Thursday, May 06, 2010

Breakup of contraband smuggling ring implicates prison guards

A contraband ring broken up at the Coffield Unit in Palestine shows how inmates, prison staff and family members on the outside combine to engage in illicit smuggling, reports Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman:

Troubling new details surfaced Wednesday about the depth of illegal smuggling inside Texas' massive prison system, including revealing glimpses into how convicts may be operating drug- and money-laundering rackets with the help of guards and family members.

The new information surfaced in 20 pages of court filings in Travis County, revealing that authorities are investigating a 21-year-old Waco woman and at least five convicts for alleged organized criminal activity at the Coffield Unit near Palestine in East Texas.

According to a search-warrant affidavit, investigators listening in on phone calls made by several convicts at Coffield and intercepting ingoing and outgoing mail believe that some convicts are arranging for their family members to deposit money in one another's accounts, with the arranging inmate taking a cut of as much as 25 percent.

Thousands of dollars were being funneled through the scheme, according to the affidavit. In another intercepted phone call, one convict admitted buying drugs from another convict — and "although he did not observe guards deliver any dope, he knew they had."

According to the affidavit, the Waco woman "drops the dope off to someone, then the dope is brought into the prison by an unknown person."

Said TDCJ inspector general John Moriarty, "I think you can assume this is just the tip of the iceberg." The incident also points out the security benefits of an expanded inmate phone system from channeling inmate communication through approved, monitored avenues:

The details revealed in Wednesday's affidavit show that the telephone system that was installed last year in Texas prisons to allow convicts to make calls — with an elaborate security component that records all conversations and allows convicts to call only pre-cleared people at verified numbers — is proving its worth in allowing investigators to detect possible criminal activity that would not have been possible before.

While some blame has been laid at the feet of trusties, increasingly I've come to believe most of the contraband problem at TDCJ is a function of guard corruption, a view this story appears to corroborate.

Some argue that's a function of low pay, but I think it's a lot more complicated: Poverty doesn't make one unethical. Corruption occurs because prisons are a community that include the guards, and some guards come to think they have more in common with and sympathize more with those they spend their time with every day than they do the outside world or their employer. Their loyalties have shifted from a professional to a personal level. That's particularly true in instances where female guards engage in relationships with inmates, which allegedly is fairly common and puts COs in a position to be blackmailed or improperly influenced.

Prison staff make up about 17% of all state employees, so there are a lot of them and it'd be wrong to paint with a broad brush to say they all behave that way. But it's a significant enough proportion that it's obvious contraband flows in Texas prison units won't stop until TDCJ can control its employees: Punishing inmates and their families ever-more harshly won't work if their co-conspirators in uniform are seldom fired, much less see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell, for their behavior.


R. Shackleford said...

Of course it's the guards. There's no other way for this kind of racket to function. My hope is that they won't quit digging as soon as they find some low level scapegoats. I'd like to see some upper management heads roll.

sunray's wench said...

Thanks for running with this story Scott.

BB said...


These boundaries between the keeper and the kept are much easier to compromise when we fail to properly screen new recruits. It is a question of psychological suitability which can be evaluated and measured prior to employment. I was pleased to learn that TYC recently began to require psychological assessment during the hiring process. Hopefully we on the adult side will eventually embrace this practice and the long term benefits derived from hiring the right people for positions within adult correctional facilities.


Anonymous said...

It's just not guards, it's anyone who can access the secured perimeter of the prison and county jails.

To name a few it's delivery drivers, outside maintenance personnel, teachers and yes.......the clergy.

The county jail where I worked arrested a clergy member for bringing marijuana inside the facility to the inmates.

Anonymous said...

Rastafari's i am sure.

TDCJEX said...

Scott Thanks for putting this on line . As R Shackelford states It is a impossible for a operation of this scale to function with out bosses and rank being directly involved.. I also hope that a few low level bosses are the scapegoats as far as security staff implicated. . This kind of scheme as described takes a lot of work and coordination . That tells me Rank was invalided .

There are serious problems involving bosses and rank of all kinds on every TDCJ unit . That is due to the low hiring standards for bosses and rank a 18 year old high school graduated is not in any way fit to be a prison guard another thing is women and men work in the opposite sex housing areas . there is the low pay , But most importantly he type of person attracted to being a boss . Along with the mentality of some bosses and rank that their job is to punish and abuse . Often a convict sees a boss violate the law or policy /s in away that will cause that boss or can to be walked of and hopefully face criminal charges. .This knowledge used to turn the boss/rank out so to speak . This problems is just an other result of the reactionary tough on crime mentality . Where we make laws based on emotion instead of what will work or can work, is constitutional as well as what is right and wrong not what we would like things to be . .

Bosses have long blamed visitors vendors and just about any one but them . The fact is that bosses have the most contact with prisoners period . Rank can move about the unit at will. Bosses usually have to be in the are the area they assigned to on that rotation .
If any one believes that a visitor can bring in huge quantities of contraband, I have some ocean front ranch land in Nevada to sell you too.

Anon 4:09
Apparently you to you do not know how a TDCJ unit is run . Most vendors and contract employees usually medical are supervised by bosses . So don't go blaming them for this . As stated bosses and rank have to means and opportunity to do this . They take the money from some one to bring the contraband in . The most dangerous person on a unit is a dirty boss . Once compromised there boss is owned by the convict has to do what the convicts demand or end up in prison where their lives will be hell . I don't think I need to explain what happens to a dirty cops boss rank prosecutor or judge in prison

Usually how it happens is something like this . A boss does something he or she should not say use drugs a prisoner usually gang related learns of this and The convict usually a gang member will approach the boss or rank and let n him or her know that weather they bring in contraband or they will make sure the boss or rank gets busted for drugs in a place where he wont be be Able have his buddies come the rescue . Or maybe the boss is involved in other thing s such as sex with prisoners .

I noted in the linked article that bosses and rank have not been named. If we are going to name name lets start with them . I will say this that most likely if TDCJ and TX law enforcement wish to find out who is doing this they lean on a boss who will face along time in TDCJ . I can assure you he or she will talk a long and loud once a lawyer is one reasn tand they get one hell of a plea deal . Though thy will be in danger no matter what once it is know they are a dirty boss, rank .cops prosecutor or judge .

I noticed as usually this is mostly connected to male units ? .Why is this It is a important part of this. .
This hurts those who work for TDCJ and their job well .Who do not become involved in all the daily nonsense and drama and abuse the prisoners . Yes they do exist . TDCJ needs to hire appropriately pay and retain them .It is time we rethink how we incarcerate humans .

sunray's wench said...

To be honest, with all the power that the Wardens have, if anyone should be taking the blame and walking off the unit it should be them when something like this happens. We get told so often as familes that it is "the Warden's decision". If they want that kind of power, then they need to accept the responsibility too. Even if they do preach in a church each Sunday.

Anonymous said...

The salient questions to ask are:
(1) Why would TDCJ hire on an individual as a CO knowing that said person was recently received a medical discharge from the military for psychiatric issues?
(2) Who do you think has been smuggling prepaid cell phones (mailed directly to CO's home from inmates family or others) inside? Of course, the guards...and, inside of what appears to be soda bottles or something which appears harmless.
(3) Why is it that I must take my shoes off at the airport and walk through a scanner when COs walk into work with contraband and are not subjected to any sort of search?

Jennie said...

I am sick of hearing about the money "don't" get. Check out the website

$1,500 sign on bonus
$26.8k to start
$31k within 24 months
hazardous duty pay up to $300 a month
More money if you have education or military service

Glance at their benefits at:

12 days sick leave a year ($1200)
13 days a year vacation ($1340)
10 govt. holidays ($1000)
Sick leave pool
3 days - death in family ($300)
paid jury duty

5 paid days a year for EMT or fireman training ($515)

Longevity pay is increased by $20 monthly after each two years of lifetime ($240)

401k, 457, 549, FSA plans

SKIP Employees pay $15-$25 per month for children's medical ins.
Uniforms provided and the laundry done on them.

Blue Cross Insurance paid 100% for the employee and 50% for dependents

5k life insurance paid by the state

if you have other insurance then you get $60 a month in additional pay. ($720)

State Employee Retirement Program - states pays 6.95% of annual salary into it. ($1,900)

Disability and death benefits which include up to $300k lump sum and free education for spouse and all children.

Maybe someone should give them a statement like the military sends out yearly. Showing ALL the dollars an employee really receives which would include these benefits.

Sure beats a fast food restaurant!

whitsfoe said...

Hey Bill,

TYC's been doing psy. evals on new employees ever since I've there (16 years and counting). I remember when I did mine and had to see a psychologist about why I answered the way I did about guns. I hunt, and have for years. It was a MMPI back then (personality inventory). That's not new to TYC. But let me tell you, Ray Brookins also did that evaluation and passed through it and still did what he did. What we need is the pervert test, and we've been debating that for years.

Anonymous said...

This debate is, and always has been, a matter of simple economics-the law of supply and demand. The incentive offered is apparently viewed by many as exceeding the inherent risk. When balance is achieved (higher pay? stronger penalties?), the contraband will slow down. It will never completely cease.

Texas Law Enforcement Blog said...

Sadly, it is very difficult to detect, apprehend and prosecute corrupt guards. This problem is often complicated by the following:

Prison investigators are often underfunded, under-resourced and under-equipped. They do not receive half of the equipment and funding that their freeworld state counterparts do (such as Texas Department of Public Safety and most mid-sized to large police departments).

Also prison guards are criminally checked but do not receive the thorough background checks that state peace officers receive.

Sad, but true.

Anonymous said...

The same people running the drugs and hookers are the same ones that lock you up, the same ones using inmates/probationers for snitches, while letting them continue their's all selectively enforced, and comes down to which team (gang) that you want to play ball with...

Anonymous said...

"... also alleges a former state corrections officer and a high-ranking member of the Nine Trey Gangsters set of the Bloods worked with the Lucchese crime family to smuggle drugs and prepaid cell phones into East Jersey State Prison. "


"34 reputed mobsters indicted in New Jersey"