Lawmakers seek changes to TDCJ in 88th session after prisoner escape

AUSTIN, TX (KBTX) – Lawmakers from across the state have gathered in Austin for the first legislative session since the escape of Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisoner Gonzalo Lopez.

Lopez escaped from a TDCJ medical transport that crashed in Centerville. After weeks on the run and hundreds of law enforcement officers pulled into the area to be searched, Lopez killed a family of five before he was killed in a shootout with officers.

A recent major incident report from the TDCJ shows that numerous failed strip searches, broken equipment, overworked staff, and severe staff shortages contributed to the escape. Lawmakers say that with a budget surplus in the legislative session, this could be a chance to make changes.

“We have a responsibility to oversee and accountability to voters when we have these kinds of tragedies,” said State Senator Charles Schwertner. “This is where we come in to make sure they have vital resources. Make sure violent criminals can’t escape and harm citizens.”

Schwertner represents Senate District 5, which includes the districts of Brazos, Freestone, Grimes, Leon, Limestone, Madison, Milam, Robertson, Walker, and Williamson.

Residents of Leon County continue to see prison transport buses passing through the city in what many believe is a daily reminder of the escape. State Senator Lois Colkhorst, who is in charge of the 18th District, says she cannot understand the pain the Collins family has gone through and hopes changes will come.

“What a tragedy and I want to say to this family, just you know, I still pray for them, still think about them and their loss,” Colkhorst said. “I represent Grimes County and we have divisions there. We will have to pay our civil servants enough money to make them want this job, which is hard work.”

According to the TDCJ’s 2024-2025 budget request, needs include funding for obsolete infrastructure and equipment, increased staff salaries and hiring, and planning for an increase in the prison population. Following Lopez’s escape, transport buses were equipped with surveillance cameras, and more than two dozen employees on the day of Lopez’s escape were punished, including being fired, suspended, and reduced wages.

According to a budget request released in August, TDCJ staff “will work over the next few months to communicate the importance of this funding to legislators, highlighting the hard work and dedication of our officers and staff, a vital role our programs play in the success.” prisoners and formerly incarcerated, as well as our commitment to public safety and sound prison management.”

State Representative Kyle Kakal says he plans to meet with TDCJ leaders to discuss how lawmakers can help prevent a repeat of an escape like Lopez’s.

“I look forward to meeting their staff and their team commissioner. [Bryan] Collier was a very good defender. I met Brian [Collier] very well, and I look forward to stepping in and making sure that with this excess, we keep Texas safe, because safety is also one of our top priorities,” Kakal said.

State Representative John Rainey, who represents part of Brazos County, says that while he’s moved somewhat away from the situation, something needs to change.

“I am not very familiar with this area of ​​the state in the legislative process, because I have been focused, above all in my career, on education, higher education and the appropriation process. But yes, we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

KBTX News 3 at Six Weekday EXTENDED (recurring)

MADNESS: Gonzalo Lopez’s Escape

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