Prosecuting Special Offenders in the Texas Prison System

Shenequa Cachimbo was an intern with the Special Prosecution Unit.
Shenequa Cachimbo was an intern with the Special Prosecution Unit.

Shenequa Cachimbo got practice at being a prosecutor by helping to prepare indictments against inmates and correctional officers for criminal offenses that occurred in Texas prisons.

“I got my foot in the door in the type of world I hope to enter,” said Cachimbo. “My first two cases were murder cases, and it made me even more interested.”

Picture of the inside of a large, state prison.Cachimbo spent her spring semester as an intern with the Special Prosecution Unit, an agency charged with prosecuting criminal cases that occur within the state’s prison system and Texas Youth Commission facilities. The unit also initiates and pursues civil commitment proceedings against violent sexual offenders.

“She really did well,” said Gina DeBottis, Executive Director of the Special Prosecution Unit. “She helped review criminal cases in the unit, and she picked up on a lot of legal issues. I was very impressed.”

Cachimbo plans to pursue a career as an attorney and hopes to attend the University of Houston Law Center in the fall. Right now, she would like to be a prosecutor, but she is open to other areas of the law.

“I have always been interested in criminal activities, especially working here,” said Cachimbo. “I’m liking this area of the law.”

During her internship, Cachimbo helped prepare legal documents and sat in on meetings where prosecutors decided whether or not to take cases to the local District Attorney’s office. Her job was to prepare documents for indictments, which included looking up charges in the penal code, preparing a summary of the case, and providing the criminal history of the defendant.

“I learned what makes a good case,” said Cachimbo. “Evidence and witness statements make good cases, and you have to see that everything matches up.”

Cachimbo was involved in the meetings to decide whether or not the case would be pursued for prosecution and shared her opinions with veteran prosecutors on the unit. She also was involved in insanity and incompetence cases.
“It was very interesting to see the opinions,” said Cachimbo. “You have to analyze the details of the case. It also helped with my critical thinking.”

The majority of the cases Cachimbo handled were against inmates, and most involved assault or possession of contraband, such as cell phones or drugs. There were a few cases against guards, and although Cachimbo knew these occurred, she was still surprised.

“I was surprised by the corrupt officers,” Cachimbo said. “Many were doing it because they wanted extra money. But to get it, they did something illegal. To see it was really happening was interesting.”

Cachimbo said she also was struck by the number of inmates with mental health issues. One case she reviewed included 2,000 pages of medical history related to mental illness. “A lot of the cases have a lot of these problems,” she said.

Blurred image of an inmate running through the halls of a prison.Cachimbo said she was able to apply the things she learned at Sam Houston State University to the field, and that the Internship Office was very helpful in finding her this opportunity.

“It was a great opportunity for my future," said Cachimbo. “It is something good and interesting that you can put on your resume…I believe it will help me in being able to network and to know exactly what I am getting into.”
DeBottis said interns are also valuable to local agencies.

“We get the ability to have folks who can work cases up and that we can bounce thoughts off of,” said DeBottis. “I hope they walk away with an appreciation of how the criminal justice system works…For the ones that want to go into law enforcement or the law, this is especially valuable.”

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