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Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - November 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk Count
y 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. 

By 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 for TDCJ. 

In addition to the phone components, guards had discovered 24 weapons, eight stashes of marijuana and 35 tobacco products. 

Polunsky 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. 

With 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. 

“I speak 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 Simmons. 

“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.

While 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. 

Simmons says 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. 

Across 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. 

“I’ve 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. 

The 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 suspicion. 

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 far.

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. 

Some employees 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. 

These 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. 

“There 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. 

“On 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.

On 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. 

Guards 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. 

Tabler’s 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.



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