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The Texas OBSERVER c The Texas Observer Publishing Co., 1978 Ronnie Dugger, Publisher Vol. 70, No. 18 September 22, 1978 Incorporating the State Observer and the East Texas Demo crat, which in turn incorporated the Austin Forum-Advocate. EDITOR Jim Hightower ASSOCIATE EDITORS Linda Rocawich Eric Hartman EDITOR AT LARGE Ronnie Dugger PRODUCTION MANAGERS: Susan Reid, Beth Epstein ASSISTANT EDITORS: Vicki Vaughan, Bob Sindermann STAFF ASSISTANTS: Margaret Watson, Margot Beutler, Beverly Palmer, Harris Worcester, Larry Zinn, Jamie Murphy, Karrie Key, Christy Hoppe, Lisa Spann, Matthew Lyon, Helen Jardine, Karen White CONTRIBUTORS: Kaye Northcott, Jo Clifton, Dave McNeely, Don Gardner, Warren Burnett, Paul Sweeney, Marshall Breger, Jack Hopper, Stanley Walker, Joe Frantz, Laura Eisenhour, Dan Hubig, Ben Sargent, Berke Breathed, Eje Wray, Roy Hamric, Thomas D. Bleich, Mark Stinson, Ave Bonar, Jeff Danziger, Lois Rankin, Maury Maverick Jr., Bruce Cory, John Henry Faulk, Chandler Davidson, Molly Ivins, Ralph Yarborough, Laura Richardson, Tim Mahoney, John Spragens Jr., Sheila R. Taylor, Doug Harlan, David Guarino, Susan Lee BUSINESS STAFF: Cliff Olofson, Ricky Cruz A journal of free voices 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 him. Writers are responsible for their own work, but not for anything they have not themselves written, and in publishing them the editor does not neces. sarily imply that he 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 January and July: 25 issues per year. Second-class postage paid at Austin, Texas. Publication no. 541300. years, $36. Foreign, except APO/FPO, $1 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. Editorial and Business Offices: 600 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701 1.F Cover design: Nancy Whittington Cover photo: Danny Lyon, Conversations with the Dead Texas prisons By Linda Rocawich Houston, Austin There’s no shortage of correctional administrators and experts in this state and across the country who will tell you that the Texas Department of Corrections runs the best state prison system the nation’s ever seen: it’s efficient, it’s secure, it’s clean; it’s cheap. The U.S. Department of Justice has a different opinion: TDC is an outrageous violator of Texas prisoners’ civil rights. And the department is backing up its claim with a massive lawsuit on behalf of the inmatesthe biggest prison case it’s ever arguedthat goes to trial in Houston before Federal District Judge William Wayne Justice on October 2. The case is Ruiz v. Estelle and the trialwhich is expected to last at least two months and perhaps as long as sixwill climax a legal battle that started about seven years ago when a handful of inmates began filing separate complaints against prison officials under the federal Civil Rights Act. Their cases were consolidated in 1974 as a class action that challenges TDC practices and procedures of all stripesand that eventually could force sweeping changes in the state’s treatment of convicted offenders. At issue are the living and working conditions in the 15 Texas prisons: the suit charges that they constitute cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. Among the claims made by the inmate plaintiffsall denied by the state are that: severely overcrowded living conditions endanger their physical and mental health; unsafe working conditions on the prison farms and in prison industries jeopardize their health and safety: TDC fails to protect them from physical assaults by guards or other inmates; the TDC staff is too small, and is insufficiently trained, to maintain reasonable security inside the prisons; TDC illegally uses inmates, usually called “building tenders,” as surrogate guardsa practice that often results in physical assaults; prison medical care is grossly inadequate and often inaccessible; they are denied reasonable access to the courts, public officials, and their lawyers; TDC guards and officials retaliate severely against inmates who write letters or petitions to the courts or public officials; summary punishment for rules infractions is imposed arbitrarily and due process in disciplinary proceedings is denied systematically. In the beginning.. . Though the validity of these claims remains to be settled in court, much of the evidence is already in the public record at the federal district clerk’s officethe result of elaborate preparation and investigation by attorneys and experts for both sidesand TDC’s prospects don’t look good. It all goes back to the early 1970s and a few of the TDC “writ writers,” inmates who had managed to teach themselves enough law to petition the courts on their own. The more sophisticated among them were turning from the traditional jailhouse lawyer practice of