Tuesday, September 08, 2009

New threats to Whtimire's family punctuate failed TDCJ contraband crackdown; Might cell phone locators work better than jammers?

The death row inmate who called state Sen. John Whtimre and set off last year's scandal about cell phones on prisons didn't get convicted of capital murder because he's a really smart guy.

Somebody has been posting Richard Tabler's letters from prison online and in one of them written in June (no longer on the site), amidst complaints that his mother and sister are being prosecuted for helping him get a cell phone, he issued yet another veiled threat to the family of the Senate Dean, wondering ominously about the wellbeing of Whitmire's ex-wife.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. Dumb to write it, dumb for authorities to let it out of the prison walls, and dumb for whoever is posting Tabler's letters to publish it. The result was another round of media hype and likely even more prosecutorial zeal aimed at his family, as opposed to, say, the prison guards smuggling phones onto death row.

Whitmire and US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison have suggested installing cell phone jammers in state prisons, but that would require an act of Congress and has raised hackles among electronic consumer advocates and first responders who fear interference with emergency frequencies.

During this debate, several observers have suggested cell-phone locators instead of jammers, so I was interested to see this story about a demonstration last week of cell-phone tracking technology in a Maryland prison:

The technology tested Thursday is designed to enable corrections officials to locate and root out contraband cell phones. It differs from cell phone jamming devices that would block signals and render cell phones useless in prison. Federal law now prohibits states from using the jamming devices, and legislation in Congress would change the law to allow states to use them.

The detection equipment demonstrated Thursday by five of the six vendors would not require a change in the law, because their equipment doesn’t interfere with signals. The Federal Communications Commission granted a two-day license to one of the companies, Tecore Networks, because its technology cuts off an unauthorized cell phone call made from within a prison.

“If we can find a way to keep cell phones from being used from within the walls of our prisons to carry out criminal enterprises outside of prisons, I’m for whatever works, so we’ll see,” Gov. Martin O’Malley, who backs the cell phone jamming legislation in Congress, said Thursday.

Maryland has also requested a cell phone jamming demonstration at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in downtown Baltimore, but the state is still waiting for federal permission to hold it.

Notably, the detection equipment can be implemented right now with no change in the law or permission from anyone. Perhaps the FCC will even grant a waiver to cut off unauthorized calls. Without that capability, the tactic would be much more staff intensive. Still, if it's a priority, it'd be technologically possible to identify and chase down unauthorized cell phone users without blocking legitimate communications.

Either way, TDCJ could implement cell phone locator technology relatively quickly if it can find the funding. Maybe some of the money approved this spring for contraband prevention could be used for that - at least as a pilot on death row. Then there'd be no need to wait for an act of Congress or hammer out user agreements with neighboring entities that may legitimately need to circumvent prison jamming systems.

MORE: From the Statesman, "Prison chief: Slip-up in monitoring Tabler mail."


Anonymous said...

I wrote a Letter to Senator Hutchinson several weeks ago about the availability of this technology. I copied the letter to Senator Cornyn also. Funny thing though, I've yet to hear from Hutchinson but got a letter from Cornyn acknowledging he received a copy of the letter I sent to Hutchinson.

Adult transplant said...


Again you are wrong when you suggest that prison authorities are dumb for allowing this to exit the facility. There are any number of 100 ways this could be accomplished. There are in all likelihood a 101 considering the growing pains of TDCJ since the expansion of the 90's and the poor labor quality which has basically been ignored by our elected officials.
We all know you strive to stay in the good graces of the senator and his reporter, but please don't make comments about what happens inside the Texas prison system that you are not qualified to make.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Adult transplant: We simply disagree. I think it's dumber than dirt to allow a threat to the senator by the same inmate to leave death row in the outgoing mail.

And since you don't have the cojones to write under your real name and instead spew insults anonymously, I guess we can't compare credentials.

Try to learn to disagree without insulting others, and your opinions will be welcome here. If not, go away. In either case, TDCJ needs to be vetting death row inmates' outgoing mail.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I've probably missed it somewhere, but how do we know that this message was sent via cell phone? There are millions of ways to code a message into a letter so that it can't be detected. You seem to forget that a DR inmate has virtually 24 hours a day to come up with this stuff.....

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It wasn't sent via cell phone, it was sent out via snail mail then posted by someone on the outside, just like hundreds of other inmate "blogs".

Soronel Haetir said...

I honestly don't see active cell phone detection as much more than a band-aid. What else is getting smuggled besides phones?

The smuggling itself and the inability to stop it, even to inmates who have no contact with anyone other than staff is of much more concern.

Charlie O said...

They can't catch a death threat in a letter, yet they manage to keep the novel "Fried Green Tomatoes" out of the Lane Murray Unit claiming it is "racist."

BB said...


I do agree to disagree, and I again want you to know that I appreciate most of your commentaries. The insult here is you referring to prison authorities as dumb without having the necessary facts. The most recent threats to the senator were in all likelihood carried out and subsequently posted by an unsuitable staff member. One of many that prison authorities have had to hire over the past 15 years because they simply had no other choice.
To completely stop this one offender's efforts to harass our senator, we would have to isolate him in a seperate housing unit with a select group of employees supervising him 24 hours a day. This is not really feasible, and even with this you could not guarantee that he would not at some point find a way to get his communication to the outside world.
I won't entertain your remark about my private area, but I will address the comment about my choice not to publicize my birth given name. I prefer to occasionally use the alias that you gave to me a couple of years ago.

Soronel Haetir said...


Ummm, I for one would expect prisoners who have been sentenced to die to be housed in just such a unit with carefully screened personnel.

BB said...

When I say seperate housing unit I mean to suggest an area where he can be housed alone as a result of his terroristic conduct. There is no cell block on death row available for this one particular offender.
You and I agree that correctional staff should be carefully selected. In many jurisdictions including Texas, this is presently not the case. Poor labor quality and the unanticipated consequences is an area of particular interest to me.


Anonymous said...

Okay, sorry Grits, my mistake for thinking that the inmates blog was suspected of being sent via cell phone. The way the article jumped from the stupidity of the inmate and authorities right into the need for cell phone detecting technology I wasn't sure.

I have no idea who is assigned to inspect Mr. Tabler's mail, but you have no idea the volume of mail that must be inspected daily. While I am sure that Mr. Tabler's deserves some particular scrutiny, there are so many ways that inmates can slip stuff through the system that it is mind boggling. Don't assume that the stupidity of authorities allowed the threat to slip through.

Whitmire needs to quit publicly whining about feeling so threatened by this guy. If he thinks he feels threatened by a blog he should try working face to face with some of these guys. My thought is that every time he publicly responds to this creep he is giving him exactly what he wants.....more time in the spotlight.

Don said...

How do you know the letter was actually written by the inmate and escaped detection by the authorities? It could have been someone on the outside posting what he/she knew the inmate wanted communicated. The communication could have transpired in many different ways.

Anonymous said...

Death row or just a low level drug user, TDCJ strives to have "what happens on the unit stays on the unit" policy.

The fact that they're not successful with this policy does not present a huge concern for me. I'm leary of statistics promulgated by TDCJ about what goes on inside the prisons.

The ability of inmates to communicate with the outside world has the effect of creating some accountability for the operations of Prisons in Texas.

An occassional letter with a threat against some public official is a shame. At the same time, it does highlight the fact that TDCJ is not able to control their inmates as much as they would have us all believe.

The humane treatment of inmates is more of a concern because they will almost all be released someday. The benefits from independent information comming out of prisons keeps our society safe from unrestrained cruelty to inmates.

Hook Em Horns said...

Jeez! He doesn't need a cell phone to threaten Whitmire, he did it with PEN AND PAPER!! HELLO??? Cell phones are NOT the biggest contraband issue...CONTRABAND itself is.

As long as we allow trash to work as correctional officers and as long as we take a "doesn't affect me, so I dont care" attitude this will continue just like it has.


Hook Em Horns said...

Adult transplant said...


Again you are wrong when you suggest that prison authorities are dumb for allowing this to exit the facility. There are any number of 100 ways this could be accomplished.

Oh OK, they're smart then? What in the hell is wrong with you and the idiots running the prison system. This guy did not walk down the the post office now did he?

Prison authorities ARE dumb. THEY handled the letter making sure it got mailed unless the mail fairy took it.

GROW UP and accept responsibility for being part of this mess if indeed you are. Adult transplant? Coward!

Phasali said...

"A chaplain on Texas' death row has admitted helping condemned Killeen killer Richard Tabler smuggle letters out of prison — perhaps including one that threatened a Houston state senator and his family."


RAS said...

Grits, Adult T was right. It was carried out in one of the hundred ways, probably with the best of intentions. The point he's trying to make is the same one that TYC employees have been trying to get across for 2 years. If you haven't worked with cons you don't know. I've heard of 13 year olds talking 30 or 40 year old staff into doing things they knew they shouldn't. There are probably several dozen women a year that get talked into having sex with kids in TYC and I'll bet almost none of them believed thay could be talked into it when they hired on, after all they have sons or brothers or boyfriends that they know how to handle. A professional criminal's most important skill is lying. I used to make the kids write lines for lying. "Honorable men never need to lie." I had several refuse to write it; they didn't have any problem writing a promise to never lie again, they just couldn't handle saying that lying is dishonorable. Almost all consider themselves honorable, especially the gangbangers. Conning staff isn't an immediate priority, it's more like a way to pass the time (weeks or months or years). Successfully conning staff is huge victory for an inmate, getting one fired is winning the Super Bowl.