Troubling new details surfaced Wednesday about the depth of illegal smuggling inside Texas' massive prison system, including revealing glimpses into how convicts may be operating drug- and money-laundering rackets with the help of guards and family members.
The new information surfaced in 20 pages of court filings in Travis County, revealing that authorities are investigating a 21-year-old Waco woman and at least five convicts for alleged organized criminal activity at the Coffield Unit near Palestine in East Texas.
According to a search-warrant affidavit, investigators listening in on phone calls made by several convicts at Coffield and intercepting ingoing and outgoing mail believe that some convicts are arranging for their family members to deposit money in one another's accounts, with the arranging inmate taking a cut of as much as 25 percent.
Thousands of dollars were being funneled through the scheme, according to the affidavit. In another intercepted phone call, one convict admitted buying drugs from another convict — and "although he did not observe guards deliver any dope, he knew they had."
According to the affidavit, the Waco woman "drops the dope off to someone, then the dope is brought into the prison by an unknown person."
Said TDCJ inspector general John Moriarty, "I think you can assume this is just the tip of the iceberg." The incident also points out the security benefits of an expanded inmate phone system from channeling inmate communication through approved, monitored avenues:
The details revealed in Wednesday's affidavit show that the telephone system that was installed last year in Texas prisons to allow convicts to make calls — with an elaborate security component that records all conversations and allows convicts to call only pre-cleared people at verified numbers — is proving its worth in allowing investigators to detect possible criminal activity that would not have been possible before.
While some blame has been laid at the feet of trusties, increasingly I've come to believe most of the contraband problem at TDCJ is a function of guard corruption, a view this story appears to corroborate.
Some argue that's a function of low pay, but I think it's a lot more complicated: Poverty doesn't make one unethical. Corruption occurs because prisons are a community that include the guards, and some guards come to think they have more in common with and sympathize more with those they spend their time with every day than they do the outside world or their employer. Their loyalties have shifted from a professional to a personal level. That's particularly true in instances where female guards engage in relationships with inmates, which allegedly is fairly common and puts COs in a position to be blackmailed or improperly influenced.
Prison staff make up about 17% of all state employees, so there are a lot of them and it'd be wrong to paint with a broad brush to say they all behave that way. But it's a significant enough proportion that it's obvious contraband flows in Texas prison units won't stop until TDCJ can control its employees: Punishing inmates and their families ever-more harshly won't work if their co-conspirators in uniform are seldom fired, much less see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell, for their behavior.