Texas prison officials Monday arrested the mother of a death row inmate on charges she paid for cell phone minutes for an illegal phone that had been smuggled in to her condemned son.It's fine to prosecute the inmate's mother who's paying the bill, but to get to the root of the problem they need to find the guards who smuggled cell phones onto death row - apparently in at least 19 documented instances since the beginning of the year.
The inmate, Richard Tabler, shared the phone with nine other inmates, who made 2,800 calls in 30 days. Tabler called a key state senator, telling him he knew his daughters' names.
While Lorraine Tabler, 60, was being arrested at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on charges of providing a prohibited item to an inmate, Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials confiscated a phone from her son, prisoner Richard Tabler. ...
Prison officials said Richard Tabler and as many as nine other death row inmates made 2,800 calls from the cell phone in the last 30 days.
Authorities found out about the phone when Richard Tabler made several calls to state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, between Oct. 7 and 19.
"Whether it's a citizen or a senator, no one should be contacted by an incarcerated offender who is using an illegal cell phone," Criminal Justice Board chairman Oliver Bell said Monday.
Tabler told Whitmire he knew the Houston Democrat had two daughters, knew their ages and knew where they lived.
"He called his daughters by name," Moriarty said.
"Frankly, that scared the hell out of me," Whitmire told the Austin American-Statesman.
The inspector general's office opened a formal investigation Oct. 8, the day after the first call to Whitmire. Tabler called Whitmire again two days later.
Investigators determined the phone had been purchased in Waco in September 2007, that Lorraine Tabler had been buying time for the phone, including a purchase on Oct. 7 at a Wal-Mart store in Waycross, Ga. The investigation also determined that calls were coming to the phone as well as going out.
Moriarty said the phone apparently was being passed among the other nine inmates in Tabler's immediate cell block area.
Those inmates also face criminal charges or disciplinary actions. ...
Illegal cell phone use is a continuing problem in prisons where the phones are considered a security breach and of particular value to gang members.
Moriarty said since Jan. 1, his investigators have closed or are working on 19 cases of prohibited cell phones or cell phone components on death row. Some 700 cases are being investigated systemwide among the state's nearly 160,000 prisoners, including one case where officials have an X-ray of an inmate with a phone and charger inside the prisoner's body.
The Governor's office issued a press release this afternoon that included this tidbit:
Oooh, a "zero tolerance" policy - now we know the smuggling will stop! (/sarcasm).
"Let there be no doubt about how seriously we take this security breach," Perry said. "Anyone who delivers or attempts to deliver cell phones or any other contraband to prisoners will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The vast majority of Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees are upstanding, hardworking citizens. It is a shame that the criminal acts of some overshadow the good name of others."
The governor directed the board to immediately lock down the entire prison system, search all inmates, staff and visitors and seize any contraband while issuing a statement of zero tolerance for anyone caught moving contraband within the prison. Any violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Other items like drugs or cigarettes can be smuggled through the mail but only guards and prison staff can get cell phones past metal detectors. To judge by this episode, even the state's worst murderers can benefit from corrupt guards' largess.
MORE: See the Austin Statesman's coverage. A followup story in the Chronicle says the inmate got the phone onto death row by bribing a guard for $2,100, though nobody has yet identified the culprit(s) bringing phones onto death row.
NUTHER UPDATE: During the search as part of the lockdown reacting to this news, two more cell phones were found on death row. The Statesman has more details about the lockdown and search.
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