Sunday, May 04, 2014

Few guards face charges in cell-phone contraband cases

The Texas Tribune's Edgar Walters today revisited the question of why Texas prison guards are rarely charged in cell-phone contraband cases. Here's a notable excerpt:
A Texas Tribune investigation has found that few inmates or correctional officers face legal consequences for smuggling cellphones even as prison officials have intensified efforts to keep the devices out of prisons. Just 5 percent of cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General from 2009 to 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence, according to documents obtained from the office through a public information request. 

Prison officials said one challenge was linking the smuggled phones to prisoners or correctional officers for prosecution, because the devices were secreted away in spots that were hard to find, or found in common areas. And it falls to prosecutors in the rural, cash-strapped regions where prisons are typically located to decide whether to spend resources on criminals who are already in prison or on local law enforcement officers. Critics say that without serious consequences, there is little to stanch the flow of illicit cellphones — and the cash that goes with them — into Texas prisons.

“Phones can be hard to find, and there’s a lot of money in introducing contraband,” said Terry Pelz, a prison consultant and former warden who advocates tougher punishments for guards caught with contraband. ...
Records obtained by the Tribune show that cellphones accounted for the greatest number of contraband cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s inspector general from 2009 to 2013. Yet cases involving other contraband — like alcohol and tobacco — are prosecuted at a higher rate.

Of the 3,687 cellphone cases the inspector general’s office examined during that time, prosecutors secured sentences in only 190 cases; 2,142 resulted in no charge. ...
Some criminal justice observers say leaving that decision to local prosecutors benefits the guards because prisons are typically in rural counties with small prosecution budgets.

“Local prosecutors don’t put the full force of their office up against cases involving officers,” said Brian McGiverin, a prisoners’ rights attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Pelz added, “These smaller counties don’t necessarily have the money for the wholesale prosecution of these officers, so that’s not much of a deterrent for those who get caught.”

20 comments:

rodsmith said...

you could say that's what God and nerds make cell phone scramblers for.

get off your lazy asses and install them in every prison and this is done.

at that point it becomes a self correcting problem first time guards sell some that don't work. Trust me the guards won't be selling any more LOL.

Anonymous said...

The excerpt suggests that this isn't a priority of local prison county prosecutors, but doesn't the special (prison) prosecution unit out of Huntsville prosecute these cases? (on behalf of the counties)

Charles B. Brad Frye said...

Cell phone jamming is unlawful under federal law. There are systems to intercept and identify "unauthorized" signals, but they require money and staff.

85tiger said...

The decision to prosecute lies almost exclusively with the Special Prison Prosecution Unit. Very few prison counties (I can think of only one right now--Scurry) are handling these cases out of the local DA's office. My guess is the quality of investigation is what is driving the decision. If the phone is found hidden somewhere or in a common area and there is no inmate in direct possession, who are they going to prosecute?

rodsmith said...

well Charles last time I looked the gov't these days pretty much makes up the laws as they go. Since we are talking about a gov't agency I'm pretty sure they'd be ok.

Anonymous said...

WTF actual harm have these phones caused? Besides a crooked politician getting a threat, cell phones have caused zero actual harm. And they allow inmates to stay in touch with their families on the outside, which is always a positive. Can anyone name any other country where inmates aren't allowed cell phones? Besides, most wardens realize a certain amount of contraband is a good and necessary thing to keep the peace behind the walls. Always been easier to score drugs inside than outside...

Charles B. Brad Frye said...

Rod, I understand your political point, but, though apologetic about it in this situation, the FCC says - and federal law says - no generalized "jamming." A "managed access network" is the closest you can get and, again, it takes time and staff. There is no easy tech fix for this problem under current law.

DEWEY said...

"...why Texas prison guards are rarely charged in cell-phone contraband cases...." --- They are members of the "Good Ole Boy" Club.

sunray's wench said...

Anon @ 7.04 The "liberal/socialist" English prisons do not permit mobile phones for inmates.

TDCJ has a phone service inmates can use now. Inmates cannot call "overseas" numbers or anyone not registered with Securus, which might account for the continued flow of phones into prisons.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that the State doesn't provide adequate funding for the SPU.

Anonymous said...

At 7:04

"Besides, most wardens realize a certain amount of contraband is a good and necessary thing to keep the peace behind the walls. Always been easier to score drugs inside than outside..."

There's a lot of truth in what you said.

rodsmith said...

it's hardly generalized jamming to block cell phone usage on their own property. especially when they can show a security reason for doing so like this situation. If the FCC was to push it they would lose big time once it hit a real court.

7:04 cell phones are banned because in far too many cases they are using those phones to manage their gangs outside the prison.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 7:04-

This is what could happen...

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/felon-caught-plotting-kidnap-killing-jail-article-1.1755008

And how trivial is it to lift fingerprints from a phone? It's easy, it's cheap, and both the inmates and the prison personnel have their prints in a local database.

By not prosecuting, they're jeopardizing the life of just about everybody the inmates have a beef with.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 08:01

You cite one incident, but millions of inmates have access to cell phones. And it's not like their scheme couldn't have been accomplished without the use of a cell phone.

"By not prosecuting, they're jeopardizing the life of just about everybody the inmates have a beef with."

You are a fearmonger of the worst sort.

There would be a lot less incentive to smuggle and use cell phones if the cost of calling from a prison phone wasn't so expensive. The price for a 20-minute call is a minimum of $5.00. http://texasoffenderfriendsandfamily.com/rates.asp

Anonymous said...

Could be related to - The dingy, wrinkled, sloppy, grayish wall of silence. The type of silence enjoyed by brothers & sisters in cliques with mandatory uniforms and badges made out of cloth that utilizes the same military style ranking system as law enforcement.

Condone =

Conspire =

Cover Up =

If I could locate the Prison Guard Oath, I'd post it.

Anonymous said...

Shut up you ex inmate... With 39,000 employees in TDCJ, there is no silence. 99.9% of the officers are honest and hardworking... You can't say that about ex inmates.

rodsmith said...

I'm going to have to give 4:11 this one. Just like any other profession most are just trying to do their job to the best of their ability and go home at the end of their shift. The problem comes when at 5-10% that are total screw-ups and criminals are protected and/or promoted for it.

sunray's wench said...

rodsmith ~ but some inmates also want to do their time and go home, and don't reoffend afterwards. The colour of the suit does not dictate the level of honesty or the willingness to do a day's work.

rodsmith said...

I never said they didn't sunray. I know a large part of all the inmates in prison simply want to do their time and go home. but just like bad cops that make up 10-15% of all officers you do have a good portion of inmates who also are good for nothing and will never fit in. In or out of prison. The ideal is to punish that group in each set only without violating the rights of the ones NOT committing any crimes.

like I've said before I have no problem backing any officer operating within the law. Once they step outside that law and commit a crime. I have no problem giving them the same punishment they would dish out for any gang banger they caught in the action.

Anonymous said...

Most of the public has no idea how fragile our cell infrastructure truly is. If you alter any GSM baseband radio ever so slightly, you can successfully denial of service the entire network. This is why providers/telecoms do not want any jamming equipment used because of how poorly implemented the infrastructure is.

Remember this next time somebody tries to sell you on cellphone emergency communications, because in a real emergency it's not going to work. They are barely working as it is right now.

There's nothing stopping TDCJ from installing stingray towers in the prison to capture and record calls, I bet they do that already. These are very cheap to implement, and prison authorities can go after telecoms to perform a silent OTA (Over the air update) of the phone sim card that can broadcast it's location. They can also use stealth, type 0 sms pings to broadcast the phone location to an exact spot in the prison.

Surprised they don't do this, here prisons do this so inmates have to make a call and then take out the battery and sim immediately afterwards, and keep calls to under 3mins.