Friday, 19 October 2012

18th & 19th October - Fort Worth to Huntsville.



Another classic autumn day, travelling about 250 miles through some beautiful country “Madison County Texas” but not THE Madison County (Iowa).

Huntsville Texas has many Texan prisons surrounding it and also has a unique Prison Museum which is a must to see, particularly if you are on an Aged Prisoner Study Tour










The Estelle Unit  is about 20 Miles from the town of Huntsville, surrounded by woods with the longest entry of all prisons visited so far. Prisoners, dressed in white are seen working, clearing trees, with mounted guards providing supervision.



You know you are in a different world when you park your car at the Estelle Unit.

There is no doubting there is a different approach to security at Estelle than other facilities I have visited.

(The Estelle WWW indicates that prisoners are classified from 1 to 4 (rating to 5) which is a similar of classification to other units visited).....  Guard towers are manned, and you may not enter the secure prison grounds unless you are accompanied by an official staff member. After the first two barred gates; one undergoes X-ray scanning, shoes off, metal detector scanning, all pockets emptied, belt off and back through metal detector gate and a final body frisk. Then you pass through another barred gate where you Exchange ID for a visitor pass (DO NOT LOSE THAT PASS); you then you lose count of the barred gates you pass through before you get to the medical treatment area. (There are barred gates every 30 yards or so that must be remotely opened by a guard.) The corridor you pass along is very wide, about 5 yards or so, with yellow lines running about a yard out from each wall along the corridor. Inmates must keep to the wall side of the yellow lines. Movement is very restricted. Running perpendicular to the corridor are outcrops of cells. (This is the main prison area) Eventually, after walking about 400 yards, you reach the medical unit area.


I was warmly welcomed by Shelly Hanson, Unit Manager who gave up her morning to show me around the medical unit.

 The Estelle Unit opened in 1984.The Estelle High Security Unit was designed in response to an increase in prison violence in the Texas prison system. Around 1991 Texas Department of Custodial Justice (TDCJ) planned to build a separate facility for elderly inmates. In 1995 the unit received its current name.The Estelle Unit is a part of a large compound, sharing space with the Ellis Unit, which is 3 miles (4.8 km) away from Estelle. As mentioned, the area housing the Ellis and Estelle units is wooded. The Estelle High Security Unit is a self-contained facility north of the main Estelle prison facility. Of interest, but not part of this study, the high security unit is one of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's "super seg" units, which have many administrative segregation cells. 
The security unit houses many of the most violent male prisoners in the State of Texas.
Given the high security arrangement at the Estelle and Ellis units; the interactions observed between guards and inmates were noted to be very formalised.
The management of the medical unit at Estelle is contracted to the University of Texas Medical Branch http://www.cmhcc.state.tx.us/.  (A similar arrangement to Barwon and St Vincent’s Health Care)  A 66 bed dormitory (half walls separate inmates)  forms the Geriatric Centre; it houses older prisoner who can essentially self care. The shower and toilet area has been adapted to enable wheelchair and walker access. Flooring is flat with minimal trip hazards. All bed are fixed. There are a few “double size” spaces for inmates that have extra equipment to maintain their independence. Cleaning of the Geriatric centre is performed by younger inmates but there is no carer / orderly inmate model at Estelle.



 If an inmate requires supported care, they are assessed and transferred to the medical area.

The medical area is staffed by a range of nursing, nursing assistant, medical, mental health and allied health staff and offers a  large range of health supports for prisoners of all ages (including older prisoners):·         24/7 emergency care and triage
·         Comprehensive outpatient service
·         Complete medication management
·         Comprehensive therapy support for rehabilitation
·         Hospice care
·         Significant renal dialysis program (29 chairs, 165 treatments / week)
·         Radiological service
·         Mental Health Service
·         Electronic Health record

There are three main “housing areas" in the Medical Unit that provide health support. 
50 beds, 33 beds and 37 beds, with a varying arrangement of single bed, single bed secure, single bed isolation and two, three and four bed rooms. 



Given the Unit provides health support for a range of custody level inmates; there are clear guidelines for how a inmates will be housed depending on their classification, ranging from  GP 5 & “Ad – Seg” (including Death Row) = single cell – door locked at all times, to GP Level (1-4) may be housed anywhere. Some rooms are extra secure with no power outlets to prevent incidents of self harm.

Full dietary management of inmate’s needs is overseen by a dietician, providing various supported diets for renal impairment, diabetic and other specialised diets.
The medical unit will transfer acutely unwell inmates to a Corrections Approved Hospital – accompanied by 2 corrections officers.

There is no formalised recreation program. Inmates have access to televisions and books.

Transition arrangements for hospice inmates may include transfer to an aged care provider, if one can be found, only if the inmates receive clearance through the corrections process. Most older prisoners do not receive such clearance.  Other transitional arrangements are arranged through the parole division and were not observed or fully discussed during this visit. Options for transition into the community were not obvious. There were no known aged care providers who would accept ex prisoners and a review of the parole divisions WWW http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/divisions/parole/parole_huntsville_placement_release_unit.html indicates transition may be into contracted Residential Re-entry Centres (halfway houses). A review of these facilities for Texas http://www.bop.gov/business/RRC_directory.pdf suggests they offer transitional housing options, and or minimal supported housing (see below)·  http://www.uss.salvationarmy.org/uss/www_uss_waco.nsf/vw-sublinks/5B270A9C9B76D5D3852574260065F248?openDocument·   http://www.voa.org/Get-Help/National-Network-of-Services/Housing/Affordable_Housing_Initiatives/Affordable_Housing_Helps_Rebuild_Lives.html
As an aside, Texan’s have some wonderful expressions:·         Why you are sweeter that a sugar packet (heard in a bar)·         I will get some serious “butt chewin” – being told off·         “my honey” – partner

The next prison review is on Tuesday - Mississippi.

Between now and then I have decided to make my way to Memphis; if you need to ask why, don't, just follow the link -  http://www.sunstudio.com/













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