Monday, January 26, 2009

Cell phones still in prisons after zero tolerance contraband policy

The Austin Statesman's Mike Ward reports that the state prison system's crackdown on cell phones and contraband have continued after a lockdown last fall supposedly began an era of "zero tolerance" ("Cell phone smuggling continues," Jan. 26):

More than 200 cell phones have been confiscated in state prison cellblocks since a system-wide shakedown for contraband ended in November, almost twice as many as were seized during the lockdown.

Eight of the phones were seized from death row, where the crackdown started after a condemned two-time murderer called — and then threatened to kill — a powerful state senator.

“We’ve got some hard questions to ask about the zero-tolerance policy they supposedly put into effect,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston.

“What do we have to do enforce zero tolerance? What we see doesn’t look like zero tolerance. Obviously, I’m still concerned.”

In truth I don't think "zero tolerance" can ever be more than a slogan in a prison system the size of Texas', just like I don't think it's possible to completely "seal the border."

The best that can be done is to implement systemic safeguards, checks and balances to try to vet as many points of access as possible, and identify inmates possessing contraband through use of informants, periodic sweeps, or other means. But zero tolerance is a sound bite, not a policy. Clearly TDCJ continued diligently searching for cell phones and other contraband after the systemwide lockdown ended last fall, but the reality seems to be that more comes in about as fast as they can find it.


Anonymous said...

How do you get rid of corruption in TDCJ?

1) Do real background checks on applicants.
2) Hire mature adults (Age 21 and up).
3) Increase pay so you will actually have a good size applicant pool.
4) Do everything to keep your good employees, which means pay them.
5) Stop hiring anything and everything that walks in the door, or in some cases those who can't fit through the door.
6) Clean house and get rid of the trash you have left in the house for years, its stinking up the place. Some of that trash is in administration.
7) Austin needs to set the pace by being ethical and pay a fair wage to correctional employees. (That means you Senator Ogden) 48th worst paid state on the US payscale is not how you recruit and keep good employees.
8) Professionalize the correctional employees in Texas by a licensing program simular to TCLEOSE.
9) Quit trying to run a cheap system. You get what you pay for.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Excellent list, 12:02. And unfortunately, none of those are short-term fixes.

Anonymous said...

The first step would be to put leaders in charge of TDCJ, not accountants and other political hacks. Of course that isn't going to happen; there is to much money (budget)involved for any of the politicians to allow that to happen.

The only way to clean up TDCJ is to get rid of the non-qualified employees. Set the minimum standards for hiring and stick to those standards. This would translate to closing some prison facilties for awhile due to lack of staff. That certainly will not be allowed by those in Austin.

As the 12:02 AM Poster said, "You get what you pay for". This includes State Senators and Reps, as well as correctional offices and staff. Stay safe out there.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

"The best that can be done is to implement systemic safeguards, checks and balances to try to vet as many points of access as possible, and identify inmates possessing contraband through use of informants, periodic sweeps, or other means."

You are right. And to go a step further, as a condition of employment, personnel are going to have to be subjected to random searches while on TDCJ property.

After all, this is supposed to be secure work environment.

And I believe everyone knows that all of the measures you implement will not completely stop these acts. It is not a matter of it is going to happen.

The following breaking story from the Dallas Morning News, although not involving cell phones, is just another example of it's going to happen.

Now Grits, after you read this article, and especially the paragraph that says "Cunningham said Monday it will cost $857,000 to repair the jail. That includes repairing or replacing the security camera system, jail control boards, fire alarms and the air conditioning and heating systems", tell me if Texas Jail Standards bears some responsibility here.

I mean he.. man, what was the inspector looking at when he walked in. I know this county failed jail inspection last year, but I don't think all of this happened just last year.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Grits,

I can't get the link to post. The article is in this mornings Dallas Morning news about the Montague County jail.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yikes! Here's the link: Former Montague County sheriff pleads guilty to sexually assaulting drug suspect.

Anonymous said...

They really just need to go through the legal hoops to get cell phone signal blockers installed in the prisons if this is such a concern. Making it more difficult to hire guards will only exacerbate a system that is already overworked. My question is, How do you charge the battery on a cell-phone in prison?

Anonymous said...

Convicts have wall plugs.


Anonymous said...

Grits, maybe there just aren't any short-term fixes.

Anonymous said...


NEW !! Apple iPhone Now Support 3G
NEW !! Use Google Talk On iPhone
NEW !! Gadget Reviews, News and Videos
NEW !! Simply-A-GPS turns a cellular phone into a GPS device
NEW !! Star Trek Communicator to finally become phone for VoIP crowd?
NEW !! Find Gadget Phones Telephones and Unique Phone Gift Ideas
NEW !! Super Gadget Mobile Phones
NEW !! Solar Powered Cell Phone Charger