Friday, November 14, 2008

Dozens of guards caught smuggling contraband during TDCJ lockdown

Yesterday's Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing began with Chairman John Whitmire questioning Department of Criminal Justice executive director Brad Livingston regarding the recent lockdown targeting cell phones and other contraband. 

Livingston said TDCJ has found 132 cell phones so far on 22 units, including another one on death row, with 46 of those found patting down guards on the front end. TDCJ has also found tobacco 87 times during the lockdown, marijuana 25 times. Seven or eight units, said Livingston, accounted for the bulk of the contraband found. 

Sen. Whitmire said that contraband is contributing to Texas' prison capacity problem because inmates are assigned thousands of extra years as punishment for contraband that's mostly brought in by guards. In a debate over why TDCJ hadn't previously patted down guards on their way into prison units, Livingston told Whitmire that, because of the staffing shortage, there had been a concern that it would contribute to an oppressive environment for staff and limit retention. You mean if you found officers smuggling in contraband you'd have to fire them and you couldn't afford to lose that many people?, asked Whitmire incredulously. Livingston backtracked to insist they'd been worried about good staff leaving because they didn't want to be searched, but Whitmire's interpretation is probably closer to the truth. After all, just minutes before Livingston told the senator they'd found 46 employees smuggling cell phones AFTER the lockdown was announced! There's no telling how many more they've lost over tobacco and other items.

Livingston said TDCJ is preparing a package of improvements aimed at reducing contraband smuggling costing about $30 million, including metal detectors and cameras, mostly targeting the top 20 units where contraband has been found. 

See prior, related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

The Senator waas 100% correct! I was in a "brain-storming" meeting and employee searches came up. The Administrator immediatey stated we could not shake down officers routinely because we would be much shorter (officer shortages)then we were.

I have said this before but I believe it bears repeating: Breathing bodies are being sent to units. They should no more be correctional officers than a convicted child molester should work in a day care. They cannot shoot, defend themselves, write reports, and are in poor physical condition. (Not all of them; but, sadly, most of them). When unit administrators attempt to fire them (By recommending termination to the Executive Director as only he can fire them)the recommendation is seldom carried out. This has been going on for years!

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

The Senator, I think, over estimates the correlation between overcrowding in TDCJ units and inmates being given longer sentences for posession of contraband. It is contributory, but not in a high way I doubt.

Overcrowding is down to more people being sent there (or back there), and fewer people being released (at the end of their time, into halfway houses, treatment programmes or out on parole when the law clearly states they could be).

I'm still waiting for a list of names of those guards found to be in possession of contraband. The media were quick enough to name the family members of the DR inmate.

Anonymous said...

Listen to the first 20 minutes of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice conducted 11-13-08.
Senator John Whitmire is right on. I cannot believe a "Bean-Counter" week-end hire with NO correctional experience is still collecting state pay as the ED of TDCJ.

Brad's responses to Senator Whitmire's questions would be humorous if the situation wasn't so explosive.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Is Grits just in favor of civil rights for offenders, or does he value civil rights for everyone? Why is he so quick to forfeit guards rights?

I worked at TDCJ and Livingston is right. Good officers will not put up with being patted down before shifts. It's demeaning.

Grits nearly sh*t a brick because APD stopped him while he was walking down the street. Imagine if they had PHYSICALLY search him and his granddaughter before letting them go. That's a whole other level of intrusion.

Metal detectors and wands probably wouldn't bother most guards, but a "laying on of hands" will not fly. Livingston knows this through experience. Unlike Grits, he isn't just guessing about employee reactions.

Like any profession, we have our fair share of bad apples, but if all they found was cigarettes, pot, and cell phones, I'd say they are doing a great job of keeping contraband controlled. Where are all the shanks, kiddie porn, etc.?

It's a little sad that some Senator gets some calls from some guy on death row and TDCJ is locked down and 30 million dollars worth of "improvements" are planned, but when that guard got killed by a trustee not long ago, I didn't hear anything about any measures that would be taken to improve working conditions for guards. This is just another example of special treatment for an "important" member of our ruling class.

Anonymous said...

If there were any common sense at all, they would air condition the prisons. The result would be better quality staff and far lower medical costs.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 11.14 said
"Good officers will not put up with being patted down before shifts. It's demeaning. "

Does it feel demeaning because you dont think you have done anything wrong? Does it feel demeaning because you dont like to be treated like a criminal?

Now you know what inmate families feel like every time they go into a prison. Yes there are some inmate families who try to get contraband inside a prison, but yes there are also COs who try (and succeed) to do the same thing. You are no more special than anyone else, so why should you be above suspicion when we are not? Yes, families choose to visit, but COs choose to take the job.

What I truely dont understand is why TDCJ do not have dedicated search teams who do not work at any one unit but who can turn up unannounced at any time and search anywhere they choose. It is obvious that TDCJ cannot police itself by using the same guards to shakedown cells that are then being caught taking contraband in.

There are good COs who feel that the staff searches are a good thing if it gets rid of the dirty bosses who are unreliable and a danger to everyone.

anon also said:
"Like any profession, we have our fair share of bad apples, but if all they found was cigarettes, pot, and cell phones, I'd say they are doing a great job of keeping contraband controlled. Where are all the shanks, kiddie porn, etc.?"

Do you honestly think TDCJ would make it publicly known that shanks, kiddie porn etc HAD been found? They are in enough trouble as it is without adding to the fire they are already standing on. I would think a lot of all kinds of contraband has been found, but as COs keep telling me, that is part of their job. If you keep inmates inactive for long periods of time, they have plenty of opportunity to come up with ideas to disrupt the running of their surroundings. If you deny someone practically everything, including the means to regain some self respect by being able to financially take care of himself, it leaves you little to take away when he does something wrong, and little for him to lose.

Do we know which units had cell phones? Proportionally, were more or less phones found at female units? I'm starting to wonder if this is all a male pride thing rather than a Corrections thing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 11:40 - From a Fourth Amendment perspective, what happens on a public street does not compare to what happens when you enter or leave a secure prison unit, just like we subject ourselves to various indignities, many of them demeaning, in order to to enter the airport or the courthouse.

I agree with you a physical search could seem demeaning because it imputes suspicion without cause, and I don't necessarily expect employees to like it. But that's frequently part of working in a profession that involves a significant public trust - intrusive accountability measures. E.g., does it demean an undercover officer to be searched, by policy, before going into a "sting" situation to purchase drugs? Arguably it does, since it implies that the person might set up an innocent suspect, but in the end it's just as much to protect the officer from someone claiming later they brought the dope with them. Similarly, reducing contraband flow benefits COs, arguably, most of all - at least the ones that don't profit from the trafficking.

Besides, what's your idea? How else are they supposed to reduce contraband smuggling when metal detectors don't stop it (even on death row) and they've found 800 or so cell phones at TDCJ units this year alone?

Anonymous said...

Everyday non- criminals are padded own. At airports, schools, courthouses, etc... .

Guards should be padded down as well. They choose to work there, if they are offended- oh well- someone else who needs a job will take there place. I am not crying any tears for them.

The guards who were caught should be at the very least outted. They should be

Anonymous said...

I think the prisons ought to get very very high tech. I don't know why their metal detectors are not stopping cell phones from coming in. That alone needs investigation.
Seems there are several computerized audio and video technologies that could be used on every one and guards could be randomly electronically searched as a surprise, and maybe some of these electronic searches could even be conducted without the guard's knowledge.

I am just throwing out some ideas. I do know that random surprise searches should be routine for the prisoners and the guards. The lockdown of a whole unit seems kind of archaic with today's technology.

Can't believe the prisons are not air conditioned. They need to get those prisoners setting up alternative energy factories on the sites and start turning on the air NOW.

W W Woodward said...

The items you have listed are Prohibited substances and items, not just contraband.

Texas Penal Code


Text of subsection as amended by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., R.S., Ch. 949, Sec. 48

(a) A person commits an offense if the person provides:

(3) a cellular telephone, cigarette, tobacco product, or money to an inmate of a correctional facility operated by or under contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or to a person in the custody of a secure correctional facility or secure detention facility for juveniles, except for money that is provided for the benefit of the juvenile in accordance with facility rules;

Text of subsection as amended by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1092, Sec. 1

(a) A person commits an offense if the person provides:

(3) a cellular telephone or other wireless communications device or a component of one of those devices, cigarette, tobacco product, or money to an inmate of a correctional facility operated by or under contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;

(d) A person commits an offense if the person:

(1) possesses a controlled substance or dangerous drug while:

(A) on property owned, used, or controlled by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Youth Commission, or a secure correctional facility or secure detention facility for juveniles;

(g) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree.

So... How many COs have had criminal charges filed? Or, are the TDCJ COs exempt from criminal action?

Maybe TDCJ is working on the premise that it's better to have dirty officers than to have no officers at all. Of course, this reminds me of an instance when a TDCJ Training Capt. told me, "We're a state agency. We aren't concerned with that penal code."

Anonymous said...

Demeaning to a CO to be patted down? Excuse me, but it is demeaning to me to be patted down when I have done nothing to cast suspicion except visit a prisoner. I am forced to remove my jewelry, publicly announce I am wearing an unwire bra and explain the steel rod in my arm. Before you say that is my "choice" for visiting a prison, be sure you say the same thing to the CO that works there.

When and if we finally get a full public report of the three week lockdown I would like to see the names of those CO's caught with contraband, if they were terminated, and if criminal charges were filed on them. They should have a record that reflects their inability to be trusted in any sort of security work in the future.

This is worth repeating: Until we raise the standard requirements for becoming a correctional officer, until we pay a salary that supports their family, and until we are willing to shoulder the cost of running a decent prison system we will continue to see guards carrying contraband into units.

Anonymous said...

TYC is in the same boat as its big brother. JCO and CSW staff provide contraband up to and including illicit drugs to youth offenders everyday. Evins is a prime example but not the only TYC unit where this practice continues daily.

Gone in 15 Minutes

Anonymous said...

Senator John Whitmire has shit for brains. He's been on the criminal justice committee for at least a couple decades, and during that time conditions in TDCJ have deteriorated to their lowest point since the special master days of Ruiz. Only in Texas could such a moron as John Whitmire be chairman of a criminal justice committee. Get rid of the bum!

Anonymous said...

Those "poor" officers. Having to be subjected to pat searches. Get over it. If you are not dirty, then why worry? We visitors have to be pat searched now. If you are not dirty don't worry. With some of the officers, the ONLY difference between them and the offenders, is, that the officer didn't get caught. I'm not sayin ALL officers fall in to this catagory, just some of them. As for the visitors, if you refuse to be pat searched you WILL be refused entry. Is that the same for the officers? I don't know. If TDCJ would raise the bar across the board, They might just get the officers they want. I have read the other boards, and they are sayin the same thing. They want a raise, stricter hiring practices, etc. What about the upper administration? when they go to a unit(like that's rally gonna happen)are they being subjected to the same pat searches. or are they just being waved thru?

When I go for a visit, I have to be pat searched. I endure this to see my husband. He endures a lot more, just to see me. You go on TDCJ property, you are bound by their rules. Its your choice to be on their property. It doesn't matter if you are a officer,visitor or whoever you are. Don't like to be searched? Don't go. I endure this humilitation for my husband. 99% of the visitors do whats right, dress the right way,etc. It's the other 1% that messes it up for the rest of us. If TDCJ had been doing this from the beginning, then there would not have been a problem. Mr. Livingston excuse as to why they didn't search the officers is lame. He's been crawfishin the whole time. Just as soon as the senator asks himn about it, he studders and stammers, buying himself time to come up with an answer that will make him look good. All that does is make him look incompentant. What about that person who gave him wrong legal information? they are still employed with TDCJ. Had that been ANY other work place, They would have been fired., But since it is TDCJ, its just swept under the rug.

So what do we know? Basically, TDCJ is run by incompentant people, offenders ore being supervised by corrupt officers(not all, so don't go there)and the visitors are being blamed and being violated.

Anonymous said...

Excuse my ignorance, but what good do "pat searches" do. From my understanding so far, pat searches won't find things in the places where things are being hidden.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 10.21 ~ visitors are not supposed to take anything other than ID, car keys, and $20 in quarters in a clear bag or purse and those things (at the unit I visit) are to be placed on the table next to the metal detector while you walk through. A pat-search will let the officer establish if you have anything else in your pockets, inside your clothes, or taped to your body that might not have set off the detector.

Anonymous said...


Let me make this perfically clear. 99% of the visitors did not bring the cell phones in. That was the guards. Check the other boards. The offenders are stripped searched coming from and going to visitation. If a visitor is caught bringing in contraband, I say fry them. They put all visitors at risk. Visitation is privilage, not a right. TDCJ can ban ALL visits. But they all know what will happen if that does take place. So they don't. I don't care if i am pat searched. I am not dirty. I would NEVER do anything that would put my privialge in jepordy. Not only does the visitor get romoved for the list, the offender is put in seg, his cell searched, the visitor is arrested and sent to jail. The officers are NOT allowed to do a cavity search. THere are rules they have to go by. They go up the chain of command. Higher ups can only make that decision. If there is a visitor that is acting suspious, then i think the outside law is called. It is a state felony to bring contraband in to a penal instutation. (sorry about misspelled words. not very good at that)

Anonymous said...

Dozens of guards deprived of lucretive perks that were a serious reason for their taking the jobs in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Some people are attracted to these prisoners for a reason. They have to be around them - hooked on them. Just like in TYC.

Anonymous said...

It is nothing new that contraband is getting into our prison system.However when they do find it they want to blame the inmates and charge them with major cases.Also why is it that they have been getting away with criminal activity.Ww know the inmate did not get there for singing to loud in the choir.But we do know how it is brought in. Dont we.My husband and I received a threating letter from an inmate that was in the cell with my stepson, guess what whitmire did not do a dam thing about it. go figure