Monday, October 27, 2008

Contraband Update

The Texas prison system remains on lockdown searching for contraband; here are a few interesting details from recent coverage.

For starters, the blog Texas Prison Bidness informs us that private prisons have contraband smuggling problems, too, while the Houston Chronicle published an interesting story about how cell phones are smuggled into supposedly secure facilities.

The Austin Statesman reports that searches have been expanded to staff leaving prisons as well as those entering them:

At first, everyone going into Texas prisons was being searched as part of a massive contraband sweep. On Friday afternoon, officials ordered everyone leaving to be searched, too.

The reason: At one Beaumont prison, officials reportedly found guards carrying out cell phone chargers — presumably to keep inmates from getting caught with them.

The same story has this astonishing tidbit letting us know that nearly 1/3 of the state's cell phone smuggling problem occurs in one unit:
With more than 2,800 convicts and 776 employees, the Stiles Unit has the worst problem with smuggled cell phones. Since January, 180 cell phones have been seized there, of the more than 600 statewide, according to agency statistics.
We also hear more about employees' negative reaction to new policies:
At some prisons, officials who didn't have permission to speak publicly said the pat searches are triggering dozens of grievances and formal complaints, including some in which female employees alleged that male searchers improperly touched their breasts. At others, employees have complained they are not being allowed to bring in lunches and other personal items they had previously, said Brian Olsen, executive director of a labor union that represents some Texas correctional officers.
Another story from the Dallas News gave some interesting data on Texas prison contraband that surprised me, particularly the very low totals for the number of weapons found system-wide:

Item 2007 2008*
Prohibited alcohol 2 8
Prohibited cell phone 484 743
Prohibited drugs 512 405
Prohibited money 80 105
Prohibited tobacco 111 99
Prohibited weapon (such as shanks and razor blades) 10 8
*Through Oct. 20

Of course, not all contraband is harmful, even if it's prohibited. The same News story was accompanied by this photo of a "Prisonopoloy" board game created by a TDCJ inmate that was confiscated four years ago which now is housed in the Texas Prison Museum. It's a pretty impressive artifact:


Anonymous said...

I can't help but wonder if this current "dust up" is somehow designed to smooth the path for the phone system being installed at TDCJ Units. Friends and family of inmates will be paying a lot of money for this phone service.

Demand for smuggled cell phones will evaporate and Corrections Officers will see the opportunity to make money disappear once the phone system is up and running.

Prosecution of C/O's for smuggling contraband such as cell phones will help to ensure that the revenue from telephone calls will go to the State rather than individuals employees.

Perhaps I give the "leadership" too much credit!!!

Unknown said...

Just curious, why was the Prisonopoly game confiscated? Copyright violations? :)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RobertB, according to the Dallas News, "The board game, confiscated about four years ago, wasn’t dangerous, Mr. Willett said, but 'you’ve got certain ways that inmates are legally allowed to have things — and this would not be one of them.'”

Soronel Haetir said...

I would expect a game of that sort to be contraband because it would be easy to hide gang notes etc amongst the other materials. Plenty of rules on items that are not themselves dangerous seem to stem from that or similar streams.

Anonymous said...

As an employee, again ... nonsecurity ... of TDCJ (or a contract organization), I have been blogging about my unfortunate experiences in this new environment.

I didn't sign up for this ...

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I would probably buy a "Prisonopoly" game.

There could be his "legal" means of income, creating and selling those.

Anonymous said...

The installation of phones on the units will not alleviate the cell phone problem in the prison. The calls are too expensive, and the families of inmates cannot afford the calls. If the prison system would allow inmates calling cards or an affordable way to keep in contact with their families that would be a step in the right direction. Since the system, however, is designed to offer its services at exorbitant prices this scenario will never occur.

Anonymous said...

The price for using the phone system hasn't been set so how do you know it will be too expensive?

FleaStiff said...

Whatever is in demand will be smuggled into a prison and it will often be smuggled by staff since they have the opportunity to profit from it. I'm sure the various drugs of desire change over the years and for some reason it now seems popular to smuggle cell phones.

I've no idea why prisoners should be allowed to make phone calls at all much less why they should be made at state expense. If the family can't afford to pay for a phone call then the family is not really worth much consideration at all.

Best solution: 72 hours prior to a prisoner's release he gets a phone card with 15 minutes on it. Thats it. Card good only at the prison phones that are subject to being recorded.

No chat; no fraudulent use relating to ordered merchandise or credit cards.

Anonymous said...

In the phone system that is being installed, you have to put $50 down in to get the thing started and the only way you can add money is to keep at least $50 in it. So if you got down to $10 in the account, you'll have to come up with $40 to keep it on. After that, it books collect calls to that number.
And in the women's units in Gatesville, an inmnate is only allowed to use the phone every 60 days. If we want the men and women in the system to come out at reentry and reconnect to their children (Because the research shows this to be a key factor to staying out), those phone calls need to be at least once a week.
Those inmates had no excuse for having cell phones and the guards had no business selling them. But we need to take a look at the root causes of recidivism and address those issues. Locking down all inmates and searching all the guards does little to even acknowledge those issues.

Anonymous said...

facing west ~ do you have a link that gives that information?

Unknown said...

Here's a story that came up on a quick Google search on "Arkansas inmate phone". I searched Arkansas because I recently helped a family here in Texas that couldn't afford the exorbitant cost. Some deeper searching would reveal much more information; my experience is that the inmate phone racketeers are a notch below payday loan companies in the way they gouge those with the least options and the fewest resources.

Family members complain about cost of phone calls from state inmates

Anonymous said...

I understand the need and desire to call one's family, spouse and children. NO wonder cell phones top the list (below drugs)-

Anonymous said...

I too am wondering why a home made board would be confiscated since it is probably impossible to get a monopoly game in one of the units given family members can't even bake cookies and take them in, enjoy love making with a spouse, or order any old thing they want from a catalog. Even some books are contraband!!... and we call this place America with the right to an unsensored press!!!

Anonymous said...

To the anonomyous writer at 0913- The price of calling from the TDCJ has been set and it is 23 to 26 cents a minute. High way robbery for single income families and children in foster care wanting to hear from a parent.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fleastiff- Did you really write this: " If the family can't afford to pay for a phone call then the family is not really worth much consideration at all." You consider poor people not worth much consideration????

Unknown said...

Yeah, that's a pretty typical reaction. What "they don't deserve it" fails to realize is that they're making themselves less safe. These men (mostly) are going to be back on the street one day. We WANT their families there to help them, from the day they go into the joint, until the day they come out, and beyond.

In the current system, the only prisoners who can afford to talk to anyone on the outside... are the ones who have criminal friends on the outside. They can afford a $100 phone bill. The families of the small-time criminals don't.

End result: prison separates men from the only support they had. It becomes a criminal conveyor belt, an assembly line for misery. And with the privatization of prisons, there's profit to be made in recidivism.

(But you can take reform too far... I have to say that "enjoy love making to your spouse" counts as one of those things incarceration is *supposed* to separate you from. It needs to be punishment; just not punishment that guarantees continued punishing.)

Anonymous said...

In reference to why the prisonopoly game was confiscated, it is considered non-dangerous contraband (previously classified as nuisance contraband).TDCJ's website defines this as follows.

"Non-Dangerous contraband is any item, which represents a threat to the management of the unit/facility or is in violation of agency rules. This includes, but is not limited to: authorized property which has been altered, damaged (except for electrical cords), is in excess of allowable amounts, or is out of place (e.g., a razor at recreation, magazine in the dining hall); any item not authorized for the offender to possess; and any item made from state property without authorization, spoiled food items and empty containers."

Anonymous said...

If you had any respect for our system then you would keep your children....all, that you can't support off the Texas welfare system and out of jail! It all goes back to the lame parents that live off the rest of us and expect us to keep them and their's up! If you can't feed them...don't lie back and breeed them.

Anonymous said...

the tdcj officials justify pat searching everyone who enters and leaves the prisons by saying they have "reasonable suspicion" to search everyone based on the belief that contraband has been brought into prisons. what a load of crap.

FleaStiff said...

"reasonable suspicion" to pat down visitors?
Nah. Its just fun to subject the visitors to delay and indignity. The guards doing imposing it come from pretty much the same social class and are more likely to be the ones bringing in most of the contraband, but the guards have the power to search visitors and that is what they enjoy doing.

Anonymous said...

The recent decision by Gov. Perry and the Directors of TDCJ to pat search visitors is nothing more than an attempt to direct attention from the real problem. Officers brought in the cell phones and officers should submit to pat searches. That fool on dealth row's family who participated in it SHOULD be procecuted.

Family members should not be subjected to "suspicion" of introducing contraband until contraband is suspected. I guess with TDC it is guilty until proven innocent. This decision has done nothing but piss alot of people off. I for one will not allow anyone to put their hands on me without cause. I have to now choose my dignity over seeing my spouse. There are some out here that will not do "anything" just to see our family. We may be few and far between but we exist.

What exactly is the procedure for children? What difference does it make if the person patting you is male or female? There are perverts in gray too.

Being under paid and under appreciated is no excuse for doing wrong. Once again, TDC has found a way to punish the innocent.

JoAnnAtkinson said...

I have no doubt that the phone calls will be too expensive! Look at the price of the snacks in the snack machines!!! I called the # on the Beto 1 unit snack machines, and found out that the LIGHTHOUSE OF THE BLIND is responsible for those high prices in those machines! Needless to say, I won't be giving to them anymore! Why try to price gouge the visitors!!!!!!!!!!! Call and complain about the prices in the snack machines and find out who is responsible. However, I guess if be complain, they will take the machines out. So, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't! That is just a little how the inmates must feel! ;-(