided to pass on to the U.S. Department of Justice all that it learned about “possible civil or criminal violations” within the TDC, with a request for an investigation. FOR SEVERAL months inmates’ friends, attorneys and relatives, committee members and the Texas Civil Liberties Union have been receiving increasingly bitter complaints about mistreatment of prisoners. There have been reports of unprovoked and undeserved beatings, long stretches in solitary confinement and frequent verbal and physical harassment. Not only have inmates accused TDC officials of administering the beatings: they claim that building tenders were also beating them, on orders from wardens. Building tenders are themselves inmates whose prime responsibility, according to the TDC, is maintaining clean and orderly facilities. Because of chronic understaffing, though, the building tenders often assume larger responsibilities. H.B. 1056, passed by the Legislature last session, specifically provided that “an inmate in the custody of the Texas Department of Corrections or in any jail in this state may not administer disciplinary action over another inmate.” If it is proven that building tenders are beating other inmates, prisoners can make a strong civil rights case. Such a suit was filed last December \(by Janet Stockard, an Austin attorney, response to numerous reports of beatings by building tenders at the Ramsey Unit in Huntsville. Trial is set for January. Although the suit is concerned with building tenders and not with restrictions on communication between inmates and their lawyers, U.S. District Judge John D. Singleton of Houston thought it necessary to issue a protective order in the suit. Judge Singleton prohibited the TDC from denying plaintiffs their constitutional rights of access to the courts through attorneys and legal materials. He also said that the inmates should have access to the unit’s law library to prepare their materials except when they were placed in solitary confinement \(a punishment employed all In May, John Albach, staff director for the Joint Committee, began receiving reports that the situation at Ramsey was “ripe for a riot.” Ramsey reputedly houses many of the TDC’s “agitators, malcontents and , writ-writers.” \(A writ-writer is a prisoner who is seeking legal means of shortening his correctional stay via appeal Albach went to Huntsville and’ spent nine hours taping interviews with inmates who were willing to talk with him. Among other things, Albach was told of at least six inmates who had recently been beaten at Ramsey; According to Albach’s report on his visit, all six had previously communicated with the Joint Committee Contributing Editors: Steve Barthelme, Bill Brammer, Gary Cartwright, Joe Frantz, Larry Goodwyn, Bill Hamilton, Bill Helmer, Dave Hickey, Franklin Jones, Lyman Jones, Larry L. King, Georgia Earnest Klipple, Larry Lee, Al Melinger, Robert L. Montgomery, Willie Morris, Bill Porterfield, James Presley, Buck Ramsey, John Rogers, Mary Beth Rogers, Roger Shattuck, Edwin Shrake, Dan Strawn, John P. Sullivan, Tom Sutherland. We will serve no group or party ;but will hew hard to the truth as we find it and the right as we see it. We are dedicated to the whole truth, to human values above all interests, to the rights of humankind as the foundation of democracy; we will take orders from none but our own conscience, and never will we overlook or misrepresent the truth to serve the interests of the powerful or cater to the ignoble in the human spirit. The editor has exclusive control over the editorial policies and contents of the Observer. None of the other people who are associated with the enterprise shares this responsibility with her. Writers are responsible for their own work, but not for anything they have not themselves written, and in publishing them the editor does not necessarily imply that she agrees with them, because this is a journal of free voices. Published by Texas Observer Publishing Co., biweekly except for a three week interval between issues twice a year, in July and January; 25 issues per year. Entered as second-class matter April 26, 1937, at the Post Office at Austin, Texas, under the Act of March 3, 1879. Second class postage paid at Austin, Texas. Single Copy, sog. One year, $8.00; two years, $14.00; three yeard, $19.00; plus, for Texas addresses, 5% sales tax. Foreign, except APO/FPO. 50 additional per year. Airmail, bulk orders, and group rates on request. Microfilmed by Microfilming Corporation of America, 21 Harristown Road, Glen Rock, N.J. 07452. Change of Address: Please give old and new address, including zip codes, and allow two weeks. Postmaster: Send form 3579 to Texas Observer, 600 W. 7th St., Austin, Texas 78701. THE TEXAS OBSERVER The Texas Observer Publishing Co. 1974 Ronnie Dugger, Publisher A window to the South A journal of free voices Vol. LXVI, No. 17 Sept. 6, 1974 Incorporating the State Observer and the East Texas Democrat, which in turn incorporated the Austin ForumAdvocate. EDITOR CO-EDITOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR EDITOR AT LARGE Kaye Northcott Molly Ivins John Ferguson Ronnie Dugger BUSINESS STAFF Joe Espinosa Jr. C. R. Olofson
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