Illegal cellphones were the target in a shakedown of the huge Texas prison system, but the first full week of the inch-by-inch inspections has yielded an assortment of contraband, prison officials said Monday.
More than 120 prohibited phones and phone components have been seized, they reported. That includes 63 phones, 56 chargers and five SIM cards that swap information among phones.
But officers also turned up 61 weapons, 52 tobacco stashes and 14 stashes of money — all prohibited for the approximately 155,000 inmates in the state’s 111 prisons.
During lockdowns, inmates are confined to their cells and may not have visitors.Particularly startling was the number of weapons found, which was many times the number reported seized annually in recent years (see this Grits post). Only ten prohibited weapons were found in 2007, and only 8 in all of 2008 before the latest lockdown and search.
Inspections at about 15 units are complete, and the lockdowns there have been relaxed, a prison spokeswoman said.
Since 2003 it's been a felony to bring contraband onto Texas prison units, but the problem worsened since then and nearly everyone agrees most of contraband - especially cell phones getting into hard to reach places like death row - comes mostly from inmates bribing corrupt guards.
Six years later, the main solutions proposed have nothing to do with boosting penalties (since we've already done that), instead focusing on limits on what guards can bring to the unit, pat downs going in and out of each shift, pay hikes for guards, and expanded (legal, monitored) phone access for prisoners. They're also installing metal detectors (before now only 22 units had them), but they had metal detectors at the Polunsky unit and they've found 22 cell phones in that unit on death row in 2008 alone!
Meanwhile, more cell phones have been found this year at the Stiles unit in Beaumont than any other facility, and now that unit has generated what so far is the state's highest profile conviction - a former guard was sentenced to four years for contraband smuggling. The Inspector General from TDCJ recently testified to a state senate committee that it was difficult to secure convictions against TDCJ staff, so one wonders if recent media coverage about cell phones on death row has changed to some degree how people feel about such misconduct?
RELATED: Texas Prison Bidness has a post on contraband smuggling at a private prison unit in Mineral Wells and lets us know the Senate Criminal Justice Commitee will hold a hearing on interim charges related private prisons on Nov. 13.