Travis Turner is the Vice Chairman of Classifications and Records for TDCJ.
On any given week, about 10,000 inmates from the Texas prison system are on the road – transferring among the state’s 109 correctional facilities or going to courts or other off-site appointments.
One of the key people behind those movements – as well as the classification of inmates in the system – is Travis Turner (’96), Vice Chairman of Classifications and Records for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. His office determines the units where offenders are assigned and their level of custody security.
“We maintain about 400,000 folders of those that are in prison or on parole,” said Turner. “We make a lot of important decisions. Every offender is different. We look at every piece of social, criminal, medical and demographic information to make a decision.”
Turner began his career with the TDCJ as an intern with the Classification and Records Department. But it was not until he had experience in the agency as a correctional officer, supervisor, technical writer for policies and procedures, a sociologist and a state classification committee member that he would return to help administer the statewide program. He recently shared his experience with a Correctional Systems and Practices class at Sam Houston State University.
“I think the biggest thing about my internship was that I was able to make connections,” said Turner. “It gave me an opportunity to make personal contacts and get a great overview of the agency. Being a correctional officer gave me a good understanding of what staff did with offenders on the units every day. The job of a correctional officer is a very difficult job, and I carry that with me every day. I always think how the decisions I make here will impact the correctional officers and staff on the unit.”
The mission of the Classification and Records Department is to develop and provide accurate information for effective offender management, creating an environment that ensures the safety and security of the public, staff and offenders. The Department schedules, receives and processes offenders for intake, release and transfers within the system and maintains offender records for the agency.
Once an offender is convicted in court and sent to TDCJ, the Classification and Records Department develops the “travel card,” which includes key information, such as a photograph, arrests, sentencing information as well as prior institutional history. The card will follow the inmate wherever he or she goes.
The TDCJ has six intake centers located strategically throughout the state, including the Holliday Unit in Huntsville, the Garza units in Beeville, the Gurney Unit in Tennessee Colony, the Middleton Unit in Abilene, the Plane Unit in Dayton (female offenders) and the Woodman Unit in Gatesville (female offenders). There offenders are interviewed and evaluated for their assignments to units and their security risks.
“Classification involves grouping offenders with similar security requirements so that we maximize the safety and security of the public, the staff and the offender,” said Turner.
The TDCJ units are designed to handle specialized populations or missions, with facilities dedicated to short or long term offenders, youth population, substance abuse treatment or other classifications. In addition, inmates are given custody levels, from G-1 to G-5, which determine their housing options and privileges on the units. These custody levels are reviewed every six months.
A G-1 designation is given to outside trustees, inmates who are allowed outside the prison walls without continuous direct supervision. These offenders may not include sex offenders or those with murder or kidnapping offenses. G-2s are assigned to general population and are required to be under the direction of armed supervision any time they are outside the secure perimeter. G-3s are also assigned to general population, but they are serving sentences greater than 50 years and access is restricted to certain jobs and locations. Many on this level have been sentenced to life without parole.
A G-4 is generally an offender who has had repetitive discipline problems, such as smuggling contraband, refusing to go to work or school, or not following directions. They lose many of their privileges. Most G-5s have assaulted correctional officers or fellow inmates. Finally, administrative segregation is where inmates are held in a single cell with only one hour of recreation a day and no visitation privileges. This is typically reserved for those with assaultive behavior, escapes, hostage takers or gang members.
In the last four to five years, the state prison population has decreased by 4,000 to 5,000 offenders because of a renewed focus on treatment and rehabilitation. As a result, the TDCJ has closed down three units – The Central Unit in Brazoria County, the Dawson State Jail in Dallas, and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Facility.
“I can’t operate the system with every bed full,” said Turner. “It is a juggling act every day.”