Investigating Crime in the Texas Prison System

Capt. Nathan Ward, Office of Inspector General.
Capt. Nathan Ward, Office of Inspector General.

Capt. Nathan Ward (’09) is one of 140 certified peace officers at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice serving as investigators for crime and corruption cases within the statewide system that houses 150,000 offenders, oversees 90,000 parolees and employees 37,000 workers.

“There are seven to eight units in Huntsville alone, which house about 15,000 offenders,” said Capt. Ward. “It’s almost like being in a small city. The same crimes that occur in a city occur in a prison. We also have to deal with different types of crimes, like contraband and drugs in prisons.”

Photo of prison cells with lots of shadows.On a daily basis, an investigator might deal with a case of sexual assault or contraband, such as drugs, tobacco, money or cell phones, inside prison facilities. They also may be called upon to investigate a homicide, aggravated assault or theft among offenders or employees. They chase down parole violators on the streets or probe charges of bribery or misconduct against correctional workers and officials.

“I love it – it’s probably one of the best law enforcement jobs you can have,” said Capt. Ward. “It’s been a very interesting ride. I’ve gotten to do things most people never get to do in their entire careers.”

Ward began his career at TDCJ as a correctional officer in administrative segregation in the Wynne Unit. As a sergeant on the unit, he often escorted offenders and employees up to Internal Affairs for polygraph exams, usually on complaints of excessive use of force. He would watch the interrogation unfold and decided it was what he wanted to do. So he took a leave of absence from TDCJ to attend a police academy and was named an investigator for the Office of the Inspector General in 1999.

Closeup photo of barbed wire.While Ward works at TDCJ, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice to allow autonomy in the agency. The OIG is responsible for criminal investigations among offenders and staff at the TDCJ’s 111 facilities and for monitoring violations of department policies and procedures. He led several high profile investigations in the TDCJ executive offices.

Ward now heads agency training as well as inspections and audits of regional OIG offices to ensure that they comply with system-wide protocols and procedures. Throughout his career, Ward had the opportunity to work on specialized teams and trained with the U.S. Secret Service and the military.

For six years, Ward served on a task force with the U.S. Secret Service for computer forensics. He was charged with investigating illegal access to computers by offenders, which were used for downloading materials illegally, contacting victims, and sending emails to family and friends. He also investigated employees for accessing pornography, including child porn, on work computers and for trying to tamper with videos in cases involving the use of excessive force. He also traveled the country with the task force, helping crime labs clear up backlogs of cases involving computer crime. These days, the majority of computer forensics investigations focus on sophisticated “smart” cell phones that are smuggled into facilities, Ward said.

Handcuff or a computer glowing red.Ward also received training from the U.S. military on how to track escapees or parole violators in the backwoods. The Office of Inspector General oversees violations for 85,000 to 90,000 parolees and executes warrants for arrests.

The OIG is also an integral part of the broader law enforcement community in their areas, often working hand-in-hand with local agencies. Recently, the OIG participated in an Active Shooter Training at Sam Houston State University, which brought together law enforcement officers from throughout Walker County to prepare for a coordinated response in the event of a mass shooting incident. Ward also assisted Walker County during Hurricane Katrina with patrols and shelter security when thousands of evacuees from New Orleans took refuge in the area.

The Office of Inspector General works closely with the Correctional Training Institute of Texas and Sam Houston State University to provide programs and opportunities for OIG training, such as basic investigator training and a recent two week program on crime scene investigation techniques and practices.

SHSU recently hosted a crime scene investigator class for the Office of Inspector General.
SHSU recently hosted a crime scene investigator class for the Office of Inspector General.Ward is no stranger at SHSU.
He received in Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice in 2009. He said one of the things he liked most about the College of Criminal Justice is the faculty with professional experience.

“I had a lot of professors with real life experience,” said Ward. “It wasn’t just about academic learning. You get real life experience from people who have worked as police officers.”

Member of The Texas State University System