Thursday, July 05, 2007

New Dallas jailers work without training

Dallas' new hires wait months for academy; some say practice can be costly, dangerous
By KEVIN KRAUSE - The Dallas Morning News - Thursday, July 5, 2007
Dozens of newly hired Dallas County jail guards are going straight to work, supervising inmates for months before undergoing any formal training or taking the state's licensing exam.

Though officials say there have been no incidents attributed to the untrained guards, the practice of immediately putting them in contact with inmates is considered by some experts to be potentially dangerous – and costly.

The practice is legal: Temporary jailer licenses from the state allow recruits as young as 18 to work inside jails while they await a spot in a training academy. A sheriff's department has one year to get them trained and certified as jailers. The new hires are supposed to be under the constant supervision of training officers.

But with Dallas County hustling to fill a couple of hundred new positions to address a jail-staffing crisis, the quality and extent of that supervision are in question.

Most of the 215 new jail guard positions created since late last year have been filled. But there are only about 115 training officers to supervise them.

Some recruits are spending up to six months on the job before being admitted to the four-week academy, officials said, often coming into direct contact with inmates.

The new recruits haven't yet learned rules and regulations or important skills such as proper restraint and search techniques. Their placement also poses the question of liability for the county.

If an inmate is injured in an encounter with a rookie guard, for example, the county could be held liable for failing to properly train the guard.

A good thing

Sheriff Lupe Valdez referred questions to her spokesman, Michael Ortiz, who said a little on-the-job training before hitting the classroom can be a good thing.

He said he supervised three trainees when he was a detention training officer in 1997. Training officers are jailers who take on the extra duties for $100 extra a month.

"You're never outside each other's line of sight," he said.

Deputy Ortiz said he would assign certain duties to his trainees and then watch them. Training officers have to fill out evaluation sheets on the recruits each month. Any deficiencies are corrected the following month, he said.

"The liability is always there, but the training officer knows that," Deputy Ortiz said. "It makes them train better."

Staffing shortages at the Dallas County jails have contributed to failed state inspections four years in a row. The county has not been able to meet the state's minimum staffing requirement of one guard for every 48 inmates.

As a result, county commissioners have been adding guard positions as fast as they can. Since Sheriff Valdez took office in 2005, 355 jail guard positions have been added, according to the county budget office.

And Sheriff Valdez has been counting them toward the 1-48 ratio as soon as they're hired.

The most recent jail inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in late March noted that new employees were being assigned to jail duties even before their paperwork was sent to the state for a temporary jailer license.

Common practice

Corrections experts say putting newly hired guards to work right away is a risk that's all too common at prisons and jails because of problems with recruitment, training and retention of jail guards.

Kenneth McGinnis, a partner with the consulting firm MGT of America, said most counties try to place recruits into schools before on-the-job training so they have at least some skills going in.

But often, inexperienced recruits find themselves guarding violent offenders not long after filling out a job application, he said.

"Unfortunately, it's a frequent occurrence," said Mr. McGinnis, a former director of prison systems in Michigan and Illinois. "In some cases they have little choice."

Not all large Texas sheriff's departments put new hires directly to work.

Executive Chief Deputy Bob Knowles of the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office said his department used to do it that way. But that policy was later viewed as risky, he said. Mind games between inmates and jailers are common, he said, and inexperienced guards could find themselves taken advantage of or conned.

"Liability-wise, I'm not sure it's a good idea to put new people in the jail where a lot of things can happen," said Chief Knowles, who used to command the Dallas County jails.


Deputy Chief Dennis McKnight, Bexar County's jail administrator, said recruits get on-the-job training after spending more than two months in the academy. Unlike other jails, Bexar County uses deputies in the jail rather than civilian jailers, known here as detention service officers.

"We want our officers as well-trained as possible before we put them on the floor," he said.

The additional training makes guards more confident, which is reflected in their attitude and manner while working among inmates, Chief McKnight said.

Lt. John Martin of the Harris County Sheriff's Office said newly hired guards spend their first two weeks on a training floor that houses low-risk inmates who spend their days on work details. After that, the rookies are supervised by experienced guards while they await a spot in the academy, he said.

"We try to limit their direct contact with inmates," Lt. Martin said.

Stan Thedford, president of the Dallas County Sheriff's Association, said he would like new hires to go to the academy first. The biggest threat to security inside the jails, he said, is fraternization between inmates and guards.

That can be avoided, he said, by properly training jailers before they're allowed to interact with inmates.

4- to 6-month wait

Capt. David Mitchell, who oversees training and personnel at the Sheriff's Department, said it's taking four to six months to get new hires into the academy.

The classes are filling up quickly, he said, with about 40 recruits to every class. Capt. Mitchell said he's holding about 10 classes this year. Normally, it's half that number, he said.

"We're running them back to back to stay caught up," he said. "We've only got one year to get them trained."

Once they pass the state's licensing exam, rookie guards are issued a permanent jailer's license. Before that, they are on probationary status and can be fired for any reason without a hearing.

Deputy recruits, by contrast, must complete the academy and pass the peace officer licensing exam before they are allowed to patrol the streets.

Ideally, jail guard recruits shouldn't have to work inside a jail for more than two weeks before entering the school, Capt. Mitchell said.

"There's too much of an opportunity for them to develop bad habits," he said. "We have to correct those in the academy."

Recruits, he said, need training on what is the allowable force to use, as well as defensive tactics, handcuffing and other specialized skills.

"That is one of the reasons we want to get them in school as soon as possible," he said.

Working in the jails before the academy gives recruits an opportunity to see if they'll enjoy the work, said Deputy Ortiz, the department spokesman. Some don't. One recruit called it quits after three days, Deputy Ortiz said. That saves the county the expense of having to put the recruit through the academy, he said.

County Commissioner John Wiley Price, chairman of the county's jail population committee, said he hasn't heard of any problems involving trainees. He said sheriff's commanders are aware of the issue and have stressed the need for better supervision of jail guards.

Mr. Price said Sheriff Valdez inherited the staffing shortage problem and is doing the best she can to address it.

"When it's all said and done, they are managing well under extremely dire circumstances," he said.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Bush's Executive Orders

White House Executive Orders

House Balks at Bush Order for New Powers

By JIM ABRAMS - Associated Press Writer - July 3, 2007

WASHINGTON — President Bush this month is giving an obscure White House office new powers over regulations affecting health, worker safety and the environment. Calling it a power grab, Democrats running Congress are intent on stopping him.

The House voted last week to prohibit the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from spending federal money on Executive Order 13422, signed by Bush last January and due to take effect July 24.

The order requires federal officials to show that private companies, people or institutions failed to address a problem before agencies can write regulations to tackle it. It also gives political appointees greater authority over how the regulations are written.

The House measure "stops this president or any president from seizing the power to rewrite almost every law that Congress passes, laws that protect public health, the environment, safety, civil rights, privacy and on and on," said Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., its sponsor.

"OIRA has quietly grown into the most powerful regulatory agency in Washington,"
the House Science investigations subcommittee, chaired by Miller, said in a report in April.

The administration contends Bush's order merely strengthens a similar directive issued by President Clinton in 1993 giving the White House budget office oversight of federal agency rulemaking.

Andrea Wuebker, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, which manages the White House regulatory affairs office, said the order, along with an OMB good guidance bulletin, "will help increase the quality, accountability and transparency of agency guidance documents."

Bush's executive order:

_Requires agencies to identify "market failures," where the private sector fell short in dealing with a problem, as a factor in proposing a rule. The White House regulatory affairs office is given authority to assess those conclusions.

_States that no rulemaking can go forward without the approval of an agency's Regulatory Policy Office, to be headed by a presidential appointee.

_Directs each agency to provide an estimate of costs and benefits of regulations.

_Requires agencies to inform the White House regulatory affairs office of proposed significant guidance documents on complying with rules. Critics say this will create a new bottleneck delaying the issuance of guidelines needed to comply with federal regulations.

"This can only further delay implementing health, safety and environmental protections," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a private watchdog group that joined numerous labor and good-government groups, including the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists, in opposing Bush's order.

Miller tried unsuccessfully at a hearing in April to persuade the White House regulatory affairs office's former acting administrator, Steven Aitken, to reveal what private groups might have been involved in rewriting the Clinton-era order.

Aitken stressed that the Clinton order also used market failure as a criteria in advancing new rules and directing agencies to appoint regulatory policy officers, many of whom were political appointees. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., backed Aitken up at the hearing.

"The pattern is that we are challenging the president's authority, hoping to find a mistake and then making a lot of political hay about it," Rohrabacher said.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service noted in an analysis last February that President Reagan made the White House regulatory affairs office the central clearinghouse for substantive rulemaking, reviewing 2,000 to 3,000 proposed regulations per year. With Clinton's 1993 order, White House reviews of proposed regulations dropped to between 500 and 700 a year, the researchers said.

Bill Kovacs, vice president for regulatory affairs with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the White House's regulatory affairs office now has about 35 people to keep track of the 4,000 rules federal agencies issue every year.

"It's only reasonable that you have some way of monitoring what your agencies are doing," Kovacs said, adding that the White House needs to assert control over the process.


The House bill is HR 2829.

On the Net:

Text of Jan. 18 Executive Order 13422

Copyright 2007, The Associated Press. Read more

Monday, July 02, 2007

Comparative look at two ethics bills

By The Associated Press - Mon Jul 2, 2007
Similarities and differences in House and Senate lobbying bills that have to be merged into one before becoming law.

Both bills would:

_Require lobbyists to report when they "bundle" campaign contributions for one candidate from multiple donors.

_Forbid lawmakers from pressuring lobbying firms to hire employees based on political affiliations.


The Senate bill, but not the House bill, would:

_Require former lawmakers to wait two years, rather than one, before becoming lobbyists.

_Prohibit lobbyists from throwing parties for specific lawmakers at national conventions.


The House bill, but not the Senate bill, would:

_Require lobbyists who try to place "earmarks" — special home-state projects — in spending bills to identify their efforts.

_Require lobbyists to report bundled donations given to political action committees — or PACs — set up by unions, corporations or special interest groups, as well as to candidates.


The Senate bill is S 1.

The House bill is HR 2316

See Article

Ethics reform bogged down in Congress
By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer - Jul 2, 2007
WASHINGTON - Toughening ethics laws, once a priority of Democrats, has bogged down in Congress as party leaders find their campaign promises colliding with lawmakers' re-election concerns.

Two months have passed since a task force was supposed to have recommended how an independent panel might look into ethics complaints before they go to the House ethics committee. A key sticking point is opposition in both parties to letting outsiders file complaints against members of Congress.

Currently, only House members can initiate an ethics probe. Public watchdog groups call the restriction self-serving and unreasonable.

Some of the same groups, however, are balking at a second proposal floated by task force members. It would require any group that lodges an ethics complaint against a House member to reveal its donors.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the demand for donor lists from groups that file complaints "is what has tied this thing up for now."

The nonprofit groups call it intimidation. Lawmakers say it's a way to ascertain whether such groups are backed by right- or left-leaning forces with partisan motives.

Meanwhile, a Senate spat over rules governing senators' requests for special projects in their home states is blocking efforts to merge into one bill separate House- and Senate-passed measures to restrict lawmakers' dealings with lobbyists. The Senate passed its version in January, and the House passed its bill in May.

"I find it distressing that they haven't dealt with these issues," Craig Holman of Public Citizen said, referring particularly to the House task force.

For years, self-described government-reform groups have denounced the House ethics committee, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, as listless and largely toothless. Unlike the Senate ethics committee, the House panel no longer accepts complaints from nonmembers. And it sometimes says little or nothing about its inquiries, leaving the public unsure whether serious investigations took place.

On Jan. 31, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appointed a bipartisan task force to recommend whether an independent panel of nonmembers should investigate ethics complaints and play a role in enforcing rules of conduct. That report was due May 1.

Long past the deadline, task force members privately briefed colleagues on a plan in which the speaker and minority leader would each appoint three members to a panel that would look at complaints — from members or nonmembers — and recommend whether the House ethics committee should pursue them. The independent panel's findings, in most cases, would eventually become public.

The proposal immediately drew fire from seemingly every direction. "They have problems inside and outside," said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

Several House members said political adversaries could use an open-complaint system to file dozens of frivolous allegations and then cite them in campaign attack ads. The concern is understandable, McGehee said, but senators have long allowed nonmembers to file ethics allegations "and they're not in peril."

Watchdog groups called the plan weak, especially because the new panel would lack subpoena powers to compel testimony and demand documents. The panel "would have a free hand to recommend the dismissal of a complaint and would be greatly restricted in recommending anything else," lawmakers were told in a letter last week from groups including Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and the Campaign Legal Center.

They also objected to the donor-disclosure proposal, which they called unprecedented for the House, Senate, Justice Department, Federal Election Commission and other agencies that receive public allegations of official wrongdoing.

"Now they want your donor base," if a group tries to file an ethics complaint, said Sarah Dufendach, chief of legislative affairs for Common Cause, which on balance supports the House proposals. "It may chill some groups from actually filing," she said.

Many lawmakers are insisting on such disclosures, saying the public should know as much as possible about people behind allegations that could hurt a politician's career. Some Republicans particularly like the disclosure proposal because they believe groups such as Common Cause are heavily financed by Democrats and liberals.

Dufendach shrugged off the concern. "Whatever kind of information you give is going to be spun," she said.

Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., the chairman of the House task force, said its tentative recommendation to consider ethics complaints from outside groups remains a sticking point.

"We've had some push-back" from House members and outsiders, he said in an interview last week. "We're plugging ahead. The goal is to get something meaningful that can pass."

Capuano added, however, that could not predict whether the task force can settle on a plan that would win House approval.


The Senate lobbying bill is S 1.

The House lobbying bill is HR 2316.
Read article

Related Publications

The Arlington Texan, a portal to news and coverage of issues and events of and about Arlington, Texas. DFW Regional Concerned Citizens is a sister-site of Grassroots News You Can Use. Visitors can subscribe to issues-specific and county specific action alerts using a simple form on the site. About Air and Water focuses on DFW Regional air quality and water/gas drilling issues. We welcome your feedback.