|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - November 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Shakedown at Texas prison units turns up contraband
Polk County Enterprise - November 2008
LIVINGSTON – Six days into the statewide prison system lock down
contraband cell phones and chargers continue to be discovered.
Friday morning prison officials had confiscated 40 cellphones, 36
cell phone chargers and five SIM chips which identify the phone to the
cellular network and were being used to allow multiple inmates to share
a single phone, according to Jason Clark, public information officer
In addition to the phone components, guards had discovered 24 weapons, eight stashes of marijuana and 35 tobacco products.
Unit Senior Warden Tim Simmons confirmed that additional phones had
been found on death row Friday, bringing the number of phones at
Polunsky to eight. Six of those eight phones were on death row where
inmates are in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.
111 prisons in the state, the phones that have been found at Polunsky
represent 20 percent of those confiscated. Simmons was quick to point
out that cell phones being smuggled into prisons is a national problem
and does not just occur in Texas.
to wardens around the country and they have this problem even in
federal penitentiaries,” Simmons said. Many of these death row inmates
have significant amounts of money in their accounts because of
anti-death penalty supporters from around the world, according to
“They’ve got nothing to lose on
death row and plenty of money to pay to have what they want smuggled
in,” said Simmons. Metal detectors are a good tool in the fight against
contraband, he said, but with the bulk of cell phones made mostly of
plastic, they simply pass through undetected. Simmons says the solution
is a combination of technology and stepped up searches.
frequency jamming is on most lawmakers’ lips, an obscure 1934 FCC
ruling poses a problem that would FCC ruling poses a problem that would
take time to work around.
signal detection systems that can pinpoint where a cell phone is being
used is the most promising option. Since prison employees are not
allowed to have cell phones at work unless they are state issued, the
signal tracking could be effective.
the state there have been complaints by guard union representatives and
anti-death penalty groups regarding the lockdown.
While Simmons was unable to attest to inmate morale during the lockdown, he said his employees are taking it very well.
met with employees at shift turnouts and they are very positive about
the changes. They realize like we do that the majority of the staff are
good, honest hard-working people and it takes just a small number to
make a major problem.”
TDCJ is not allowing food or any outside items into the prison system.
system-wide lockdown means inmates are confined to their cells
indefinitely, normal visits with relatives have been suspended and
employees and visitors are being searched with hand-held metal
detectors and subjected to pat-down searches with reasonable
TDCJ is providing food for
employees through the commissary and the officer’s dining hall.
Officials have advised employees not to bring anything to work other
than a photo ID.
“There are some looking to
make some fast money and they’re risking their jobs and their freedoms
by committing a felony,” said Clark. But some say the TDCJ is going too
Some employees feel prison
worker rights are being violated the longer the lockdown persists. They
say the searching is making employees at least an hour late for work
and harder to take breaks.
say if they even receive a lunch break the dining hall is closed
because it is run by inmates and the commissary has limited options if
you have dietary needs or medical conditions.
new policy changes are leaving many employees frustrated and ready to
take action. A prison employee told the Houston Chronicle that they
would not be surprised to see some employees leave.
will probably be some that quit or even call in sick and make a real
unsafe place for not just the public but for us who work on the
inside,” the employee said.
Despite rumors on blogs and web forums, Simmons said he has only lost one employee.
the first day an employee showed up and said they weren’t going to
submit to being searched and left,” said Simmons. The warden was out on
other business and not available to speak to the employee, however, he
said he would have searched the employee and their vehicle because of
the suspicious nature of the refusal.
Wednesday afternoon Richard Tabler, the inmate at the center of the
controversy, was discovered in his cell with a three foot piece of bed
sheeting tied to a ceiling fixture.
entered the cell and restrained Tabler, transporting him to the
psychiatric ward at the Jester Unit in Richmond where he is on suicide
watch, said Clark.
On Monday, Tabler was
questioned after a weeks long investigation into threatening phone
calls made to a Texas senator and a news reporter.
mother and sister were both arrested this week in connection with the
incident and both are facing charges of providing contraband to an
inmate, a felony.
Investigations have shown that as many as 10 inmates used Tabler’s phone to make nearly 3,000 calls in the last 30 days.