Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cell phone trafficking in Texas prisons

Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman has an excellent piece this morning describing in detail how investigators believe cell phones and other contraband were smuggled onto Texas death row ("Texas prison cell phone smuggling blamed on inmate rings," Feb. 15):

Instead of the phone being smuggled by a single corrupt guard, as originally thought, investigators now say it and dozens of others might have been put in the hands of Texas' worst killers by an intricate network of supporters and their families who used code words, fake names, money transfers, prearranged drop sites and even a secret compartment at the bottom of a garbage can to get the phones inside what is supposed to be the most secure part of Texas' prison system.

Investigators say they believe several organized groups are involved in the trafficking.

"From the time someone puts up the money to get the phone for an inmate, there may be six to eight sets of hands involved with that phone, six to eight different people who do one thing or another," said the prison system's top investigator, Inspector General John Moriarty. "It's a convoluted, complicated network that's very difficult to trace. And it's going to be very difficult to shut off, because as soon as we bust someone, another person will step in and start it all over again.

"The demand is the problem. It's huge."

If nothing else, the new details explain why smuggling cell phones into Texas prisons continues almost unabated four months after [Richard] Tabler's arrest triggered an unprecedented lockdown of the 154,800-inmate system, a new zero-tolerance policy on all contraband and an emergency request by prison officials for $66 million to upgrade security to curb the problem.

TDCJ had earlier announced it had caught dozens of guards smuggling cell phones onto prison units, so this news doesn't necessarily exonerate TDCJ from allegations of guard corruption, but it certainly complicates the picture involving cell phone smuggling and makes it a more difficult challenge to solve. Definitely read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

Once again, TDCJ Admin say "it's not us, it's the families" instead of just growing a pair and putting in place real employment procedures so that they are not hiring from the bottom of the barrel, and then using those staff to police themselves. It's the easiest option to pacify the Legislators without actually doing anything about the problem.

Most COs will tell you, it is impossible to stop 100% of contraband getting in to the prisons, but it IS possible to stop a lot more than they are able to at the moment, IF they have more reliable staff. Contractors and civilian staff need to be vetted and searched as thoroughly as anyone else every time they entre a facility, and that is not happening at the moment. Perimeter checks are not conducted as often as they should be, so packages get thrown over the fences and picked up by those involved.

If the levels of 'security' employed when the ACA are due to visit could be sustained throughout the rest of the year, things would begin to improve. But that wont happen, because it is easier for everyone to point the finger at inmate families. If I can see it, and the COs can see it, why cant the Admin and the Legislators?

Whoever is involved, all the way down the chain, all these pairs of hands mentioned in the news report, need to be prosecuted and publicly named - including any TDCJ staff. But stop the scapegoating.

Rage Judicata said...

Investigators say they believe several organized groups are involved in the trafficking.

The guards are the one set of people they have control over. Stop the guards from doing it, and it'll stop.

Anonymous said...

--------Inspector General John Moriarty--.----Sounds like a mid-century murder mystery! You can't make this stuff up so credit has to go to Texas for comming up with a good story.

The truth is that the Texas Prsion system is dysfunctional from the top to the bottom. It has gotten so bad that they can no longer keep their failures covered up, hushed up and out of the news.

Texas does not want to solve the problems, all the effort currently goes toward keeping everything quiet. Until there is a genuine effort to solve some of these problems, everyone involved is at risk of serious harm. Families, prisoners, guards and even political careers!

Anonymous said...

to the comments prior to mine:
amen, amen & amen!!!

Anonymous said...

The whole bunch of the SOB are worse than those IN TJPCO and TYC, put together. Replace adminin and 905 of the guards; a freash start is needed.

Anonymous said...

Ditto 1:02

I just strikes me as odd that they would be releasing this story prior to arresting these "rings"

It makes my BS alarm sound even louder than it usually does regarding any story coming from TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

Well now, this does shed some light on things. A post from the comments section of the Statesman site by jarenaud.

"First, no trusties work in the fields. The cons out there are Line Class inmates, all under the direct supervision of armed guards on horseback. There is a distinction to be made between "outside trusties" and regular trusties. The first usually live in trusty camps, outside the regular prison. But most cons are in fact trusties of one kind or another. The support service inmates (SSIs) work both inside and outside the gates. This designation is reserved for SSI janitors and SSI clerks. Second, the distinction as to which type of inmate works outside is smoke, because no matter what security level a con is in, every one must get naked and be strip searched before coming into the prison compound itself and a competent, well-trained, alert guard will find a phone. So to get a phone to a high-security area like Death Row requires one of three things - a convict walking through many gates, all of them manned by incompetent guards who do not strip search him or do so in such a lackluster fashion he can smuggle a phone through; that same convict walking through those gates confident that the guards are paid off or in business with him; or one guard bringing in a phone directly to Death Row. Which do you think is more likely? My third point - no matter who you are as a con, there is no way a smuggling operation like this can thrive without the direct collusion of the guards, or at least a knowledge of their astonishing incompetence and indifference on a specific shift on a specific day."

Anonymous said...

Makes me wonder what Kool-Aid Ward's been drinking lately...perhaps he's being vetted for the head cheerleader for the $66 million TDCJ wants to throw away on new security measures. TDCJ would be better served by using $66 million as a starter for increased salaries to CO's. Pay the guards a living salary and they won't be so tempted to wink and nod at the contraband that's getting in.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled at the accusation that inmate family groups are behind the contraband. As Chair of TX CURE I can tell you none of our members would be so stupid as to jeopardize the trust we have to maintain in order to be able to work with TDCJ . The only thing we get into TDCJ prisons are fans for indigent prisoners and that on a legal route through the Commissary. I have to agree with sunray's wench on "the rest of the story".
Helga Dill, Chair, TX CURE

Anonymous said...

TX CURE do you do background checks on your members.

Anonymous said...

I was referring to the 10 Board members who I deal with on a daily basis and know who and what they deal with.
Helga Dill

Anonymous said...

Labor quality is what is needed in the long term to stabilize the organization and minimize corruption within TDCJ. We expanded like most other states in the 90's, and those who control the funds have never really made a significant investment into our workforce. We are 47th nationally and even 13th among the Southern states in regards to compensation. This is not something which the leadership controls.
The opportunity for a real investment in our prison system is now. With that investment the leadership can immediately begin to physically and psychologically test recruits as we do in law enforcement and other corrections agencies. This will stabilize the agency, foster professionalization, minimize corruption and enhance the quality of life for everyone in the near future through labor quality.

Please don't be so shallow as to blame TDCJ leadership for things which they cannot control. They have done well with the Texas prison system despite inadequate resources.


Anonymous said...

anon @ 9.11 ~ why would TX CURE need to do background checks on members? It is the TDCJ employees who are in a position of power, and it would appear that as long as they are breathing and have a pulse, they are accepted. The memebers of TX CURE (and any other division of CURE) I suspect have already been 'background checked' to TDCJ standards because they are family members of TDCJ inmates.

Anonymous said...

BB..I'll begin with your comment about how well TDCJ leadership has done. What world are you living in? TDCJ leadership plays "pass the buck" every chance they get. As sunray's wench has indicated, it is much easier to blame inmate family members for the contraband than to take the responsibility right where it the hands of the guards who bring the contraband in and out. The in is what is the problem...the out is cold, hard cash.

Although those of us who post on Grits keep complaining, I don't see our Legislature taking the bull by the horns and raising the salaries of CO's. I had reason to talk with a woman about her son and a problem with the unit he was on only to find that her husband, an MHMR patient, was sent by MHMR to fill out an application to be a CO at a job fair for TDCJ. I know it warmed my heart to know a mentally unstable person could and probably would be hired to supposedly guard Texas citizens from the worse of the worse. Then we have the Nigerians being shipped over here to work in our prisons. Read some of the guard websites and you will find out how well these foreigners are accepted by the CO's in Texas. They are usually sleeping in the pickets.

I had reason to send the new visitation procedures to an inmate. Several CO's ask him if they could read because THEY HAD NOT SEEN THE PROCEDURES. What is wrong with this picture?

Whitmire thinks TDCJ can stop all contraband. Whitmire is wrong. As long as we have prisoners we are going to have contraband. The question is how dangerous is the contraband going to be. This state is so worried about a little light porn going in that they spend money for people to stop it while a load of cell phones come in the back door.

One person asks if TX CURE does a background check on their members. Amazing indeed. Perhaps they should ask if TDCJ does a background check on their new hires. For that matter, are they watching the old guards? I've even sent arrest reports to TDCJ showing them how upstanding their CO's are. Anything from family violence to DWI arrests and these people are still employed.

So, once again TDCJ is coming up with a "story" to feed to the public about contraband. It is the family is the gangs. It is high time for these administrators to suck it up and realize we are not as stupid as they think.

Anonymous said...

Actually anonymous 434, you are not stupid at all, and we are indeed from the same planet. We agree completely with the exception of the fact that you suggest our leadership denies that there are corrupt employees. They freely admit that this is a true fact. It is also true however that there are others involved in organizaed crime helping to facilitate the introduction of contraband into our prisons. We have a problem with the quality of our labor force! The political leadership must commit to the necessary investment if we are to make the necessary adjustments to our screening and selection procedures. This will provide us in less than 24 months with the camaraderie and the stabilization necessary to minimize corruption. You are correct to suggest that we can never completely eradicate the problem, but with a professional workforce that is compensated fairly and supervised effectively, we can eliminate the majority of the corruption. Technology is only as good as the people who operate it. Why should we invest 66 million in new technology, but be forced to hire legal immigrans to operate and maintain it? Our elected officials have been allowed to neglect the prison system for many years. The truth will evetually be told. I simply pray that others do not have to sufer and /or die as a result of our irresponsibility.
I thank you for your comments.


Unknown said...

I believe TDCJ will say and do anything to take the spotlight off the agency. Not saying that there are not family members who engage in corrupt behavior to aid their convicted loved ones, but most of us have better things to do with our time. Or our precious time is spent by waiting three hours in visitation lines.

Anonymous said...

BB ~ Perhaps TDCJ should recruit from the state that pays its correctional officers 48th out of 50?

Anonymous said...

Just about every state funded institution in Texas is out of control, from the public education system to the prison system and everything in between.

Where do we lay the blame?

Every politico that has been in office more than one term needs to turn in their resignation tommorrow.

From Perry on down........

Jean ValJean said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned what I consider to be a straightforward tech solution to this issue.

I mean, if prisoners *knew* that their cell phone conversation were being recorded, it would probably put a big dent in the ones that wanted to have one.

jimbino said...

The solution is simple, as I've already explained to Mike Ward: install in all prisons (easy to do in new ones) a Faraday cage that consists of preferably copper screenwire with mesh-size below than a cell-phone half wavelength, which will be on the order of a centimeter to a millimeter.

This is what we radio engineers do to the lab we use to test our designs of radio and TV transmitters and receivers. It's called a "screen room."

If the Faraday cage is grounded, no calls can get in or out. If it is not properly grounded, no calls can get in. Either way, the cellphone would be pretty useless. No jamming would be necessary, though by letter of the law, it would amount to interference with radio transmissions.

To provide for prison official cell-phone use, an internal antenna station, like a phone booth, could be installed.

Are prison officials more dumb than evil?

Anonymous said...

The truth is that the Texas Prsion system is dysfunctional from the top to the bottom. It has gotten so bad that they can no longer keep their failures covered up, hushed up and out of the news.

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