"A year ago, we were amazed to find an inmate with both a cell phone and a charger up there," John Moriarty, the state prison system's inspector general, said Thursday. "They have 24/7 to think of ways to hide cell phones so we can't find them. This is our biggest, most complex challenge right now: tracking these phones down." ...I'm surprised to see the inspector general say this wasn't a big problem a year ago when TDCJ discovered 484 cell phones during FY 2007 - fewer than this year (743 through Oct. 20), but still a sizable number.
In all, a total of 18 smuggled cell phones were found on death row in just 30 days — five since a massive lockdown and shakedown of all prisons was completed last week.
TDCJ administrators quoted in Ward's article focused mostly on how easy it is for inmates to hide items, and indeed, inmates are notoriously clever at concealing contraband. But that observation ignores a much more important fact when we're talking about death row: Only prison staff can bring contraband there in the first place, no matter how ably prisoners hide it. Death rown inmates never have face to face contact visits and could only, possibly receive contraband from staff. "People are asking, 'How could they miss those all those phones when they did a search?' Moriarty said," but that ignores the bigger question staring the inspector general in the face: How did the phones get on death row in the first place?
Regular readers know TDCJ's system-wide lockdown began when death row inmate Richard Tabler called Sen. John Whitmire's office, setting off a firestorm of media criticism and searches at every TDCJ facility. Cell phones were discovered at 22 units (out of around 112), and 46 officers were caught bringing cell phones into various units when pat downs were implemented, the Inspector General testified recently to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (which Whitmire chairs). But so far, only Tabler and two of his family members are facing charges despite so many staff directly implicated in smuggling in the contraband, Ward reports.
Two questions loom as the agency moves forward: Will we see prosecutions of staff who smuggle cell phones in addition to inmates and family members paying for their minutes? Relatedly, will TDCJ take steps to reduce staff corruption besides a proposed 20% pay hike for staff, and what will such efforts look like?