Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chasing illegal cell phone use in TDCJ

The Back Gate, a Texas prison guards' blog, has this story from June about staff catching an inmate on a cell phone and the resulting chaos when the prisoner tried to flee:
[Y]et another cell phone was discovered on the region 3 Clemens unit in Brazoria. But this time the story behind the discovery is actually the entertaining part as a Huntsville generated report disclosed. As an eagle eyed employee made rounds on a Clemens unit outside trusty status dorm, they ran into something thats beginning to become all to familiar. An offender was lying on his cubicle bunk, gossiping away on his very own cell phone.

The attentive staff member had the offender get up and the chase was on from there. The offender bolted out of his cubicle, and ran to the rear of the dorm trying to evade the persuing officer. The officer called for more staff and tried to box the offender into the rear of the dorm until help arrived. As other staff members arrived, the offender saw his hopes of a clean getaway dashed as they all converged. He then made the decison to dive through a screened mesh dorm window to get outside where he took off on foot with his cell phone still in hand.

Officers gave chase, and eventually caught up to the offender after he had made his way to an area at the perimeter of the trusty camp compound. He then attempted to bury the device in the ground . At which time he was apprehended and promptly moved into the main compound. He is anticipated to be charged with possession of a cell phone in a secure correctional facilty, a felony that has fetched as many as 30 additional years in prison for some.

The Clemens unit remains at the top of the cell phone exchange within TDCJ. A recent state senate hearing admonished a clearly shaken TDCJ executive director over the unit's stats, that at the time were 46 so far this year. That was June 4th. Today, officials claim that numerous other cell phones and their accessories have been located on the unit since the prior numbers were released just a month ago. And thanks to a professional correctional officer on the Clemens unit, another one is out of an offenders hands. But additional steps need to be taken to prevent the entry into the facility in the first place. Clemens currently does not routinely search staff coming in, and there is no metal detectors present for use on employees. If 46+ cell phones have made it in, what are the chances of a pistol showing up in the near future? Just a thought.......
That's quite a tale. To be frank, since it's almost certainly guards bringing in the cell phones I imagine rational self interest will prevent the same couriers from bringing in a pistol. Still, someone who'd smuggle in a cell phone might well smuggle in other types of contraband, and when it's a staff person there's a doubled risk from future blackmail and long-term corruption.

There are technological solutions to prisoners having cell phones, but the per-unit cost and the staff commitment for monitoring are more or less prohibitive. I'm similarly skeptical of the latest fad on the topic - cell phone sniffing dogs, of all things. (I don't know what it is about a cell phone the dog supposedly smells). Drug and bomb detecting dogs don't work well in noisy chaotic environments, and even in quieter quarters they often miss their mark. Even if cell phones do have some specific scent, I have a hard time imagining in a prison environment dogs would be able to stay focused and consistently perform the task.

To me the best solution is much simpler: Finish implementing the new phone system to give more prisoners more frequent access to telephones for legitimate purposes, and fully staff prisons so that, as happened in the Clemens Unit anecdote, prisoners are adequately monitored and someone will likely see them talking on the phone.

Finally, a prison unit with a large number of cell phones is usually a prison unit containing one or more corrupt guards. It's one thing to hunt for cell phones by whatever means after they're inside, but a lot better for everybody if wardens install preventive measures up front to keep staff from smuggling contraband in the first place and actively root out corruption in their ranks.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

It ought to be easy to ID the guards who brought in cell phones. Just go to the inmates who're about to be prosecuted for new felonies that will lengthen their sentences and offer to drop charges for anyone who rats out their supplier. Somebody will flip.

Anonymous said...

Every TDCJ Guard would quit if they couldn't make a little extra money on the side smuggling contraband into the prisons.

Prosecutors don't want to know who is repsonsible any more than they want to know what Rosita Swinton has to say about the FLDS fiasco.
They cannot afford to punish every single TDCJ Guard any more than they can afford to pay them a living wage.

It is very helpful to bring the light of day onto what goes on inside prison walls in Texas. The only hope we have to solve some of the problems of the criminal justice system is to give individuals that are convicted a voice that is heard loud and clear.

Thanks to everyone that contributes to this effort!

subpatre said...

Japanese movie theaters use cell-phone jammers. Cost about $200 each and a couple of them will blanket even big theaters.

Of course, it'd keep the guards from chatting all night too.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know when the calling cards will be available? I've searched, but have not found any information except that contracts should be approved by August, 2008. Thank you.

sunray's wench said...

Until the contract is officially signed, no one knows if it will be calling cards, a separate phone account or pre-paid by the families. Nothing has to be done before September, so I wouldnt expect to see anything public before then.

Anonymous said...

"He is anticipated to be charged with possession of a cell phone in a secure correctional facilty, a felony that has fetched as many as 30 additional years in prison for some."

30 years for having a cell phone is nuts! I have to support the guy for the next 30 years with my tax money. Thanks for throwing my tax dollars away on 30 year stays in TDCJ for "FELONY POSSESSION" of a cell phone. I feel so much safer now!

Anonymous said...

Well, what is even more disturbing is 1) Brazoria often houses the young inmates 2) Whoever brought these in...may be getting favors or even having relations with the inmates. 3) If you prosecute the inmate you damn well prosecute the staff. I am not concerned who flips 7/15/2008 07:50:00 PM but I am concerned about how you could even lay that burden on someone who is already doing time. Correct the problem, dig up the weed.....an inmate is an inmate. Whatever they get is brought in to them. Staff the unit, get it up to code for a prison unit and stop placing so much blame on the inmate. The staff, the warden, the legislature...the funding agency has to be held accountable as well. "The only hope we have to solve some of the problems of the criminal justice system is to give individuals that are convicted a voice that is heard loud and clear."7/15/2008 09:44:00 PM and that is good and dandy but 9:44 a voice??? A freakn voice you say??? What did the raped and abused kids in TYC not speak up? No better! Did Morales not speak up? No better. Did the riots not speak up? No better. I am sick and tired of the talking...where is the action?? To correct the problem...put phones in the prisons...currently TDCJ does not allow their inmates to use the phone except once a month or maybe once every 90 days. I don't care if they are "adults" they have families, kids etc. How in the hell do you expect to correct the issue or rehabilitate when the policies and actions only breed hate and anger and thus contraband..."a little extra money on the side smuggling contraband into the prisons.7/15/2008 09:44:00 PM You don't. You get more corruption inside of corruption and rape on top of rape. So, I agree...prosecutors turn a blind eye...the people don't. Prosecute the prosecutors...some justice will finally come out of it.

Anonymous said...

My son in in the North Texas I.S.F. In Ft. Worth and he is using phone cards. Initially the cost was $10 for 30 minutes, but now it has gone up to $20 for 30 minutes. BUT if he calls home collect, the charge is $8.30 for 15 minutes.

Anonymous said...

If the prisoners were using cell phones to order a HIT on a lege member or thier family member, I'll bet my paycheck against theirs that they would find enough taxpayer money to provide the technology to "SNIFF' out those cell phones!
But, then again, they only care about themselves!!!!

Anonymous said...

Too bad you're not a prison guard. It suits your intelligence.

King louie the pie man said...

30 years! Wow, that would deter me if I was serving time in Polunsky.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking they don't want to sniff out the guards, because they're severly shorthanded as it is. They probably feel that a little contraband is easier to deal with than being another guard short.

I do agree that 30 years does seem a bit over the top.

Anonymous said...

A lot of these guys have life iwthout parole, so what does 30 more years mean?

Anonymous said...

I am appalled that people think that ALL officers are sneaking in contraband. Especially with all the overtime we can do to earn extra money right now. Most officers do work two jobs or babysit etc. to earn some extra cash because we do need a livable wage. If The governor would quit calling corrections officers trained monkeys and quit blocking raises then the state could afford to hire some people who would work, can work and do work without bringing all the contraband in. You get what you pay for and the current hiring rate only affords trash.

I also want to say that inmates have more rights than officers do, They can assault me all day and night and the state never presses charges, even when they injure you. The inmates can file harassment claims if you say something somewhat out of line to them (hey it does happen) but they can cuss you and masturbate at you all day and NEVER get punished for it.

the last thing I am just mentioning in passing is... why bother shaking down all the prisons when there are holes in the walls between cells and inmates passing contraband. Lazy bosses and rank not doing thorough shakedowns and metal detectors that do not even work. The whole shakedown is just a show. Governor Perry is trying to make it look good to the public, I hope someone blows that right open.

Anonymous said...

I feel like us as correctional officers whom are not "dirty officers" shouldn't have to come to work everyday and be searched like offenders. Have gay officers searching our breast like we are dikes ourselves. I think tdcj need to find a better way to search us... gays are most of our correctional staff. It's not right to us. to have to be seached like convicts. they need to pay us like other states and maybe their dirty bosses won't have to try to make extra money from these convicts.

Anonymous said...

Here we are again exscuses, exscuses.
Once upon a time, before they were
called inmates. They were once citizen too. Everyone has a clean record, it's just they were caught. Guards are people too. They are not GOD, they can make mistakes. Money changes people. Today's world everyone is hungry for the picket fence and pretty house and nice cars. Remember, when you point at someone to fault theres 4 fingers pointing right back at you. Let's fix the problem and stop trying to find someone to blame. We have more problems to deal with than a "Damn
cell phone. The problem goes deeper than that......

Anonymous said...

There is no excuse for sneaking in a cell phone. I am a C.O. There is nothing I hate more than a dirty boss. Not EVERY OFFICER would do it though. Whoever made that comment is dead wrong. I have never made any money for doing anything illegal.

Offenders are people, not animals. It is important to remember that. Texas treated them like that once, and that is what they became. They came out of prison angry and violent. Now we educate them and put them to work. Things are much, much better.

Finally, never complain about your tax dollars paying for convicts. 0% of your tax dollars support TDCJ. Texas Correctional Industries (TCI) makes a fortune. Texas Prisons make money. They make a lot of money...which makes me wonder why Governor Perry won't give us a pay raise. He believes he can "train a monkey to do our job."

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Anonymous said...

Call Preston Woodard he is the field Boss at Clemens He give them anything 979-292-5001