Monday, March 16, 2009

Few prison guards fired, prosecuted for contraband smuggling

What happens to Texas prison staff caught smuggling contraband into prisons? For the most part, nothing, says a report by the Houston Chronicle ("Illicit goods keep flowing into prisons," March 15):

Texas prisons are a virtual bazaar of prohibited and illicit goods smuggled in by guards and correctional employees who have rarely faced harsh punishment when caught, according to a Houston Chronicle review.

Nearly 300 employees, many lowly paid correctional officers, were reprimanded for possessing prohibited items at 20 prison units with the most pervasive contraband problem between 2003 and 2008, records show.

Of the 263 employees disciplined solely for contraband, about three-fourths (199) were given probation, where they were placed under special scrutiny for specified periods. Thirty-five were fired; 26 received no punishment at all. One of the 263 was criminally prosecuted for the contraband, but served no prison time.

This reminds me that 46 guards last fall were caught smuggling cell phones onto Texas prison units during a lockdown aimed at removing contraband. One wonders what punishments they received after implementation of TDCJ's new "zero tolerance" policy?

It appears contraband cases are not being aggressively prosecuted, the Chron reports:
Gina DeBottis, head of the prison system’s Special Prosecution Unit, has sought to prosecute 68 prison employees for contraband since 2003, filing more than 90 charges. At least nine cases were dismissed after indictment for various reasons, and grand juries refused charges in three other instances, records show. The rest are pending, she said.
Unless those cases are mostly from last fall, that seems like a long time for so many prosecutions to languish.

I've written before that "zero tolerance is not a policy." Declaring "zero tolerance" doesn't tell us if an employee will be reprimanded, fired or prosecuted for smuggling contraband - it's just a media soundbite, and one that seems increasingly meaningless the more we learn about how TDCJ actually deals with staff engaged in contraband smuggling.

If Texas prisons weren't so understaffed, maybe TDCJ wouldn't feel the need to keep employees caught smuggling contraband on the payroll just to minimally cover its shifts.


Anonymous said...

In contrast, it would be interesting to find out the discipline and/or conviction stats on the inmates who were caught with same contraband.

Accountability is preached in the criminal justice system. Good for goose but not for gander?

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Ms Lyons saying something about making sure the punishment was fitting to the type of contraband being brought in, in some way to justify why so many Officers just get the chance to resign, or end up with a probation instead of the 40 years that inmates are routinely threatened with.

Its not even a case of believing corrupt officers and not believing the inmates anymore, it is so blatently obvious that TDCJ are not trying to prosecute corrupt staff.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, it has not only been the officers but supervisors also. Reassignments are cozier than firing. So many avoid being fired by being reassigned or resigning all together. Prosecution of this has not been very successful in this area. Interestingly, the local Sheriff has arrested 2 jailers and one entered guilty plea. Maybe it time for cameras in the clocks and more intense investigative approaches, not a "witch hunt" mind you.

Anonymous said...

The Texas Legislature is the one to blame here. If they paid and recruited professionals, than these officers could be prosecuted like professionals. Juries have trouble prosecuting some low IQ guard.

TDCJ can't staff the prisons in the middle of a recession. I hope the Feds come in and take over TDCJ. It will cost the state BILLIONS. Texas tax payers need to be punished for electing idiots to office. Get out your checkbook this mismanagement is going to cost us all.

W W Woodward said...

Providing a cell phone to an inmate is a felony.

Of course, "The Texas penal code doesn't apply to us. We're a state agency."

Trickle down ethics. Ethics? What's that?

One cannot expect a high degree of ethics from an underling when management totally disregards ethical conduct.

Anonymous said...

the guards know the rules, and law their should be held accountable for their action, why give an inmate a felony when the guard brought it . they also should be givin a felony and serve time in prison.the law should apply to everyone. even those who think they are above the law nobody is.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the inmate telephone companies (lot of them out there) lobbied for the law making it a felony to provide an inmate with a cell phone, whether it be in a county jail or TDCJ?

Anonymous said...

Again -- the irony of TDCJ stomping into TYC facilities to investigate and take over in 2007. I couldn't laugh openly then, but I can now.


Anonymous said...

At present contraband brought into secure facilities by employees, visitors and volunteers is subject to local DA's to prosecute. Change the law that the Attorney General's office has jurisdiction over contraband brought into state property and you will increase the number of convictions by 10 fold.

Change the law.

Unknown said...

I an a criminal defense lawyer, and I represet a guard who is charges with bringing in, among other things, a cellphone.

It seems much ado about very little. Hasn't anybody seen Shawshank Redemption? Where do you think Red got the rock-hammer he gave to Andy? FROM A C.O.!