Forensics Focus on Prison Crimes

An investigator for the Office of Inspector General tests clothes for biological materials.
An investigator for the Office of Inspector General tests clothes for biological materials.

To aid in solving crimes that occur in Texas prisons, investigators for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice recently attended crime scene investigation training on biological evidence, photography, fingerprinting and explosives at Sam Houston State University.

Ten investigators from the Office of Inspector General at TDCJ participated in the two week training offered by the National Forensic Science Technology Center, which provides specialized forensic science training through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The training, hosted by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas, will assist investigators with examining sexual assault and aggravated assault cases, as well as processing the scene and collecting evidence from crimes that occur within TDCJ facilities.

Investigators learned simple techniques to test biological evidence before sending it to the lab.
Investigators learned simple techniques to test biological evidence before sending it to the lab.
“We have crimes that occur in prisons, and it gives us the ability to perform newer techniques and investigate leads that we would otherwise not have,” said Capt. Nathan Ward, who oversees training for the Office of Inspector General. “Say we find an offender who is unresponsive, but who is not bleeding. We can take his clothes and determine if blood is present. Using chemicals and other materials, we can determine if a crime has occurred or if there is a suspect. The fingerprinting will help us identify offenders or employees who smuggle in contraband. It was very, very relevant to what we do.”

The investigators were given hands-on training on the collection and preliminary analysis of biological materials, including hair, blood, semen and saliva. In addition to determining whether the sample was human or animal, investigators learned how to use specific chemicals to detect the presence of blood or semen and how to collect evidence for DNA analysis at a crime lab.

Investigators learn to test biological materials for the presence of human or animal blood.
Investigators learn to test biological materials for the presence of human or animal blood.
Investigators also received basic and intermediate CSI classes on forensic photography, fingerprinting, casting and evidence collection. Investigators learned how to use aperture and shutter speed on the camera to capture the best images and how to lift fingerprint evidence. They also discovered how to make casts of pattern evidence, such as footprints or tire tracks, and how to photograph fingerprints to get a match through Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

Finally, investigators were given a primer on improvised explosive devices so they could determine the type of bomb, the circuitry used, and the component involved during an investigation.

Part of the training including identifying components of an explosive device.
Part of the training including identifying components of an explosive device.
In addition to the June training, SHSU recently hosted a six week basic investigator’s course for newly hired personnel. The course teaches the basic skills needed to serve in the Office of the Inspector General, with an emphasis on the specialized caseloads the agency handles.

“All of it ties back to criminal investigations,” Ward said.

Investigators frequently respond to sexual assault allegations and conduct undercover operations to detect contraband smuggled into the prison system by employees, families or visitors. Contraband may include drugs, money or cell phones. Inspectors also learn how to conduct interviews and investigations and the proper format to use for statements.

Investigators are responsible for crimes committed in Texas jails and by parolees.
Investigators are responsible for crimes committed in Texas jails and by parolees.
In addition to handling criminal investigation in TDCJ facilities, investigators are responsible for parole violators and for monitoring misconduct or policy violations by TDCJ employees.

“Operating safe and secure facilities is at the very core of any prison system,” said Doug Dretke, Executive Director of the Correctional Management Institute of Texas. “The Office of Inspector General plays a significant role within that focus and certainly it was an honor for the Correctional Management Institute of Texas to facilitate this critical training program with the NFSTC, The Department of Forensics, CJC, and OIG.”

Member of The Texas State University System