Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lockdown at max-security units aimed at contraband; TDCJ seeks bids on cell phone locators

In yet another effort to combat contraband smuggling, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice instituted a lockdown yesterday at 14 maximum security units, reports Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman:

More than 35,000 convicts at 14 of Texas’ toughest prisons have been placed on lockdown status in a new crackdown on contraband smuggling — the largest in months, officials just confirmed.

The shakedown involves cell-by-cell searches and is the most significant such action in Texas’ prison system in almost a year, since Gov. Rick Perry ordered a lockdown of all 112 state prisons in October 2008 after a death row inmate used a smuggled cell phone to call — and later threaten to kill — the state senator who heads a legislative prisons committee.

“We’re doing cell searches, and the units will remain locked down until we complete that,” said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that operates the state corrections system.

“The units we have locked down are the ones that have the most contraband seizures … from inmates and on visitors. The goal is to keep contraband out.”

Prison officials identified the prisons as the Polunsky Unit that houses death row outside Livingston, the Ferguson Unit in Midway, the Lewis Unit in Woodville, the Michael, Beto and Coffield units near Tennessee Colony, the Central Unit in Sugar Land, the Clemons Unit near Brazoria, the Scott Unit in Angleton, the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, the McConnell Unit in Beeville, the Connally Unit in Kenedy and the Allred Unit outside Wichita Falls.

Lyons said anti-contraband efforts are focused on "inmates and on visitors," but maybe that approach is part of the problem. It's fine to search for contraband once it's inside the prison, but I've not seen TDCJ doing enough to remove (much less prosecute) corrupt guards and other prison staff who assist in smuggling.

Relatedly, a reader pointed out this request for bids from the comptroller's website where TDCJ is seeking a vendor to supply cell-phone locators, which I've suggested before may be a superior alternative to jamming.

31 comments:

FairPlay said...

I definately think that TDCJ should bring more criminal charges against individuals who bring in contraband. In the majority of these cases, the employees are only charged with policy violations. They may be fired for their actions; however, the seriousness of their actions needs to be made clear of other employoees who are considering the same thing. In my opinion, TDCJ is not bringing criminal charges against employees in many cases becuase they do not want the public to actually know how serious the problem actually is.

Soronel Haetir said...

On the topic of prosecuting guards, I would again ask, "Do the problems that face prosecuting police officers for crimes discovered through internal affairs investigations also apply in the prison context?"

The situations seem similar enough on their face that I would expect the same problems are present.

Couple this with a lack of budget for anything considered an extra and you end up where you just fire those who you catch. In this case, the extra I am talking about would be resources to undertake any sort of systemic investigation.

peter said...

I hope that the lockdown and search is not used as another excuse to deprive inmates of legitimate and personally purchased possessions from the prison commissary, such as radios, which are the only sensory stimulation available to those at Polunsky. Also these are expensive and difficult to replace. So many were taken last time, one wonders who profited, and whether that was legal!

Jennie said...

If you follow through and search more regarding the cell phone locators you will see that a delivery date of 8/31/09 was called for the equipment along with training for 4 c/o's. This contract was awarded already.

Boyness said...

Another effort by the idiots that run TDCJ to pacify the public and John Whitmire. The phones get in through corrupt, trashy CO's and support staff who have non business working in our prisons.

TDCJ will NEVER see that there own are prosecuted so this will go on and on and on just like it always has.

KDA0618 said...

I see it written over and over and over that TDCJ does not bring criminal charges and TDCJ does not prosecute its employees. TDCJ does not have the authority to bring charges or prosecute anyone. The court system must do that. TDCJ's OIG division are the "police" who gather the evidence in the case, but as in any criminal investigation the evidence is then turned over to the county DA, who decides what to do with it from there. At that point, TDCJ has no say in the matter. They CAN'T get it swept under the rug in most cases.....

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Of course, KDA1609, they don't typically fire them either and they have full authority to do that.

Anonymous said...

I think it's worth remembering that this lockdown is conducted every year as a matter of procedure. We are never given the precise date or time, but this lockdown was anticipated long before the latest Whitmire criticisms.

Yes, the majority of contraband is brought in by employees, but the public should be aware that there are other state employees and contractors who regularly contribute to the problem as well. It's not exclusive to those of us who wear gray, nor is the motivation always money. That said, those of us who do the job (regardless of the pay rate), are as concerned about the problem of contraband as anyone-and we are the ones to whom it poses the greatest risk. I can assure you the vast majority of Correctional Officers I work with are constantly on the look out for any indication of dishonesty or corruption within our ranks. The few who do take that route are always caught; it's just a mater of time (nothing stays secret for long in a prison).

In the mean time, those who have no concept of what this work involves are free to sit back in the comfort and safety of their reality and pass what ever judgements make them feel relevant. The idea of locking down offenders permanently is ridiculous. Those who assume every offender is an animal and deserves to be brutalized or deprived of his or her human rights, and feel justified in making such comments in these forums, should spend a day working with me on my unit. I want you to hear the cellblock door slam shut behind you as you realize you're about to spend the rest of your day up close and personal with 150 felons presently serving twenty years to life. There's them, and there's you. How bad do you want to talk now? We don't have time for posing and posturing. We work are asses off in 100+ degree temperatures trying to maintain a building schedule and manage the movement and security of each man under our supervision.

Sometimes that means we get beat up. Sometimes it means keeping them from beating up each other. Occasionally people are seriously injured. Sometimes it's a fellow officer. Sometimes it's an offender. All of us are someone's husband, wife, mother, father, brother or sister. My job is make sure we all finish the day safe and sound. That includes those of us who wear gray, as well as those who wear white. I enjoy my job. What did you do at work today?

Boyness said...

OMG more TDCJ excuses!!! YOUR CO'S SUCK ASS OK? If they did there job there would be NO contraband. Excuses galore from TDCJ what else is new??

Boyness said...

In the mean time, those who have no concept of what this work involves are free to sit back in the comfort and safety of their reality and pass what ever judgements make them feel relevant.
_______________________________
JUST DO YOUR DAMN JOB!!!!!! STOP MAKING EXCUSES!!! JEEZ!!!!

Boyness said...

We don't have time for posing and posturing. We work are asses off in 100+ degree temperatures trying to maintain a building schedule and manage the movement and security of each man under our supervision.
__________________________________
DO YOUR DAMN JOB AND LEAVE THE PUBLIC ALONE TO PEACE AND QUIET

Spanky said...

"Boyness"

Welcome to Boyness. Everything and anything that is hot, steamy, sexual and passionate about gay boys.

ORLY? Damn, sounds like you might just wanna go ahead and have a seat right over there... Mr. Hanson will be right with you and THEN you can see things from the "inside out" in the TDCJ ;)

KDA0618 said...

Scott,

I have to wonder about this part of it....many, many times when a CO is caught doing something that can get them fired, they will immediately state, "I quit!!!" It frequently happens that the unscrupulous CO resigns in lieu of disciplinary and termination. Where are these numbers included? I also know of an incident where a CO walked in for his pat search wearing a cell phone clipped to his belt. He was given some suspension and probation for it, but he obviously wasn't trying to smuggle it in; he had forgotten to take it off his belt. Prior to the DR phone scandal pat searches being put in place for employees last fall, I walked into the unit on more than one occasion myself with my cell phone in my pocket, usually realizing I had it when I heard it beep. I am not saying that every time that TDCJ staff was found with contraband it was an accident. I am saying that maybe these were the circumstances where they received disciplinary probations rather than being terminated. As you might have noticed, numbers and statistics can be manipulated and used to make something seem what it's not......

I don't try to claim that there aren't problems in TDCJ, but by no means is every unit in the state is staffed completely by unethical employees.

Anonymous said...

Did any of you notice the Wynn Unit is not included in the lockdown? They Wynn Unit is also a maximum security prison. Most of the items made by inmates comes from the Wynn Unit and is sold to the public. I think after reading the news, Mr. Perry is even in the polls with Ms Kay Bailey Hutchison and needs the publicity. What a disgraceful way to try to garner publicity!!

To my knowledge the emails including Senator Whitmire and the author of the article included in the email happened over a month and one half ago, so why now? Does Perry need the praise and hopefully keep his poll numbers up? Come Perry, why don't you just retire gracefully, Texas is tired of your self serving attitude.

Anonymous said...

Arresting a prostitute and not the john. I see no difference. Get the inmate with the phone but not who sold it to him.

RFO dated June 23, 2009
RE: IT456395
Deadline was 3p.m. on July 7, 2009

Stingray II or equal transportable, multiple transmitter, multiple receiver system capable of measuring radion frequency signals. Includes the following items:

STINGRAY II, STINGRAY II-CDMA-SW, STINGRAY II-GSM-SW, STINGRAY II-IDEN-SW
Amberjack W Antenna system for the Stingray II
Harpoon or Equal software controlled high power filtered amplifier (dual-band)
Spurdor radio frequency measurement system
Kingfish portable signal information collection system with software
Training for 4 employees - each session must be for two 12 hour days.

All being delivered to the Office of the Inspector General by 8/31/2009

DEWEY said...

"Ouis costodiat ipsos coustodies?" (Latin for Who will guard the guards themselves?) DEWEY

sunray's wench said...

Boyness, I know you mean well and are obviously frustrated with the system, but please do NOT assume that all TDCJ staff are useless and do not do their jobs professionally.

There are good and bad in grey, just as there are bad and not so bad in white. The majority of the officers I have had contact with over the past 5 years have been polite, professional and tried to do their best while faced with unreasonable visitors, violent and manipulative inmates, and out of date, broken and often missing equipment, and a Texas public who want the earth but wont pay for it.

Yes some officers break the rules, but so do people in all other jobs. Not all get prosecuted.

I fully support everything anon@11.50 says above. I know I could never do thier job, but at the same time I need the good guys in grey to keep my husband safe while he is there. Whatever they need in order to do that gets my support, as long as it doesn't stop me seeing my husband a couple of times a year.

Anonymous said...

sunny said it all from the perspective of a "loved one" .
11:50 did as well. from another perspective. It's a tough job and I am grateful for those who do it firmly, fairly and consistently.

As an employer who follows the "rules". knows how to document and "fire" if need be., I continue to look at "walk offs" in a very puzzled way. Most of these people need to be charged, yet they never are....fired, yet it doesn't happen....makes me wanna hollah, throw up both my hands.... Jan

Boyness said...

Spanky said...

"Boyness"

Welcome to Boyness. Everything and anything that is hot, steamy, sexual and passionate about gay boys.

ORLY? Damn, sounds like you might just wanna go ahead and have a seat right over there... Mr. Hanson will be right with you and THEN you can see things from the "inside out" in the TDCJ ;)

9/18/2009 03:32:00 AM
_____________________________

EAT MY A$$ WANNABE YOU DONT KNOW S#!T

Boyness said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

'Bout time, I'm tired of getting hit with cellphone puke-Ray ringtones anyway, dead gummit! I'm sure the prisoners are tired of getting zapped by the "trustees" who have been given these cell phones.

Navy Researching Vomit Beam (Updated) | Danger Room | Wired.com
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2007/03/navy_researchin/

Anonymous said...

Didn't know that ringtones had been weaponized, although I did find this...

Navy SBIR Award

http://www.navysbirprogram.com/NavySearch/Award/award.aspx?pk=C18BA979-DADB-4892-896A-1E89970EA8BD

Anonymous said...

Boyness, your comments were very offensive. I enjoyed 11:50's comments and as the wife of an offender, I find what he or she says to be true.

Boyness said...

TDCJ offends me by not securing death row. It astounds me that my rants cause people more consternation than the lack of security in the states prisons. TDCJ has more excuses than a 4 year old caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Give me a Texas sized break. This issue ISNT about me...focus your attention on TDCJ and stop blaming me because you have CO friends or CO's who say hi to you. This is NOT personal it is PROFESSIONAL and if I worked for TDCJ I would be ashamed...very ashamed.

RAS said...

Boyeness, where do you work? Where everyone is perfect, no one carries a pen home or uses a printer for personal use. If all of your coworkers were offered $2,000.00 for a cell phone how many would decline? The only way to eliminate all the corruption in TDCJ is to eliminate all human employees. Have you had more than one speeding ticket or warnings? Did you correct all of your shortcomings with just one correction?

sunray's wench said...

Boyness said: "stop blaming me because you have CO friends or CO's who say hi to you. This is NOT personal it is PROFESSIONAL and if I worked for TDCJ I would be ashamed.."

You are right, it is not personal. It is about recognising when Officers are doing their jobs well and giving them some credit for it, not stabbing them in the back every time one of the co-workers rolls over.

Perhaps if you worked for TDCJ, had family in grey or white there, or had spent some time in a TDCJ unit, you would have a better appreciation of the issues facing those on the ground. The administration are not particularly effective, granted, but they dont spend their days with inmates either. It is very easy to criticise from the sidelines like a soccer mom, but what are YOU doing to change the situation?

Boyness said...

It is very easy to criticise from the sidelines like a soccer mom, but what are YOU doing to change the situation?

9/22/2009 11:39:00 PM
------------------------------------

I am voting against RICK PERRY for starters and I am talking to the candidates about making sure the Director of TDCJ is someone with a background in corrections not a political hack.

This issue, like most dealing with any branch of Texas government invariably includes Rick Perry and the cronies he has appointed to boards and executive positions. He is inept and so are the idiots he has chosen to run some of these agencies.

Anonymous said...

Over 10 days of lockdown and yet I haven't seen any updates? I sure would like to know what is going on. Everyone jumps when it is first announced and then it is just ignored.

Of course mail from an inmate is a joke as c/o's rarely pick up letters during a lockdown.

I understand the need for lockdowns however, with the Swine Flu one would think that they would at least try to keep it at bay. Just simple things like taking out the trash as now over 10 days of trash thrown on the runs along with food remains. So sanitary.

Let's get both the inmates and the staff sick. Oh and then the staff can take it home to their family. Real great thinking here.

Anonymous said...

Here is what I sent to them:
once again the prisons are on lock down and once again cell phones are found. This is nothing new. I'm sorry that Sen. W. had to experience threats against his person and family in order for security breaches to be brought to light, but I'm glad that there is an active interest in reducing the contraband in prisons and enhanced control of what type correspondence leaves the penitentiaries. However, the problem addressed by the TDCJ is simply that of contraband inside the units, not that of how contraband enters the units. How does this continue to happen? Why is there not enhanced security for those entering the prisons? Why are there no third parties (not TDCJ staff) searching those working there? And why is the inmate caught with contraband severely punished while a staff member gets away with a slap on the hand? I understand that staff complain of the lack of pay increase earlier this year, but this does not justify breaking the law and aiding convicted felons in prison! If you let the staff know that they will end up in the same place which they supplied with phones and drugs, don't you think this would end this nonsense? Please, go to the root of the problem, not the symptom!

Did I mention anywhere that employees are to blame for the majority of contraband? And if I did - aren't they?????

Anonymous said...

So here's what I got back:

This correspondence is in response to your e-mail to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Ombudsman Coordinator's Office regarding criminal activity on units and staff bringing in contraband.
Eliminating the introduction of contraband into any TDCJ facility has been part of our mission to not only promote positive change in offender behavior, but to protect the safety of the public.
As of September 1, 2003, it became a Third Degree Felony (prison time or up to 10 years probation) to provide any of the following items to an offender within a TDCJ facility: money, tobacco, alcohol, cigarettes, prescription drugs, a cellular phone, or a deadly weapon (introducing illicit narcotics were already illegal). Contrary to your comment that “the states correctional officers are to blame for the majority of contraband”, responsibility lies with offenders and their family/friends as well. The TDCJ has countless occurrences of the introduction or attempts to introduce all types of contraband into our facilities through visitation, the postal service, and even leaving it on the facility grounds for later pickup. Not all visitors and offenders are guilty, nor are all correctional officers involved. Unfortunately, the effects of this illegal behavior touches everyone associated with TDCJ incarcerated individuals.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice brought forth a ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy on all contraband, to include cell phones, on any TDCJ secure facility. This has required additions to TDCJ operation procedures concerning entry into a secure correctional facility. A wand and pat search of all individuals, to include all TDCJ staff, will be conducted within Agency approved procedural guidelines with no exceptions. This procedure governs offender visitation as well.
This agency has a great expectation that all members of staff will conduct their duties in accordance with policy and in a professional manner at all times. With over 40,000 Agency employees, we appreciate and encourage feedback. Should you observe or experience inappropriate or unprofessional behavior during your visit, we encourage you to bring these matters to the attention of the family liaison officer or the Duty Warden prior to departing the unit. This will permit administrators direct access to all parties involved and immediate attention to your concerns. All allegations of staff misconduct are taken very seriously and will be investigated. If the allegations are substantiated, appropriate corrective action will be taken immediately, to include criminal charges if substantiated.
Every offender’s well being is of paramount importance to this agency and we remain committed to taking the necessary precautions to protect them and the public to the maximum extent possible. We regret any inconvenience this may cause, but the decision was made with the Agency’s primary mission in mind, to safeguard offenders, staff, and the general public.
Sincerely,
Dona Brown
TDCJ Ombudsman Coordinator

Jennie said...

Anonymous said... "nor is the motivation always money"

What a crock! Then what is it? Money is the motivation for anyone selling contraband items to inmates preying on them no different than they claim that the inmates have preyed on others. Cell phone? $450, Bleach? $2, What-a-Burger? $5 to $10, Marlboro red? $20 a pack. What other motivation can there be for a pack of cigarettes for $20? Maybe something like greed.