Whitmire: Culture at Texas Prisons Needs to Change

The Texas Prison where a convicted sex offender escaped is the subject of an independent security review. Houston state Senator John Whitmire, the chairman of the criminal justice committee says there must be zero tolerance in how inmates are treated in the Texas prison system. Pat Hernandez has the story.

The independent security review was announced on Friday by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Ken McGinnis, former director of the Michigan and Illinois departments of corrections, will oversee the review.

Meanwhile, employees of the Estelle Unit near Huntsville, where Arcade Joseph Comeaux was being taken from are being disciplined. Lt. Monte Henson was let go for failure to follow policy and procedures.

Jack Clark is a spokesman for the TDCJ. He says Henson's dismissal follows the firing of prison guard Michael Price.

"Price was charged with reckless endangerment and what that means was that he failed to properly search offender Comeaux as he was being moved out of his cell. And so, a disciplinary hearing was held and a decision was made to recommend to dismiss Mr. Price."

PH: "So, Mr. Price was the point man for checking Mr. Comeaux, is that right?"

Clark: "Well, he was the initial person that, as the offender is coming out of his cell, is required to properly search this offender and that did not happen."

Comeaux was captured in Houston after a week on the run. Houston state Senator John Whitmire chairs the criminal justice committee. After a death row inmate called him with a smuggled cell phone earlier this year, he says the emphasis has been to stop the smuggling of contraband:

"Primarily cell phones, but I routinely tell the director of TDCJ, make certain that tobacco, narcotics and weapons also are part of the contraband prohibition. So they tell us well, we're doing a good job. Well, we know that there's been security lapses."

Whitmire says we're fortunate that the Comeaux incident didn't end violently.

"I think correction officers are hard working, honest people, but apparently there's an element of correction officers that are dishonest. So we got to weed them, we got to give them, in my judgment, more training."

He adds basic prison security needs to be improved.

"Simple things like the front door has to have a metal detector. We don't have metal detectors at our prisons. At this unit where Comeaux escaped, they were doing random pat-down of their employees coming to work. That's unacceptable."

Whitmire says peace officers might need to be added at the prisons, similar to security measures at the airports. That would help in changing the culture that he says compromises security. Hearings on the Texas prison system will be conducted next year.

 

 

 

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...