A broken system: Behind the bars of Texas prisons – Part 1: The inmates

MIKE MCGEE | 2/1/2018, 4:05 p.m.
“… [I] wanted to tell you about how the Captain took an inmate’s crutches… an old gal about 60, wouldn’t ...
Barbed wire surrounds the prison in Gatesville, Texas. Jaime Dunaway

“They had a much more subtle way with them. But you also had the jerks who took that uniform as being the Shroud of Turin, where they became a god or something in there,” she complained.

“They tried to do everything to make you miserable, and the other guards didn’t like that because when you have a guard that wants to crank things up, walk into a dorm, automatically getting everybody stirred up, and then they stir them up until they have to bring in the [tear]gas or they do ‘use of force’…,” Southerland explained, specifying the term for dealing with a prisoner in a physical way. “The other guards do not appreciate that because they can keep that prison for them calm, and that’s what the wardens want.” But the misbehavior of corrections officers did not just involve misuse of power, she asserted. “Dirty” C.O.s are also out for profit from favored inmates.

“Yes, they do break rules. They bring in drugs. They will bring them in cellphones, chargers, you name it, because they’re subsidizing their income,” she stated. “Everyone that needed to survive in there had to hustle. [Inmates] stole out of the kitchen, and your officers stole out of the kitchen, too.”

An incident in 2017 supports what Southerland said she witnessed while in imprisoned.

Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department employee Gilberto Escaramillo was arrested in August for a prolonged scam involving the department’s kitchen and a private vendor. Escaramillo was taken into custody for the theft of $1.2 million worth of fajita meat over a nine-year period at a facility that never served fajitas.

Even if such actions are limited, it still makes for a sizable population of Black, White and Latino inmates who are having their rights violated, as well as taxpayers left holding the financial bag when courts are involved.

The 2015 report In Our Own Backyard; Confronting Growth and Disparities in American Jails investigated national trends in incarceration data. In Dallas County alone, the total incarcerated population grew from under 2,000 in 1970 to just under 6,000 in 2015 with a peak of more than 9,000 prisoners in 1994. The largest number of inmates during this time period usually tended to be African American, with White inmates a close second.

Meanwhile, The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Statistical Report for fiscal year 2016 offered statewide data on those incarcerated. For the “635,396 cases under supervision on August 31, 2016, as well as those received and released throughout the fiscal year,” per the report, the top three ethnic groups held in prison or state jail at the time were White at 37.7 percent, Hispanic at 32.7 percent, and Black at 29 percent.

The 2016 report does acknowledge that an offender may be under more than one category, so separate cases do not equal the number of offenders. Still, the report indicates that almost 30 percent of the prison population was Black while the total state population for the same ethnic group in July 2016 was 12.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census website. Of late, the number of Black inmates in state jail or prison who may have had to deal with correctional officers of compromised integrity has been more than double the ratio of the Black population of the state.