Improve Safety, Conditions, and Efficiency in Adult Corrections Facilities by Establishing an Independent Ombudsman

Policy Background

Unlike the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is not subject to external oversight. Instead, it has internal mechanisms, including the offender grievance process, the Ombudsman office (which handles inquiries from the public), and the Office of the Inspector General (which conducts investigations and policy monitoring). However, those mechanisms do not and cannot serve the same role or offer the same benefits as external oversight, which promotes transparency, accountability, safety (both for people who work there and people who are housed there), and good government. Furthermore, external oversight reduces the likelihood of media scandals or expensive litigation against the agency for violations of individuals’ rights or wellbeing, and it ensures that facilities are better equipped to help incarcerated individuals prepare for reintegration into our communities.

With COVID-19 continuing to threaten the welfare of people in facilities – and given its impact on access to visitation, rehabilitative programming, recreation, and sufficient meals – it is especially timely and important for TDCJ to implement independent oversight. The dangerous lack of transparency impacts not only incarcerated individuals and their family members, but the Legislature, which is denied an independent monitor of prison operations and cannot make informed decisions regarding sentencing and correctional policies.

Proposed Solution

Establish an Office of Independent Oversight in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to promote safety, transparency, and responsible use of state dollars.

The independent, external oversight body can: (1) review and analyze pertinent data from TDCJ, proactively assess the efficacy of existing programs and services, and determine long-range needs, providing preventive rather than reactive assistance; and (2) conduct routine monitoring of prisons, oversee and investigate complaints against TDCJ, and focus on how and where improvements can be made to secure the rights and safety of inmates and prison staff.

Relevant Bills

  • Coming soon!

Other Bills Related to Prison Conditions

  • Bill Number: HB 342 [Rosenthal]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the temperature at which a facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is maintained.
  • Bill Number: HB 357 [Sherman, Sr.]
    Bill Caption: Relating to air conditioning requirements at facilities operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
  • Bill Number: HB 313 [Collier]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the requirements for certification as a special officer for offenders with mental impairments.
  • Bill Number: HB 1148 [White]
    Bill Caption: Relating to prohibiting the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from charging an inmate a fee for health care.

Other Materials

  • TCJC Testimony on the Need for Independent Prison Oversight, submitted to the House Committee on Corrections, S/C on Articles I, IV, and V [September 2020]