Texas' Prison Agency Reportedly "Came Unglued" When Its PR Guy Talked to Press About Execution-Drug Shortage

They don't last long these days in the media relations office at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. First, longtime public information director Michelle Lyons resigned last year after being demoted and accused of fudging her time sheets. This was after she responded to a media request from a blog critical of the department. According to the lawsuit she filed for gender discrimination, male colleagues who logged their time the same way went unpunished. The case is currently being appealed.

Her replacement, John Hurt, was a veteran flack for the Texas Department of Transportation. Relations with the brass got chilly following a frank but unsurprising interview with TIME in August about Texas' widely reported lethal-injection drug shortage. The moment the story hit the web, Hurt wasn't long for the department.

"When they found out, they positively came unglued that I did what I was getting paid for," Hurt told The Backgate, a Texas prisons blog. "They even admitted the interview read well, they just didn't want the issue in the media. They just wanted to keep issues like the CO shortage and the outdated execution drugs as far out of the media as possible."

The administration's insular, knee-jerk inclination toward opacity in media relations is troubling enough, particularly on a subject in which the horse has already long fled the barn. It's the closed-circuit culture of the TDCJ that really seemed to irk Hunt. "The (administration) suffers from intellectual incest. They all live in a little town, went to the same little college in Huntsville and are terrified of new ideas."

Ideas like, say, moving the agency headquarters to Austin instead of running Texas prisons in the same town where executions are carried out. The administration wanted no part of it. "I've never worked in a stranger place," Hurt said.

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Brantley Hargrove