Few Consequences For Texas Prison Cell Phone Smuggling

    A Texas Tribune investigation has found that few inmates or correctional officers face legal consequences for smuggling cellphones even as prison officials have intensified efforts to keep the devices out of prisons.

    Just 5 percent of cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General from 2009 to 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence, according to documents obtained from the office through a public information request.

    Some notable excerpts from the article


    March 2

    Prisons Increase Profits by Replacing In-Person Family Visits with Video Screens

    Source: All Gov.

    Those in charge of the nation’s jails and prisons have found a way to make some money off the backs of those who can often least afford it—the families of inmates.

    Telecommunications companies, last seen making huge profits off phone service for inmates, have had to find a new revenue stream since the Federal Communications Commission capped most jail phone rates. Now they’re installing video visitation systems at jails and prisons across the country, charging huge fees for their use and splitting the profits with the facility.

    The new systems are touted as more user-friendly for families and better at restricting the flow of contraband into correctional facilities. But they come at the cost of high charges—up to $1.50 a minute—for remote video visiting.

    “Seventy three percent of the people in our jail have not been convicted--that means they are innocent until proven guilty,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told NBC News. “And 100% of their family, their spouses and their children are innocent, who are the people who end up paying for this.”

    Prisons often don’t start getting their share of the loot until the chat system has been paid for or until a certain level of calls are made each month.

    Prisons have no incentive to make the charges affordable for families and some officials show a complete disregard for the cost. The purchasing manager for St. Clair County, Illinois, Tom Maziarz, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “A dollar a minute strikes me as a fair price. I guess it depends what viewpoint you’re coming from. The way I look at it, we’ve got a captive audience. If they don’t like (the rates), I guess they should not have got in trouble to begin with.”

    In some cases, a limited number of video chats are free but must be done at a central facility. One company, Securus, requires that jails and prisons that install its systems curtail in-person visits by all except attorneys and clergy. However, that often disincentivizes the use of such systems. A study by the Prison Policy Initiative reports that when traditional through-the-glass visits are retained, there is an average of 23 minutes of offsite video chats per month. When in-person visits are eliminated, that number falls to 13 minutes per month.

    Whether done at a central site or remotely, video and sound quality of the chats are often poor, causing much of a pre-scheduled video conference to be wasted.

    The systems also eliminate the personal contact between families and inmates that is credited with reducing behavior problems while incarcerated and recidivism after release. “It just seems so impersonal,” Ashika Coleman-Carter, whose husband was jailed in Travis County, Texas, told NBC News. “The old visits, even though you couldn’t touch behind the glass, at least you could go into an actual visiting room and see someone’s face. Now you can’t get close to the person at all.”

    The video chats also provide less privacy for visitors with picture and sound being recorded and often reviewed by jail officials. In-person visits were usually in a separate room, but the video chats often take place in the dayroom of a jail. Sometimes family members watch while fights break out behind their loved one.

    Attorneys are also troubled by the lack of privacy. “When I need to discuss with them issues germane to their defense or what a witness said…anything with substance, I’m not going to do it over the computer, because I don’t trust them,” Marci Kratter, a Phoenix defense attorney, told Al Jazeera America. “I’m a bit of a cynic, so I have concerns about whether what’s discussed over the Internet is actually privileged and that there’s not some way that they are recording it.”

    She’s right to be concerned. Prisons in several jurisdictions have been sued by defense attorneys, charging their conversations with clients have been illegally monitored.

    -Steve Straehley

    To Learn More:

    Screening Out Family Time: The For-Profit Video Visitation Industry in Prisons And Jails (by Bernadette Rabuy and Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative)

    Video Chats Replace In-Person Visits in U.S. Jails and Prisons (by Tim Gaynor, Al Jazeera America)

    Prison Phone Companies Have Found Yet Another Way to Squeeze Families for Cash (by Tim Murphy, Mother Jones)

    As Jail Visits Go High-Tech, Isolation Grows (by Lisa Riordan Seville, NBC News)

    Arizona Begins Charging for Prison Visits (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

    Prisons Increase Profits by Replacing In-Person Family Visits with Video Screens



      Dallas County Rejects Securus Video Visitation Contract!

      By Peter Wagner
      September 9, 2014

      Today the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court refused to approve a proposed contract with prison telephone giant Securus. The contract would have required the jail to end visiting hours and instead force families to pay for expensive video visits via computer.

      After County Judge Clay Jenkins courageously spoke out against the proposed contract, a movement quickly came together, coordinated by Texas CURE, to urge the other County Commissioners to support Judge Jenkins. (In Texas, the county legislature is called a “Commissioners Court” and the person elected county-wide to be the county’s chief administrator is called the County Judge. For more, see this wikipedia article.)

      As I argued in a New York Times Room for Debate feature, prison and jail video communication has the potential to offer additional avenues for critical family communication, but charging unconscionable sums and banning free in-person visits is a step in entirely the wrong direction.

      Today, after several hours of eloquent and unanimous testimony and the submission of more than 2,000 petitions from SumOfUs and other petitions collected on NationInside and, we beat back this horrible proposal!

      Now things got a little complicated procedurally, but this was a big, albeit interim, win. The Commissioners Court didn’t approve Judge Jenkin’s order to reject this contract and start over with completely new criteria that would prioritize getting the best service possible for both families and Dallas County, but the Court soundly rejected the two most critical parts of the proposed contract: the ban on in person visitation and the collection of commissions for video visitation. (At least one commissioner supports commissions in the phone context, but many are opposed there as well.)

      As I understand it, the Commissioners Court voted to propose changes to the contract to:

      ^Protect in-person visitation
      ^Renounce the commission on video visitation
      ^Seek clarity on other details, including the number of video visitation terminals that would be provided.

      The County proposed to, at next week’s meeting, approve a new request for “Best and Final Offers” based on the county’s new and improved understanding of the importance of keeping families together, and then to send these new requirements out to all of the bidders on the contract to solicit new proposals.

      Obviously, some details remain to be worked out, But what seemed clear to us watching the video of the hearing is that the Commissioners Court now understands that in-person visitation is important and that it shouldn’t let Securus — or any vendor — entice the county into breaking up families just to make an extra buck.

      Stay tuned for how we can ensure that Dallas finalizes a contract that supports families and benefits all residents of the County, and stay tuned for our forthcoming report on the video visitation industry.

      Dallas County rejects Securus video visitation contract!


      Photo by: Brandon Thibodeaux
      Correctional officer Mike Warren walks with his contraband
      detector dog, Gus, during a demonstration of how the dog
      seeks out cellphones around the Texas State Penitentiary
      in Huntsville on Wednesday, April 23, 2014.

      In Cellphone Contraband Cases, Few Face Charges

      By Edgar Walters and Dan Hill

      Armed with shovels, correctional officers at a prison in East Texas last summer unearthed a cache filled with hundreds of smuggled items, including 45 cellphones and 52 chargers. Nearly a year later, no arrests have been made in the elaborate trafficking attempt.

      The discovery of buried items at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ferguson Unit in Midway was unusual for its scale and its subterranean location, but the fact that no one was prosecuted is not.

      A Texas Tribune investigation has found that few inmates or correctional officers face legal consequences for smuggling cellphones even as prison officials have intensified efforts to keep the devices out of prisons. Just 5 percent of cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General from 2009 to 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence, according to documents obtained from the office through a public information request.

      Prison officials said one challenge was linking the smuggled phones to prisoners or correctional officers for prosecution, because the devices were secreted away in spots that were hard to find, or found in common areas. And it falls to prosecutors in the rural, cash-strapped regions where prisons are typically located to decide whether to spend resources on criminals who are already in prison or on local law enforcement officers. Critics say that without serious consequences, there is little to stanch the flow of illicit cellphones — and the cash that goes with them — into Texas prisons.

      “Phones can be hard to find, and there’s a lot of money in introducing contraband,” said Terry Pelz, a prison consultant and former warden who advocates tougher punishments for guards caught with contraband.

      Texas’ criminal justice system, the nation’s largest, has invested heavily in efforts to keep cellphones out of prisons, where they have enabled inmates to coordinate escapes and maintain contact with gangs. In 2003, legislators made smuggling the devices into prisons a felony. Since 2009, the state has allocated $10 million every two years for “security enhancements for contraband interdiction,” said Robert Hurst, a Criminal Justice Department spokesman.

      The enhancements include a special K-9 unit responsible for sniffing out cellphones, increased video surveillance of guards and the addition of “managed access systems” at two prisons that intercept all but a few specified outgoing cellular signals.

      The increased emphasis, corrections officials and state legislators say, has had an effect. Cellphone confiscations by the Criminal Justice Department fell to 594 in 2013 — a five-year low — from 738 the previous year.

      The buried loot at the Ferguson Unit was the largest of several “significant” contraband discoveries last year at the prison, which accounted for 34 percent of all cellphone confiscations among the state’s more than 100 prisons.

      Records obtained by the Tribune show that cellphones accounted for the greatest number of contraband cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s inspector general from 2009 to 2013. Yet cases involving other contraband — like alcohol and tobacco — are prosecuted at a higher rate.

      Of the 3,687 cellphone cases the inspector general’s office examined during that time, prosecutors secured sentences in only 190 cases; 2,142 resulted in no charge. Criminal Justice Department officials said cellphones like those discovered in the pit at Ferguson often cannot be traced to a specific offender.

      When an inmate is caught with contraband, the department can issue an “administrative” punishment or the case may be “informally resolved,” said Jason Clark, a department spokesman. The department’s inspector general investigates each case and presents the findings to a local prosecutor, who must decide whether to press charges.

      Some criminal justice observers say leaving that decision to local prosecutors benefits the guards because prisons are typically in rural counties with small prosecution budgets.

      “Local prosecutors don’t put the full force of their office up against cases involving officers,” said Brian McGiverin, a prisoners’ rights attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

      Pelz added, “These smaller counties don’t necessarily have the money for the wholesale prosecution of these officers, so that’s not much of a deterrent for those who get caught.”

      Inmates have devised “ingenious” ways to sneak phones into prison, said William Stephens, director of the criminal justice department’s correctional institutions division, including hiding them in tractor tires, printers and various body cavities. In 2008, a death row inmate used a contraband cellphone to make a threatening call to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, prompting a statewide prison lockdown to search for cellphones.

      Another appeal of contraband cellphones, criminal justice observers said, is that they allow inmates to circumvent the state’s expensive offender telephone service to call friends and family. In the 2013 fiscal year, the state received $13.1 million from the telephone service contract, Clark said. The vendor that provides the phone service, Century Link, also provided the criminal justice department with its two managed access systems.

      The costs of the offender telephone service are “so high, that’s one of the reasons why inmates turn to cellphones,” said Michele Deitch, a prisons expert at the University of Texas at Austin. “They really need the phone access, which promotes healthier families, but at those rates it becomes an incredible burden on the families.” A phone call with the service costs up to 26 cents per minute.

      For guards, who risk their jobs and felony charges by dealing in contraband, the financial reward can be much larger than their salaries.

      “The temptation is there, if there’s not a strong deterrent to misbehavior,” said Pelz, the former warden, adding that a smuggled cellphone can fetch up to $3,000. “Your weakest link is the employees bringing the contraband in.”

      Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees local of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Emlpoyees union, said many who resort to smuggling were trying to supplement low wages. Entry-level correctional officers make about $29,000 a year. At that rate, one cellphone could amount to 10 percent of an officer’s annual salary.

      Though few cases end in prosecution, prison officials continue their efforts to intercept contraband phones. Reductions in confiscations at three prisons with historically high contraband rates accounted for much of the statewide decline in 2013.

      Last year, the state shuttered a privately operated pre-parole facility in Mineral Wells. The unit was responsible for 17 percent of the state prison system’s total cellphone confiscations in 2012. At the Stiles and McConnell prison units, two of the state’s largest and most contraband-ridden, confiscations dropped nearly 90 percent and 40 percent, respectively, from 2012 to 2013.

      Stephens said Texas’ prison system was doing better at curbing contraband than those in other states. In California last year, prison staff discovered more than 12,000 contraband cellphones. Still, he said, Texas could do more, because “one cellphone is too many.”

      State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said the state’s lawyers must make tough decisions about which cases to pursue. But the former prosecutor said cellphones “are a very serious charge,” and he added that “the reason lawmakers focused on it at such a high level is because that kind of contraband can be very dangerous.”

      In Cellphone Contraband Cases, Few Face Charges




        New Development in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice! We need your help!

        Send a message now.

        As you know, in September 2013 the FCC issued a long-awaited order that capped the cost of interstate (long distance) prison phone calls and instituted other reforms.

        The FCC’s order was in response to the Wright Petition – a petition for rulemaking filed by Washington, D.C. resident Martha Wright, who challenged the high phone rates she had to pay to accept calls from her incarcerated grandson. The Wright Petition stemmed from a lawsuit that Mrs. Wright initially filed against Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – the nation’s largest for-profit prison company.

        Last month, just before Thanksgiving, shareholder resolutions were filed with both CCA and The GEO Group – the second-largest private prison corporation – to reduce the cost of phone calls made by prisoners at the companies’ for-profit facilities.

        Although CCA and GEO house state and jail prisoners and immigrant detainees on behalf of state, county and federal corrections agencies, they enter into their own separate prison phone contracts with service providers like Global Tel*Link and Securus. CCA and GEO also receive “commission” kickbacks from prison phone companies, just like public corrections agencies.

        The shareholder resolutions ask CCA and GEO to forgo commission kickbacks from their prison phone contracts, to give the greatest priority to the lowest overall costs when entering into prison phone contracts, and to issue annual reports on the phone rates and commission percentages and amounts at each of their facilities.

        Please take a moment of your time to send a message to CCA and GEO Group by asking not to oppose the shareholder resolutions and to end high phone rates at their for-profit facilities!

        Around 129,000 prisoners are held in privately-operated prisons in the U.S., mostly in CCA and GEO-run facilities, and their families and loved ones should not be price-gouged by high phone rates. The FCC’s order only addresses interstate prison phone rates, but the shareholder resolutions address all prison phone rates at CCA and GEO facilities nationwide.

        Please take action now – thank you!


          Prison-Phone Rate Cuts Considered by U.S. Regulators

          By Todd Shields
          Nov 15, 2012

          U.S. regulators are considering rate caps and other steps to lower jailhouse telephone rates that enrich private equity firms as they cost U.S. prisoners and their families as much as $17 for a 15-minute call.

          Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski yesterday proposed information-gathering that could lead to a vote to intervene in the $1.2 billion prison-phone market, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said at a rally today.

          “For far too long, friends and family of the incarcerated have had no choice but to pay unconscionably high long-distance rates,” Clyburn told demonstrators seeking lower rates who gathered outside the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

          Clyburn, like the chairman a Democrat, said the proceeding was started by Genachowski and could lead to lower rates “soon,” without specifying a timeline.

          Rate caps are among steps being considered, said two agency officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter hasn’t been made public.

          Genachowski’s proposal seeks comment on interstate prison phone rules and rates, Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman, said in an e-mail. “These issues affect the families of inmates, prisoner rehabilitation, as well as prison security,” Wigfield said.

          Private Equity

          The market is dominated by two private equity-backed companies, Global Tel*Link Corp. and Securus Technologies Inc.

          Castle Harlan Inc., which owns Securus, declined to comment, Michael Millican, a spokesman, said in an e-mail. Caroline Harris, a spokeswoman for Global Tel*Link owner American Securities, in an e-mail declined to comment.

          The companies bid for exclusive contracts to provide telephone service, agreeing to pay as much as two-thirds of calling charges to government or private prison operators. Those commissions can drive fees to levels that make it difficult for prisoners to maintain contact with spouses, children and parents.

          Prisoners make collect calls or set up prepaid accounts funded by relatives or by their earnings from prison jobs that pay cents per hour. Service providers may collect per-call fees in addition to time-based charges, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

          ‘Exorbitant’ Rates

          A collection of civil rights, religious groups and members of Congress has pressed the FCC to act on petitions filed by prisoners and family members to cut what they’ve called “exorbitant” rates. Representatives from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the United Church of Christ, the National Urban League and other organizations met with Genachowski in September and asked for a clear date for action. In 2007, petitioners asked the FCC to cap interstate calling services at 25 cents a minute.

          Global Tel*Link, based in Mobile, Alabama, has about 50 percent of the correctional-phone services market, followed by Securus with almost 30 percent, according to Standard & Poor’s.

          Prison phone charges vary by location. A 15-minute call through Global Tel*Link costs $2.36 in Massachusetts and more than $17 in Georgia, according to a study released Sept. 11 by the Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group in Easthampton, Massachusetts. In New York, where commissions to jail operators aren’t allowed, Global Tel*Link charges about 5 cents a minute, according to the study.

          Security Cited

          Prison calls cost more than residential telephone service for reasons that include security requirements and bad debts, according to Dallas-based Securus, which said in a filing that it has about 1,400 contracts in 46 states.

          Prison calling services include security capabilities such as preventing call-forwarding and conference calls, and caller identification based on voice analysis, Global Tel*Link said in an Oct. 3 filing at the FCC.

          Corrections Corp. of America, the largest private prison operator, said in a regulatory filing that an FCC decision to bar commissions would have a material adverse effect on its results.

          To contact the reporter on this story:
          Todd Shields in Washington at
          To contact the editor responsible for this story:
          Bernard Kohn at

          Prison-Phone Rate Cuts Considered by U.S. Regulators

          SEPTEMBER 19, 2012

          Inmates use illegal cell phones to help rescue guard, official says

          In South Carolina, it was reported on the TDCAA website, "Inmates used their illegal cellphones to guide rescue of guard held by armed inmates."

          (See the story HERE.)

          Texas explores California solution to smuggled cell phones in prison

          By Mike Ward
          April 18, 2012

          It's not often that Texas looks to California for much of anything, except to relocate corporate jobs. But a new Golden State deal to curb calls from prisons on smuggled cellphones has state officials exploring a similar system.

          Instead of jamming cellphone calls around prisons as Texas officials had earlier proposed, the California system would block outgoing cell calls, Web access and text messages by managing the cellphone signals at prisons — and allowing only signals from approved numbers to go through.

          Jason Clark, a spokesman for the state Department of Criminal Justice, confirmed Wednesday that the agency is working with Century Link — the private company that operates pay phones inside Texas' 111 state prisons — to evaluate a similar system for installation in Texas.

          "The system would be a managed-access system and does not jam cellphones," Clark said. "Managed access intercepts the outgoing calls and only allows calls from approved numbers. This is legal," Clark said, noting that the Federal Communications Commission prohibits jamming. Texas and other states sought legislation to overturn the prohibition, but cellphone companies — worried about interference with nonprison signals — blocked the proposals in Congress.

          Smuggled cellphones in Texas prisons have posed a security risk for the past decade. The situation drew headlines and triggered a weeks-long lockdown of the entire state prison system in late 2008 after a death row convict made threatening calls to a state senator and a reporter.

          Efforts to curb cellphone smuggling into prisons have come up short, even though the state has spent millions of dollars on screening devices, surveillance cameras, detection devices and even phone-sniffing dogs.

          Clark said Texas prison employees last year seized 904 cellphones in prisons or headed there, down from 1,480 three years ago. Prison officials attribute the decline to $60 million in security upgrades.

          By contrast, California last year confiscated 15,000 cellphones at its 33 prisons. That's up from just 1,200 five years ago, according to officials.

          Dana Simas, an information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said that under a new contract, Global Tel Link has agreed to spend as much as $35 million to install new equipment at each prison within the next three years. The first California unit is to get the gear by October, she said.

          The company will pay all costs, Simas said, because it will get the revenue from the pay phones inside prisons that will once again be in demand.

          The way the new system works: Each prison will get its own cell tower that will allow prison officials to control all incoming and outgoing calls. All others will not go through.

          "After this system goes in, smuggled cellphones will be nothing more than glorified paperweights," Simas said. "A couple of years ago, there were long lines at the pay phones — hours long. By this year, no one was using them, there were so many smuggled cellphones."

          California officials said they happened on the idea of tying cellphone smuggling to the pay phone contract when it came up for renewal last year.

          In March 2011, Texas prison officials tested a managed-access system at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont — a top location for smuggled phones — but decided not to purchase the gear because of its $2.5 million-per-prison cost.

          Global Tel Link and Century Link did not respond Wednesday to messages for comment.

          Like most other states, prison officials in Texas and California for several years have been battling a steady flood of smuggled cellphones — easily concealed devices that have been linked to murders, criminal activity by gangs, smuggling, violent assaults on guards, escapes and even a prison riot or two in other states.

          After news broke about Texas' death-row caller, Richard Tabler, prison officials imposed a statewide lockdown of all prisons and spent weeks searching every cell. More than 500 additional cellphones were found, including two dozen more on death row.

          California, with 138,000 convicts compared to Texas' approximately 155,000, has had similar headlines. Charles Manson, the notorious murderer, has been caught twice with contraband phones, officials said.

          In announcing the deal on Monday, California Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said the "groundbreaking and momentous technology" will allow his system "to crack down on the smuggled phones."

          In Texas, state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the committee that supervises the prison system and the lawmaker who received the 2008 call — and later a death threat — from Tabler, said Texas' move toward curbing smuggled cellphones is long overdue.

          "Our administration should be getting right on that," he said after learning about the California contract. "They should have been more proactive."

          "We need to get these cellphones out of there, and we don't need to wait until the next time somebody on death row calls me."

          Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

          Cellphones in Texas prisons
          Year | Number seized
          2011 | 904
          2010 | 1,193
          2009 | 1,480

          Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

          Texas explores California solution to smuggled cell phones in prison


          Texas Inmates Could Get More Phone Time

          • By Ioanna Makris
          June 13, 2011

          Texas inmates may soon get more phone time — lots more.

          In an amendment to House Bill 1, proposed by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, inmates who are eligible to use the phone system could get 480 minutes of talk time per month, instead of the current 240 minutes. That's up to eight hours of talk time.

          Madden said few of the 150,000 Texas inmates reach the existing 240-minute cap.

          In 2007, Texas became the last state in the nation to allow payphones in prisons. The idea was to help decrease cell phone smuggling and help the state generate money for the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund. Initially, inmates were allowed 120 minutes of talk time, but in December 2009, that was doubled.

          The 240-minute cap was expected to raise $7.5 million for the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund, but only managed to bring in $5 million. Madden said he hopes to see the $7.5 million raised with this new 480-minute cap.

          “This is an easy way to raise more revenue for the state,” he said.

          Robert Elzer, a board member for the Texas Inmate Families Association, said the increased phone time will also help families who have been affected by the economic downturn. He said families who have to travel long distances to meet with their loved ones will have the opportunity to cut back on that travel. He said it would also help inmates feel less isolated.

          Inmate phone calls are monitored by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

          And the calls can only be made to those on an approved visitation list.

          Currently, it costs an inmate about 26 cents a minute to speak with someone in Texas and 43 cents a minute for out-of-state phone calls.

          Texas Inmates Could Get More Phone Time

          Texas prison escape involving cellphone may lead to changes

          Posted Apr. 23, 20110
          BY ALEX BRANCH

          Mattice Mayo was a 25-year-old single mother of five, enrolled in college classes and working at a day care in Omaha, Neb. She was also looking for a relationship.

          "I have loved before but never truely been in love. Still waiting for Mr. Right," she wrote on her Facebook page.

          She found a man on a different social networking website. And because of that, her family says, Mayo is now in the Harris County Jail on $10,000 bail, accused of helping the man -- a Texas prison inmate with a violent past -- during five days on the lam after a bold escape last month.

          The case demonstrates how access to technology is expanding inmates' reach outside prison walls, and it may lead to changes in the Texas prison system.

          At Mayo's Omaha apartment, U.S. marshals arrested David Puckett, who had served nine years of a 30-year sentence for slashing a Texas police officer's throat.

          Authorities say Puckett used several hundred dollars that Mayo wired to Houston to buy a bus ticket to Nebraska.

          Puckett used a cellphone to access his profile on the social networking site, and there is evidence that Mayo knew that Puckett was in prison and planned to escape, authorities said.

          Mayo's mother, Tricia Moore, says her daughter was unaware that Puckett was in prison or had a violent past. She blames the Texas prison system for allowing him access to the phone.

          "It never should have happened," Moore said. "She was just someone looking to network and got caught up in some bullcrap. These [inmates with phones] are probably preying on a bunch of other women."

          Regardless of what Mayo knew, both sides agree that inmate access to smuggled cellphones is a growing threat to public safety. Prison officials said this month that they will seek bids from vendors for technology that would clamp down on illegal calls.

          "Prisoners with access to phones are a serious threat," said John Moriarty, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "People can lose their lives."

          Unlikely friends

          On the surface, Mayo and Puckett don't appear likely friends.

          A computer records search of Mayo revealed no criminal background. On her Facebook page, she lists the romance film Dear John and the teen vampire series Twilight as her favorite movies. She likes Alicia Keys' music.

          She started her job at the day care in January and was taking classes.

          "Just finished class and my instructor is great and it's a plus that she don't mind talking about God!!" she wrote in January.

          More than 900 miles away, David Puckett was a prisoner in the maximum-security Stiles Unit in Beaumont. Mayo and Puckett met on a site that can be accessed by cellphone, Moore said. They apparently hit it off. Between September and November, Puckett called Mayo 297 times, according to charging documents.

          That Puckett got his hands on a phone is no big surprise. A systemwide state prison search in 2008 uncovered 100 mobile devices. Puckett has been caught twice with phones and has two criminal cases pending against him, Moriarty said.

          Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has repeatedly criticized prison officials for not stopping the flow of smuggled phones. In 2008, he received a threatening call from a Death Row prisoner. Phones have been smuggled in by guards as well as prisoners.

          Prison officials hoped to test equipment that would jam cellphone signals but canceled the exercise because of concerns about violating the federal Communications Act of 1934. Whitmire has urged officials to jam the signals anyway and see what federal authorities do.

          "Our prisons should be the most secure facilities we have," Whitmire said. "With a cellphone, they can continue criminal enterprises outside the prison and threaten people. We're going to find ourselves with a real tragedy if we don't do something about it."

          It wasn't Puckett's first escape. In 2001, while being held on a sexual-assault charge, he fled to California after failing to return to a treatment facility in Wisconsin while on a weekend pass, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

          He was captured, but after a prisoner transportation company flew him back to Milwaukee, he bolted from his guards at the airport, the newspaper reported. During six days on the run, he stole two cars and drove to Texas, where he tried to steal gas.

          After a high-speed chase, he stabbed a police officer in the neck during a struggle in Lavaca County. The officer survived.

          Escaped prisoner

          Despite his history of escapes, no one was watching Puckett on March 9 in a recreation yard and when he sawed through bars on the roof, authorities said. He squeezed out the hole, leapt to the ground and scaled a fence with razor wire, authorities said.

          He stole a pickup with the keys inside and drove to Houston, authorities said.

          On March 10, he collected a $340 wire transfer at a Western Union window in the Greyhound bus station, charging documents say. It was sent by Mayo to a recipient listed as Brian Chris. Puckett was not required to show ID -- just answer a security question.

          Puckett used the money to buy a bus ticket to Omaha, according to an affidavit for Mayo's arrest. Investigators believe that the convicted sex offender stayed at Mayo's apartment with her and her children.

          One of Puckett's uncles told an Omaha news outlet that he met Puckett once and got "bad vibes." Moore said she doubts that her daughter's relationship with Puckett was romantic.

          "I think she just looked at him as a friend," she said. "The way I raised my daughter, she would never have gotten involved with him if she had known he was dangerous. She doesn't get in trouble."

          However, Mayo's uncle told a reporter that Mayo may have met Puckett on a section of the social networking site where people can meet prisoners.

          Moriarty said: "We do have evidence that suggests that she was very much aware of his status when she was communicating with him as well as his status after his escape. We wouldn't go after someone unless we felt they were a co-conspirator."

          Authorities tracked Puckett to Mayo's apartment, where U.S. marshals converged.

          Puckett fought officers until they slapped on leg irons. In his mug shot, Puckett's face is bruised.

          Mayo was arrested and charged with hindering apprehension, a felony.

          New technology

          Prison officials may have found an answer to the cellphone problem.

          They plan to pursue a method that, instead of jamming all cellphone signals, allows officials to "manage" the signals by diverting them to towers that relay only signals from phones registered within the prison.

          The system is legal and solves one of the biggest concerns with signal jamming -- jamming 911 calls from outside the prison, said Robert Kenny, spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission. It is difficult to jam signals in only a precise area.

          Mississippi has successfully installed the system in its prisons, he said. California and Maryland have expressed interest.

          Back in Omaha, Moore said recently that she now cares for all her daughter's children. She said she had not spoken with Mayo since authorities extradited her to Harris County.

          "I'm just waiting to hear what we all do next," Moore said.

          On Mayo's Facebook page, several people have commented on her arrest. One was written as a response to the post Mayo wrote about waiting for "Mr. Right."

          "Off to Texas you go," the person wrote. "The worst state you could possibly get in trouble in. ... Sad for you. You live and you learn."

          Alex Branch, 817-390-7689

          Read more: Texas prison escape involving cellphone may lead to changes

          Texas prisons to move forward with anti-cellphone technology

          Posted Apr. 08, 20110
          The Associated Press

          AUSTIN -- A recent demonstration of cellphone detection technology at a Southeast Texas prison has encouraged state corrections officials to proceed with plans to install the devices throughout the sprawling system, prison officials said Friday.

          Representatives of the company cellAntenna, based in Coral Springs, Fla., recently spent more than two days at the Stiles Unit, outside Beaumont, to show how its technology could find phones inside the prison, said Rick Thaler, director of Texas prisons.

          Last month, after inmate David Puckett used a contraband phone to aid his escape from the Stiles Unit, Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, ordered a demonstration of the technology.

          Illegal cellphone use has been a problem for years in U.S. prisons. The technology to disrupt phone calls, known as jamming, is available, but its use is illegal under a 1934 federal law.

          The managed access that cellAntenna uses, which is legal, "allows them to divert cellphone signals and send them on a detour essentially to a dead end so the calls are not completed," Livingston said.

          The next step is to get proposals from vendors that offer the technology "so they can put forth their proposal as to their services and what they can provide us," Thaler said.

          The officials provided no cost estimate.

          "Part of that is contingent on how many devices you put at a facility," Thaler said. "The more you put in, the more you can hone in on the particular location or at least a particular building that the phone is used in."

          He said the technology could be in place by the end of the year.

          Security issue

          Puckett, 27, was captured after five days in Omaha, Neb.

          John Moriarty, the agency's inspector general, said Puckett's possession of a cellphone behind bars was "a major component of the escape."

          "We did a forensic examination on the phone he was caught with, and there were 300-plus calls to a woman who assisted him," Moriarty said. "It just shows you how the security procedures set up in the prisons are totally circumvented."

          Moriarty and Livingston said prison visitors and even some employees smuggle in the phones or arrange for drops outside where inmates on work details can retrieve them.

          Livingston said comprehensive video surveillance has helped guards crack down on contraband at the maximum-security Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, where a Death Row inmate used a smuggled phone to threaten a state legislator in 2008.

          Similar video security is being installed at the Stiles Unit.

          "I think the technology is there to deal with the problem," Moriarty said.

          "It depends on how much money you want to spend."

          At a meeting Friday of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, Chairman Oliver Bell called security "the most important core function we have in the agency."

          "We have people on the other side of walls who have 24-7, 365 -- time -- to mess us up," Bell said. "Our job is to stay a couple minutes ahead of them."

          Budget concerns

          Livingston also briefed the board on the agency's two-year budget now being examined by the Legislature, which is facing billions of dollars in shortfalls.

          He said a version in the House had restored some $350 million for the department, saving items like treatment and chaplaincy and victims services programs that initially were set for elimination.

          Still uncertain is the fate of the Central Unit in Sugar Land, proposed for closing, and money for about 2,800 inmates housed in private prisons. Also still to be decided are attempts to trim inmate healthcare costs, a huge part of the agency budget.

          Money for some probation programs is back in, although the House and Senate differ on the amounts, he said.

          "Given where we're at in this process and the fiscal challenge we're all dealing with, no doubt we'll have to continue tightening our belt," he said.

          Read more: Texas prisons to move forward with anti-cellphone technology

          Smuggled phone aided in prison break, officials say
          Prison officials order jamming demo with spotlight back on contraband phones.

          By Mike Ward
          Published: March 15, 2011

          A new controversy over smuggled cell phones in state prisons erupted Tuesday after investigators confirmed that a convict who escaped a week ago from a Beaumont prison used a phone to help arrange his freedom the first time that's happened in a Texas prison.

          Within hours, state corrections chief Brad Livingston ordered a tryout of new technology to block cell phone signals as a prelude to beefed-up security to prevent future incidents such as the recent escape of David Puckett, 27.

          A demonstration of either jamming or managed-access technology — both of which limit or block cell phone transmissions — would be a first in Texas.

          Prison officials have struggled unsuccessfully for more than two years to curb phone smuggling in Texas' 112 state prisons after a death row offender called a state senator on a smuggled phone. Then, Texas officials decided against such a test because phone jamming violates federal law.

          But Livingston said Tuesday's rapid-fire revelations about how Puckett escaped from the Stiles Unit on March 9 — and an angry backlash from legislative leaders to the latest prison security breach — called for something new.

          Lawmakers were fuming not only about the smuggled phone, but about the apparent fact that Puckett had two Facebook pages that investigators think he may have maintained from inside the maximum-security prison. Puckett was captured after getting off a bus in Nebraska late Monday.

          Authorities were also investigating information that Puckett met his escape helper on a social networking site that he also probably accessed using the smuggled cell phone.

          "This is absolutely outrageous," fumed Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, the lawmaker who received the call in October 2008 from a death row convict.

          "Apparently the (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) is incapable of blocking cell phones from getting into prisons, and now one has been used in an escape.

          Before we experience a tragedy, this needs to be stopped.

          "If the current leadership at TDCJ can't do that, we need to find someone who can."

          Livingston acknowledged the escape "clearly represents a security failure for which I accept responsibility."

          "Although we have taken numerous actions to enhance security and combat the introduction of contraband within our correctional institutions, it is obvious these measures did not prevent offender Puckett from obtaining a cell phone which may have facilitated his escape," he said.

          In addition to the ongoing installation of additional surveillance cameras at the Stiles Unit, a contraband-plagued lockup where 221 of the total 791 cell phones were confiscated in Texas prisons last year, Livingston said that the prison has been placed on lockdown and that a cell-by-cell search was initiated.

          That search, he said, will include specialized search teams with cell phone- and drug-detection dogs. Livingston said he has also ordered special equipment sent to Stiles that can locate cell phones inside the fences. Additionally, he said a serious-incident review team will examine security lapses and recommend changes at Stiles and Texas' other 111 prisons.

          Puckett was serving 30 years for aggravated assault on a public servant from Lavaca County. An affidavit filed in the case Tuesday said that he had used a smuggled cell phone to contact a Nebraska woman, who, it said, was supposed to pick him up after he escaped.

          Omaha resident Mattice Mayo, 25, is believed to have wired Puckett money for a bus ticket, authorities said. Puckett was nabbed after arriving in Omaha. Mayo is charged with hindering apprehension.

          According to an arrest affidavit, Puckett made 297 calls to a phone traced to Mayo in September and November.

; 474-2791

          Smuggled phone aided in prison break

          Thousands of cell phones smuggled into prisons

          By BRIAN NEW / KENS-TV
          Posted on February 15, 2011

          SAN ANTONIO --They are more common than cigarettes, more of a problem than drugs, and can be as deadly as any weapon.

          "Our number one problem is cell phones," said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inspector General John Moriarty.

          In the past year, the Texas prison system has confiscated more than a thousand cell phones.

          Investigators found the confiscated phones hidden in all sorts of “ingenious” places, such as inside a juice can and in the binder of a book. Eighty cell phones were also discovered inside an air compressor that was being delivered to one of the state’s prisons. Moriarty said where the inmates try and hide these cell phones never ceases to amaze him.

          "I have a case where the inmate secreted the phone into his body cavity," he said, “and not just the phone but the charger, too.”

          But for every cell phone that's found, Moriarty said another seems to find its way inside. Few know this better than State Senator John Whitmire. "I didn't believe it at first,” said the senator from the 15th District. “I thought it was a prank call."

          However, it was hardly a joke two years ago when on the other end of the line was death row inmate Richard Tabler.

          "He (Tabler) mentioned my daughters’ names, my ex-wife's name, knew the particulars of where they lived, their age," said Whitmire.

          Investigators say a guard, bribed with $2,100, smuggled the phone onto death row, where it was then shared by nine death row inmates for nearly two years, racking up nearly 3,000 minutes before being discovered by authorities.

          "I've been on the receiving end of those threatening calls, and I don't want anyone I represent or anyone in the state of Texas to experience it," said Whitmire.

          Moriarty said keeping cell phones out of prison has so far been unsuccessful as the inmates always seem be one step ahead. That is why Moriarty suggests another option.

          "If you can make the cell phones worthless inside - that's the key,” he said. “Jamming is the answer."

          The problem is that jamming cell phone signals, even in prisons, is against federal law.

          The 1934 Federal Communications Commission ban on telecommunications jamming would first have to be waived.

          Opponents of jamming cell phones, which includes most cell phone service providers, argue what if there was a real need for a 911 call, or what if the jammer blocks the signals of neighbors’ cell phones.

          The cell phone service industry has also raised the concern about this being a slippery slope for other telecommunication jamming.

          Whitmire said, "I think they’re afraid that you do it in hospitals, in schools, maybe parents would jam their kids’ cell phones after ten o'clock. You know -- it's all about money, but I deal with public safety and that is the highest priority."

          In December, 13 suspected prison gang members from Corpus Christi were indicted on federal racketeering charges.

          Two of them face murder charges after investigators say they used a cell phone in prison to kill a witness that was going to testify against them.

          Moriarty said this is perhaps the most evident example of why cell phone use in prison needs to be eliminated.

          "He (suspected gang member) did that with an illegally smuggled cell phone inside a facility," Moriarty stressed.

          A federal bill has been filed this session to allow cell phone jamming in prisons.

          Similar bills in the past have failed.

          While other options are being looked at, some say they don't know what it will take for cell phone signals in prison to finally be cut off.

          Thousands of cell phones smuggled into prisons


          Prisons' new fight: Cellphone smuggling

          June 27, 2010
          By Kevin Johnson
          USA TODAY

          State corrections officials are linking networks of corrupt prison employees to thousands of illicit cellphones being smuggled to inmates in the nation's largest prison systems, according to the officials and public records.

          The workers, including guards, cooks and clerical workers, represent the most troubling source of the prohibited phones in an increasingly lucrative smuggling operation that also includes criminal gangs and prisoners' family members, state officials say.

          "It's only getting worse," says Texas prisons Inspector General John Moriarty.

          Prison employees earn $500 or more for each of the phones, which have become ubiquitous from minimum security camps to death row, says Richard Subia, California's deputy director of adult prisons.

          Subia says inmates use the phones to keep drugs flowing into the prisons, facilitate escapes and direct criminal activity on the outside.

          The problem may be most acute in California, the nation's largest prison system, where there is no criminal law — only prison regulations — directly prohibiting the smuggling of cellphones to inmates.

          Last year, 300 employees were disciplined for suspected cellphone trafficking to inmates; about 100 workers were dismissed. An additional 150 employees have been disciplined this year. In one 2009 case, Subia says, a guard confessed to earning $100,000 in kickbacks during one 12-month period.

          Because there is no criminal law, the guard resigned and could not be forced to return the money, Subia says. Last year, California prison officials confiscated 6,995 phones, up from 2,800 in 2008.

          Among states reporting problems:

          Texas. Since 2007, 230 employees have been disciplined for cellphone-related infractions. In the past five years, 45 employees have been arrested on criminal charges, including bribery, for trafficking phones to inmates.

          • New Jersey. Two weeks ago, state prosecutors charged a prison cook along with 39 others — a mix of prisoners and outside associates — linked to the Bloods criminal gang with smuggling phones and drugs to inmates. The charges were announced just a week after New Jersey Prisons Commissioner Gary Lanigan urged Congress to pass a law that would permit technology designed to jam cellphone signals in prisons.

          "The proliferation of (prison) cellphones … in New Jersey and throughout the United States has become an epidemic," Lanigan wrote, and some prison workers have been "compromised."

          The state does not track discipline for cellphone infractions, but phone seizures in New Jersey jumped from 75 in 2008 to 575 last year, prison spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer says.

          • South Carolina. Prison spokesman Josh Gelinas says state officials in 2003 attempted to discourage staffers from smuggling contraband, including cellphones, by installing metal detectors at prison entrances. He believes the detectors have been effective, but phones continue to pour in.

          Prisons' new fight: Cellphone smuggling

          Securus Technologies, Inc. Completes Installation of Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inmate Phone System - Largest Contract in the Sector in the United States

          DALLAS, TX
          Jan. 14, 2010

          -- Securus Technologies, Inc. a leading provider of inmate communications services and innovative offender and case management software design, today announced that it, in a partnership with CenturyLink – completed the installation work at all Texas state-operated prison facilities in December, 2009.

          Seven (7) year contract with Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ);
          Installation of approximately 5,500 phones that are used on a tightly controlled basis to make secure outbound calls;
          120,000 Texas inmates are potentially eligible for phone privileges;
          This contract represents the largest department of corrections contract ever signed in the inmate telecommunications sector;
          The unique challenges of installing inmate telecommunications services at facilities where inmate phone calling was previously not allowed – were overcome;
          Securus and CenturyLink successfully managed a $30 million installation project to completion over the last twelve (12) months.

          Paula Parson, Director of Projects at Securus Technologies emphasized the scope of the Texas installation effort. "We started our work in the fourth quarter of 2008 and had our first facility installed in March, 2009 – with all TDCJ-operated facilities installed by the end of December, 2009. At the height of our effort – we had over 300 Securus Associates, CenturyLink Associates, and contractors working full time on the installation – few companies in our industry could have had the resources to handle work of this magnitude. We used almost 200 Securus Associates in planning, installation, project management for this effort – and we accomplished the objective – I am proud to have been a part of this successful project."

          About Securus:

          Securus Technologies, Inc. is one of the largest suppliers of detainee communications and information management solutions, serving approximately 2,300 correctional facilities nationwide. A recognized leader in providing comprehensive, innovative technical solutions and responsive customer service, Securus' sole focus is the specialized needs of the corrections and law enforcement communities. Securus is headquartered in Dallas, Texas with regional offices in Carrollton and Allen, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia.

          For more information, please visit the Securus website at

          Syscon Holdings, Ltd., our wholly-owned subsidiary headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a world leader in innovative Offender and Case Management Software design and delivery. Syscon's Elite and Exact systems offer management functionality from booking and legal documentation through trust accounting, commissary, and medical records to the management of parole and other forms of community supervision. Syscon's systems have been implemented in many States and large Counties across North America, in Australia and in England. Syscon solutions help manage more than 300,000 inmates and former inmates every day.

          For more information about Syscon, please visit

          SOURCE Securus Technologies, Inc.

          Securus Technologies, Inc. Completes Installation...


          Cell phone smuggling to inmates still on rise
          More contraband being seized year after crackdown, reports show.

          By Mike Ward
          October 12, 2009

          A year after a Texas death row killer's cell phone threat to a powerful state senator embarrassed prison officials and triggered the largest shakedown of prisoners in state history, more cell phones are getting into prisons than ever.

          Prison reports show that prison authorities confiscated 995 cell phones between January and August, a rate that will top last year's 1,226 seizures if it continues.

          Prison officials have stepped up random cell searches and random searches of staff members and visitors. They also have installed video surveillance cameras at the entry points of nine prisons where contraband traffic has been high.

          But as the first of $10 million in security upgrades is being spent to block and detect the flow of contraband, officials say that stopping the problem will take more time and equipment.

          "The demand for cell phones remains significant enough for people to try and beat the system," said Brad Livingston, the executive director of the prison system. "We think that when we implement the new security devices, we may see a spike in the numbers as we detect more. But we think that the efforts we have taken and will continue will make a difference in the long term to address this problem."

          New security tools on order include $480,000 worth of electronic devices that can detect and locate cell phone signals. They are expected to be delivered by February.

          One potential solution, prison officials say, lies in pending federal legislation that would allow them to jam cell phone calls inside prisons. That would render the devices useless and remove the market for smuggling. The bill passed the U.S. Senate last week and is headed to the House, where cell phone interests have pledged to oppose it.

          Thirty states, including Texas, have endorsed the jamming.

          Though the number of reported cell phone seizures has increased overall, there is wide variation among Texas' 112 state prison units.

          The Stiles Unit in Beaumont continues to rank first — with 207 cell phones confiscated from convicts in eight months. Privately, prison officials concede that the Stiles Unit has long had a history of problems with contraband, including drugs, weapons and tobacco.

          At the other end of the spectrum, cell phone seizures have plummeted at East Texas' Polunsky Unit near Livingston, which houses death row.

          Twenty-three phones have been confiscated at Polunsky this year, reports show, compared with 193 last year. Prison officials attribute that drop to their stepped-up enforcement.

          During the statewide lockdown a year ago, 22 cell phones were found on death row. During the latest search, none turned up, officials said.

          "I'm glad they're continuing to find these cell phones, but the fact that the numbers are so high indicates we still have a big problem," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the lawmaker who received the threatening phone calls a year ago from condemned double-killer Richard Lee Tabler, who pleaded guilty last month to felony contraband and retribution charges. "If they're getting cell phones inside prisons in increasing numbers, what other contraband are they getting in there?"

          Prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said confiscations of other contraband are also on the rise.

          "Because of our concentrated and continuing efforts, yes, we're finding more contraband," Lyons said.

          Two weeks ago, reacting to the continued flood of smuggled cell phones, prison officials ordered 14 of Texas' toughest state prisons locked down and 35,000 convicts searched.

          Lyons said 63 cell phones were found in initial searches, most hidden in cell door crevices and inside cell walls.

          Prison officials said the security upgrades now on order — additional surveillance cameras, X-ray machines to inspect packages and purses like those at airports and a chairlike device called a Body Orifice Security Scanner that allows guards to check inmates for well-hidden contraband — are to be installed in coming months at the prisons where the most contraband is being found.

          Other states are also grappling with an increase in cell phone confiscations.

          California prison officials have confiscated more than 4,100 contraband cell phones this year, more than all those seized in the three previous years combined, a recent report disclosed.

          In South Carolina, where more than 2,000 cell phones were confiscated last year, officials expect more this year.

          "There's no sign (that) it's going down. It's a steady flow," said Josh Gelinas, communications director for the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

          For his part, Whitmire said he thinks that jamming would solve the problem once and for all. But because its passage into law remains uncertain, he intends to continue pressing for security measures in the meantime.

          "I'm not going to rest until we get the number (of confiscations) down," he said. "When is someone going to get hurt or killed because of it?"

          Cell phones in Texas prisons

          Confiscations of smuggled cell phones:

          2009* - 995

          2008 - 1,226

          2007 - 561

          2006 - 262

          * Through August

          Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

          Cell phone smuggling to inmates still on rise

          October 06, 2009

          Prison cell phone jamming bill clears US Senate

          Texas' US Senator and current gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison was the bill sponsor.

          See the full story Here.

          State Sen. John Whitmire will be pleased at this news. Though some public interest groups have expressed concern, I don't have any particular problem with the idea.

          However, I continue to wonder whether cell phone locators might be a better solution than jammers - one that could be implemented immediately and wouldn't require changing decades-old federal communications laws.

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

          Labels: cell phones, contraband, TDCJ

          August 6, 2009

          US Senate Panel OKs Cell-Phone Jamming For Prison Inmates

          By Fawn Johnson,

          WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved a bill to allow jailors to jam cell phone connections inside prisons.

          Recent high-profile cases of contraband cell phones in prisons, coupled with the buzz over cell-jamming legislation, is helping spur a new market for wireless companies and intelligence contractors bent on stopping inmate cell phone use.

          The bill, sponsored by the committee's ranking Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, allows prisons to petition the Federal Communications Commission to use cell phone-jamming devices as long as they don't cause interference with bona fide communications.

          The FCC also would be required to consider other available technologies designed to stop unauthorized use of cell phones in prisons.

          Current law bans jamming devices in all but a few isolated instances.

          Talks in Congress about easing the jamming ban is causing companies with different types of cell phone security services to jockey for favorable treatment in the bill.

          "It is an emerging market," said Ozzie Diaz, CEO of the AirPatrol Corp., a privately held "wireless threat management" company. AirPatrol offers detection services that track and document real time cell phone use.

          Critics like CellAntenna Corp. CEO Howard Melamed say cell-detection technologies aren't effective because they can't immediately stop inmates from conducting crime inside prison walls.

          CellAntenna has been pushing hard for Hutchison's bill, hoping the measure will bring about a new set of customers in the U.S. The company sells specialized cell-jamming equipment around the world.

          CTIA, the wireless association, is opposed to outright cell phone jamming, and a number of public-interest groups also have expressed concerns about it.

          CTIA's members include the top wireless companies in the U.S. - AT&T Inc. (T); Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group PLC (VOD); Sprint Nextel Corp. (S); and T-Mobile USA. T-Mobile is a unit of Deutsche Telekom ADR (DT).

          Still another player in the game is Tecore Networks, a Maryland-based company offering a service that blocks all but authorized and emergency communications within a correctional facility. This is done by coordinating with local commercial carriers and first responders.

          CTIA says cell detection or "managed access" systems like Tecore's are preferable to all-out jamming devices. Corrections officers can use cell detection to track illegal calls and seek wiretaps to bust gang crime, CTIA says.

          Hutchison has tweaked her bill to accommodate those ideas, which is good news for companies selling a variety of goods to address the problem. The measure originally focused solely on jamming.

          "There are still going to be two or three solutions that are going to fulfill this marketplace," said Diaz.

          The Commerce Committee also approved a bill to make it unlawful for phone and cable companies to transmit misleading or inaccurate caller ID information.

          -By Fawn Johnson,
          Dow Jones Newswires;

          US Senate Panel OKs Cell-Phone Jamming For Prison Inmates

          July 16, 2009

          Jamming cell phones in prison debated at US Senate committee

          A US Senate Committee yesterday heard testimony from Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, TDCJ Inspector General John Moriarty, and others regarding a proposed bill by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison that would change federal law to allow states to jam cell phones in prison.

          Though Texas instituted a "zero tolerance" policy on cell phones last year after a death row inmate called Sen. Whitmire's office (leaving an open question what level of "tolerance" they operated under before), the senator told the committee that strategy cannot succeed, according to AP: "'Short of jamming and a complete shutting down of those phone signals, I don't think we can remedy the problem,' Whitmire told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. 'It is a public safety problem.'"

          Information Week provided good coverage from the hearing ("Senate mulls jamming cell phone signals in prison," July 15):

          The proposed legislation seeks to have Congress revise a 1934 law that blocks the jamming of phone signals. The bill, which would permit jamming cell phone signals in prisons, has been sponsored by Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who noted that a prison inmate in Maryland used an illegally obtained cell phone to order the killing of a witness.

          "Just more than two years ago, Carl Lackl, a young father of two in Maryland, was killed after an inmate used his cell phone to order a hit," Senator Mikulski said in a statement. "This is not an isolated incident and it must stop. All across the country, cell phones are being smuggled into prisons and being used by inmates to communicate with criminals on the outside."

          The other side of the issue was presented in a letter to Commerce Committee members by several public interest organizations. According to Public Knowledge the letter maintained that there are ways better than jamming to deal with the illegal cell phones-in-prison problem.

          "Jamming prison cell phones would jeopardize public safety because there is no way to jam only phones used by prisoners," said Public Knowledge's legal director Harold Feld in a statement.

          "All wireless communications could be shut down within a prison"As spectrum experts have explained, jamming contraband cell phone signals without jamming authorized communications presents an extremely difficult engineering challenge. Cell phone signals use many bands, often proximate to or shared with public safety operations."

          To alleviate the problem, Public Knowledge suggested that lowering the cost of legal calls in prisons -- currently costing as high as $300 for an inmate with family -- would help as would a stepped up effort to detect and stop the flow of unauthorized cell phones in prisons.

          The flow of illegal mobile phone is eye-popping. California, for instance, confiscated more than 2,000 cellphones in 2008. Phones are sneaked into prisons by visitors and corrupt guards, or simply thrown over prison walls. In Brazil, where the problem has reached epidemic proportions, cell phones are delivered to prisoners by homing pigeons.

          The part about the homing pigeons cracked me up. Prison smuggling often produces some surprisingly creative and resourceful schemes, when you pay attention to the details, but that one takes the cake! Guard corruption is still the principle culprit, though; TDCJ caught dozens of guards smuggling cell phones onto prison units after they instituted a lockdown last year..

          Wireless companies also opposed the legislation, according to coverage in a Florida paper:

          The cell phone lobby is fighting the prison officials. John Walls of CTIA - The Wireless Association (formerly known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association) told the Chronicle that jamming technology "is imprecise. The problem with jamming technology is that's it's imprecise."

          He added: "We're certainly not at odds on the intent. There's not one legitimate customer that we have behind bars, and shutting that off is as much of a concern to the industry as anybody else. … Where we think that perhaps we could do a better job ... is by looking at all the solutions available today and selecting the ones that protect legitimate use while still solving the problem, and that would be cell detection and managed access."

          For more detail from critics of the idea, I've uploaded onto Google documents a copy of the letter to Sen. Hutchison from Public Knowledge and other interest groups critical of the jamming proposal.

          MORE: Here's a little more detail about the bill from that I hadn't seen published elsewhere: "While S. 251 does not call for an outright legalization of jamming technology, it allows for prisons to apply for a waiver from the ban and provides for Federal Communications Commission testing and certification of jamming technology."

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

          Labels: contraband, phone service, TDCJ

          July 17, 2009

          TDCJ official says foreign death penalty opponents funding cell phone smuggling

          When John Moriarty, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice testified before Congress yesterday in support of legislation to permit cell phone signal jamming around prisons, he offered some insights into the problem of phone smuggling to prison inmates.

          Moriarty told legislators phones are usually carried into the facility by corrupt employees or contractors; dropped in a location to be smuggled in by inmates or concealed in packages shipped into the facility.

          Search procedures enacted last fall, after a death row inmate threatened a state senator via cell phone, include pat searches, metal detectors and x-rays, but "inmates and corrupt employees in some cases have changed their operational techniques by resorting to secreting the devices in their body cavities in order to get past the search procedures," he said. "Conducting body cavity searches is permitted only under extreme circumstances due to the intrusiveness of the search. This search technique is not taken lightly and persons involved in smuggling also know this."

          The cost to have a cell phone smuggled inside a prison ranges between $400 and $2,000, he said. Perhaps most startling was his comment that his office has "developed evidence that money from foreign nationals involved in the anti-death penalty movement was utilized to facilitate some of these organized smuggling operations."


          TDCJ official says foreign death penalty opponents funding cell phone smuggling

          Posted on Jul. 15, 2009

          Texas senator pleads for bill to jam cellphones in prison

          McClatchy Newspapers

          WASHINGTON — The man calling Texas state Sen. John Whitmire could recite the names, ages and addresses of Whitmire’s daughters. The lawmaker was terrified: The caller was Richard Tabler, a two-time convicted murderer calling from Death Row.

          When Whitmire began to investigate how the inmate got a cellphone in prison, Tabler threatened to have him killed.

          On Wednesday, Whitmire, D-Houston, pleaded with the Senate Commerce Committee to back legislation allowing technology in prisons that would "jam" cellphone transmissions. The October incident made it clear that current techniques for finding and confiscating prisoners’ cellphones don’t work, he said.

          Wireless-industry representatives, however, are concerned that jamming technology would work too well, blocking legitimate cellphone calls — or calls to 911 — from those who live near prisons and aren’t incarcerated.

          Moreover, if the contraband cellphones are left in place, they said, they can be wiretapped to get valuable information.

          The Senate panel is considering a bill sponsored by its top Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, that would allow cellphone-jamming technology in prisons. The Federal Communications Commission has been barred from blocking any kind of radio signal since 1934.

          Senators routinely expressed support for the bill in the hearing.

          "The states clearly have a responsibility" to address the cellphone problem, Hutchison said, "but we have a responsibility as well."

          Whitmire said: "My family was in danger, as well as all the citizens of the state of Texas. I can’t stress to you how serious a public safety issue I think this is. We need this additional tool."

          U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, has introduced a similar bill in the House, and prison officials in 26 states have signed a petition to allow cellphone jamming.

          Texas senator pleads for bill to jam cellphones in prison

          Jamming Prison Phones Will Backfire, Groups Warn Congress

          By Ryan Singel
          July 14, 2009

          Letting the nation’s prisons jam wireless signals to stop inmates from using contraband mobile phones sets a dangerous precedent and is the wrong solution to a vexing problem, public interests groups told a Senate committee Tuesday, just a day before a hearing to consider a jamming bill.

          Mobile phones in prisons became a national issue after a convicted murderer on death row used a smuggled mobile phone to call Texas state Sen. John Whitmire to complain about his treatment. The inmate mentioned that he knew the name, addresses and ages of his kids, scaring the senator, who heads a criminal justice committee. Gang members have also used mobile phones to keep running rackets from inside prison walls and to order the killing of witnesses, leading to the current drive to install mobile phone jamming equipment inside prisons and jails.

          Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce committee, has introduced a bill that would, for the first time ever, legalize cellphone jammers use in prisons.

          One company CellAntenna hopes to capitalize on the rogue dialing. It has developed a jammer it claims will block only cellphones within a prison and not interfere with public safety equipment and the prisons’ own wireless communication signals.

          But public interest groups, including Public Knowledge, the New America Foundation, and the Main Street Project, told the committee in a letter that cited a Wired magazine story that blocking technology is unproven and that blocking is not possible without causing collateral damage.

          “Allowing the legal manufacture, importation and sale of jamming equipment will create a loophole that history shows the FCC will find impossible to close,” the groups wrote.

          “Jamming prison cellphones would jeopardize public safety because there is no way to jam only phones used by prisoners,” said Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge. “All wireless communications could be shut down within a prison.”

          Prisons have used cellphone trackers and mobile phone sniffing dogs to try to find rogue mobile phones, but the devices are in high demand and supply is hard to clamp down on since a guard can makes thousands sneaking in a single cellphone.

          Moreover, the large majority of calls and texts are from prisoners to their families — a way to get around the usurious rates that telecoms charge prisoners and their families to stay in touch via payphones.

          And since prisoners that keep in touch with their family are less likely to break the law again when they get out, there’s a good public policy reason to find a better solution to the problem — such as cheap phone rates for inmates.

          Or as Vince Beiser put it in his Wired magazine story about the problem:

          Whatever their crimes, most convicts have parents, children, and others they’re desperate to stay in touch with. Letters are slow, and personal visits often involve expensive, time-sucking travel. Some prisons have public phones for making collect calls, but access is limited, conversations are often monitored, and phone companies often charge much higher rates than on the outside.

          A Virginia woman whose husband is six years into a 40-year sentence says she won’t let him use a cellphone because she doesn’t want him to get in any more trouble. As a result, “my phone bill last December was $800,” she says. “That was my whole Christmas bonus.” Between calls she drives seven hours each way, twice a month, to see him in person.

          “Cellphones are the best thing since conjugal visits,” says a California con I’ll call Jack. “And being a lifer, I don’t get those.” Jack doesn’t want his real name printed because I spoke to him —several times—on a contraband handset he had procured in the pen, where he’s doing time for second-degree murder. “I call my mom three or four times a week,” he says. “And I text my daughter every night.”

          Feld also noted that the blanket prohibition has kept cell phone jammers out of the mainstream, and argued that a single exception could lead to unforeseen circumstances.

          “Once such a jamming device is built, it will inevitably become available on a wider basis. Who knows what chaos that will cause?” Feld said.

          Sen. Hutchinson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

          The bill is called the Safe Prisons Communication Act of 2009 and the Senate Commerce committee will hold a hearing on the cell jamming bill Wednesday at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

          Sen. Whitmire will be among the witnesses.

          Jamming Prison Phones Will Backfire, Groups Warn Congress

          Cell phone shutdown sought in lockups

          By PEGGY FIKAC
          Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
          July 14, 2009

          AUSTIN — After finding 775 prohibited cell phones in Texas prisons so far this year, state officials are petitioning federal regulators and the U.S. Senate for the power to jam cell phone signals in lockups — joining 27 other states who want the same authority.

          Texas and other states hope to use jamming technology to keep cell phones out of the hands of inmates, who can use them to order criminal acts outside prison walls.

          “It's critical,” said the Texas prison system's inspector general, John Moriarty. “The cell phones are the most immediate threat to public safety in Texas. ... We've had a lot of crimes orchestrated over those phones.”

          State Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire — a Houston Democrat who last year was called by a death row inmate on a smuggled phone — said in a statement, “What happened to me should never happen to another person.”

          Of the 775 phones found in Texas prisons from January through June of this year, 217 were intercepted before making it to an inmate, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. It's unclear when the rest were smuggled in. To detect and prevent contraband, the prison system conducts searches and is training dogs to find cell phones. The department received $10 million in funding for security equipment.

          Prohibited by law

          But cell phone jamming by states is apparently prohibited by a 1934 federal law that bans states from interfering with federal airwaves.

          U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has filed a measure to specifically give the Federal Communications Commission authority to allow the jamming. Moriarty and Whitmire are scheduled Wednesday to testify before a U.S. Senate committee in favor of the legislation. Texas also has joined 27 other states to petition the FCC to allow it.

          Under Hutchison's proposal, officials seeking to jam signals would have to get authority to do so separately for each facility. That's among the provisions meant to help address concerns of the wireless industry, which says legitimate cell phone users in a prison's vicinity — including emergency personnel — could find their communications jammed as well.

          John Walls of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a wireless industry group, emphasized that the industry agrees the problem needs to be solved but “where we have a difference of opinion is in how we go about that.” Walls said there's technology to allow correctional officials to block cell phone numbers that aren't authorized and to detect when cell phones are being used.

          “The problem with jamming technology is that's it's imprecise,” Walls said. “We're certainly not at odds on the intent. There's not one legitimate customer that we have behind bars, and shutting that off is as much of a concern to the industry as anybody else.” Walls said they want a solution that will “protect legitimate use while still solving the problem.”

          Supported by Perry

          Hutchison said she introduced the bill because “our law enforcement professionals need as many tools as we can give them to fight criminal enterprises behind bars, as well as to protect victims and public officials from harassment and violent threats from prisoners.”

          The move also has the support of Gov. Rick Perry, who petitioned for such legislation last year, said Allison Castle, the governor's spokeswoman.

          “We are pleased Congress is now addressing this issue, and we hope that Congress will pass a bill that provides states with the authority and flexibility they need to keep the public safe,” she said.

          Cell phone shutdown sought in lockups

          July 13, 2009

          Hutchison seeks cell phone jamming authorization

          The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this week is taking up a bill by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to allow cell phone jamming in state prisons, according to a press release received via email from state Sen. John Whitmire's office:

          At the request of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) will be in Washington, D.C. this week to express his support of Senator Hutchison's legislation allowing the jamming of cell phone signals within prison facilities.

          In October, 2008, Senator Whitmire received numerous calls from a Texas death row inmate. The inmate had access to a cell phone which was shared with other inmates and used to make over 2,800 calls in less than a month. The following investigation resulted in a statewide prison lock-down, the discovery of hundreds of cell phones, and the indictment of the inmate and his mother and sister who helped provide the phone.

          "Unfortunately, it took a death row inmate calling a State Senator to bring the issue to light and to force the prison system in Texas to recognize and begin to address the problem of contraband in our prisons," stated Senator Whitmire.

          Senator Whitmire is scheduled to appear at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, July 15th before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation chaired by Senator Rockefeller. Also invited to testify are Steve Largent, head of the CTIA Wireless Association; Gary Maynard, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services; and John Moriarty, Inspector General of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

          MORE: See a blog post critical of the cell phone jamming bill, and also a letter to Senators Hutchison and Rockefeller opposing the bill from the public interest group Public Knowledge. PK makes the argument that public safety responders could be affected, and also suggests jamming signals in prison may lead to a slippery slope: "The introduction of legal cell phone jamming places this entire system at risk. History has shown that permitting the legal manufacture and sale of devices even for limited purposes will inevitably result in their becoming available on a mass consumer basis. For example, the use of wireless microphones in the broadcast bands is limited by FCC rule to a small number of licensed users and – in theory – strictly controlled to avoid possible interference with television viewing and other uses of the band."

          AND MORE: See coverage from the Houston Chronicle.

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

          Labels: contraband

          May 31, 2009

          Texas prison cell-phone scandal making national news

          The latest issue of Wired magazine includes a feature on the problem of cell phone smuggling in Texas prisons by Vince Beiser, highlighting the much-ballyhooed case where a death-row inmate began calling state Sen. John Whitmire, launching a statewide lockdown that revealed dozens more phones at units statewide.

          Though certainly there are cases out there of prisoners using phones to commit crimes, and Wired runs through the most frequently cited examples, most cell phone use, of course, is to stay in touch with family and friends not to "order hits" or commit new offenses. Still the issue certainly constitutes a security threat, most immediately because it contributes to guard corruption, a point the story emphasizes:

          The easiest—and probably most common—way mobiles are moving into prisons is in the pockets of guards and other prison staff. "There's no question that corrupt officers are involved," says Texas inspector general [John] Moriarty. The risk is small, the payoff big. Correctional staff coming to work are typically searched only lightly, if at all, and a phone can fetch a couple thousand dollars. One California officer told investigators he made more than $100,000 in a single year selling phones.

          Deep into the article after listing several stories of crimes related to illegal cell phones, the tone changes when Beiser begins to talk about solutions:

          There's no question that prisoners are using cell phones to foment all kinds of mayhem. But investigations have established that most calls placed on contraband mobiles are harmless—just saying hi to family and friends. Whatever their crimes, most convicts have parents, children, and others they're desperate to stay in touch with. Letters are slow, and personal visits often involve expensive, time-sucking travel. Some prisons have public phones for making collect calls, but access is limited, conversations are often monitored, and phone companies often charge much higher rates than on the outside.

          Texas prison officials quoted in the story agreed part of the solution must be expanding legal communication between inmates and their families:

          the most compelling reason to let inmates ... talk to their families isn't that it's nice for them or even their mothers. It's that it could reduce crime and save the public a bundle by cutting recidivism. Most of the more than 2 million men and women behind bars in the US will eventually be released, and decades of research show that those who maintain family ties are much less likely to land back in jail. Every parolee who stays straight saves taxpayers an average of more than $22,000 a year.

          Even tough-on-crime Texas has embraced that logic. The state has long refused to allow phones of any sort for inmates in its prisons, but this year officials are installing landlines. "Once they're in place, we expect a decrease in the problem," Moriarty says.

          Wired's story was followed up by pieces in Time magazine and on CNN referencing Texas' cell phone smuggling woes.

          The best solution here, unfortunately, must come from the federal level: A 1934 law bans state and local governments from jamming broadcast signals and would have to be altered by Congress, according to officials at the FCC.

          See related Grits coverage:

          Senate committee examines reasons for contraband smuggling
          FCC has no authority to approve cell phone jammers
          Chasing illegal cell phone use in TDCJ
          Cell phone trafficking in Texas prisons
          Guards and contraband smuggling in prisons and jails
          Texas prison guards smuggle cell phones to inmates
          Even death row not immune to contraband smuggling
          Has TDCJ learned the right lessons from death-row cell-phone scandal?
          Few prison guards fired, prosecuted for contraband smuggling
          New rules for TDCJ phone service approved

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

          Labels: contraband, phone service, TDCJ

          Prison officials sniffing out contraband cell phones

          May 31, 2009
          From Dave Alsup

          (CNN) -- In the black market of prison life, cell phones have become perhaps the hottest commodity. Now, Texas is among a growing number of state governments going after them.

          Tiny, easy to hide and an unmonitored link for convicts to the outside world, cell phones are valuable contraband, fetching a greater asking price from convicts than some shipments of illegal drugs.

          John Moriarty, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said that one phone can fetch as much as $2,000.

          "It takes one crooked prison worker to populate a whole prison unit with them," he said.

          More than 1,200 wireless phones sit in law enforcement evidence rooms, all found behind bars or in transit to Texas inmates in 2008.

          Moriarty is the investigator and bloodhound the state of Texas uses to trail the illegal traffic.

          "These are not stupid people," he said of the coordinated efforts to slip phones into the prison and hide them. "There are a lot of hands in between and they all want a piece of the action."

          Accomplices on the outside vary from family members, to friends to fellow criminals who buy or steal the phones and charge them with minutes.

          The contraband is then moved through an elaborate series of drop points and usually ferried into the walls of a prison by a guard or trustee -- an escape engineered in reverse. Finding the dirty prison employee is often the key.

          "Some of these guys make next to nothing, so you can see how easy it could be to corrupt them," Moriarty said.

          State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and the chair of the state senate's Criminal Justice Committee, became an ally of Moriarty's after one phone call in October.

          He picked up a phone slip from his secretary and called the number on it -- only to realize he had returned a call to a death row inmate's cell phone.

          The inmate, he said, was Richard Tabler -- a convicted double murderer who was sharing a wireless phone with nine other inmates.

          "At first I thought it was a hoax," said Whitmire, who said he called the state justice board and "read them the riot act."

          Whitmire is one of the sponsors of a bill in the Texas Legislature that would crack down on convicts caught with phones and allow prison systems to monitor and detect cell signals. It's en route to Gov. Rick Perry's desk after clearing both houses of the legislature this week.

          Other efforts are under way at both the state and federal level.

          In January, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, introduced legislation that would let prisons jam cell-phone signals within their walls.

          Last month, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley asked the federal government for permission to do so in his state.

          Prison officials in Arizona are training dogs to sniff out cell phones.

          Find this article at:
          Prison officials sniffing out contraband cell phones

          Published: May 14, 2009

          Cell phone nets TDCJ inmate 60 more years

          Staff Reports
          The Palestine Herald

          A Coffield Unit inmate was sentenced to 60 years in prison Tuesday after an Anderson County jury found him guilty of possessing a cell phone in a correctional facility.

          A seven woman, five man jury found Derrick Ross, 38, of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Coffield Unit guilty of having a prohibited item in a correctional facility.

          The case was tried in the 87th Judicial District Court with Judge Deborah Oakes Evans presiding. The state was presented by Allyson Mitchell, an assistant special prosecutor with the Special Prosecution Unit.

          The Special Prosecution Unit prosecutes all criminal cases that occur on TDCJ and TYC property throughout Texas by request from the local district attorney.

          Ross was defended by Barbara Law, attorney for State Counsel for Offenders.

          According to evidence presented by Mitchell, on March 27, 2007, a correctional officer at the Coffield Unit trusty camp attempted to search Ross after he began to act suspicious.

          The officer testified that Ross was outside the administration office in the trusty camp when he started acting “squirrely and nervous.”

          The officer ordered Ross to stop for a procedural strip search.

          According to the officer, instead of stopping, Ross began to run. The officer was joined in his pursuit of Ross by another correctional officer and they chased him down the trusty camp A and B dorms to the back area of C dorm.

          The officer testified that during the chase, Ross tossed “something over his head onto the roof.” Once the throw was made, and the item discarded, Ross stopped and was taken into hand restraints by the pursuing officers.

          According to testimony, another correctional officer climbed on the roof of the dorm in the area that Ross threw the item and found a state issued sock with a cell phone and charger inside. There were no other objects on the roof.

          The defense said that prior to the chase Ross had been subjected to a strip search and no contraband was found.

          Mitchell argued that Ross had to walk quite a ways through other inmates and shops to get back to the trusty camp and could have obtained the cell phone and charger then.

          A parole officer testified he was at the Coffield shooting range when he heard a commotion and looked up to see an offender running behind C Dorm at the Coffield trusty camp.

          He said he saw the offender make an overhead tossing movement and two officers chasing him.

          It took the jury 30 minutes of deliberation before returning a guilty verdict.

          During the punishment phase of the trial, the jury heard that Ross previously had been convicted three times of felony offenses.

          In 1989, Ross was convicted of burglary of a motor vehicle and in 1990, he was convicted of theft of an automobile. In 1993, he was convicted of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and sentenced to 25 years in TDCJ.

          Because Ross was found to be a habitual offender, the range of punishment for having a cell phone in a correctional facility was 25 years to 99 years or life. Normally the range of punishment would be 2 to 10 years.

          After 30 minutes of deliberation the jury assessed his punishment at 60 years in TDCJ. The sentence is stacked on top of the one he currently is serving.

          A sentence of 60 years is one of the highest sentences in the state that has been handed down by a jury for possession of a cell phone in prison.

          According to Mitchell, the phones are used to carry out illegal transactions such as ordering hits, making drug deals, running gangs and the very act of having one is a privilege that is not afforded to an inmate.

          “I believe that the jury’s verdict will send a message to the TDCJ inmates that still have cell phones and the visitors and unethical officers that provide them cell phones,” Mitchell said in a press release. “The message is that the citizens of Anderson County take this charge seriously and are not afraid to send someone to prison for a long time for violating this law.”

          Cell phone nets TDCJ inmate 60 more years

          Legal prison phones start ringing

          By Mike Ward
          April 3, 2009

          For the first time in Texas history, convicts can now legally phone home from their cellblocks.

          Not from those smuggled cell phones that caused such a stir a few months ago, when a state senator got a call and then a threat from a death row prisoner, but from new equipment that’s been approved by The Boss.

          For every call, state taxpayers will be making money.

          Officials today announced that the first seven prisoners — all women — made calls Monday from the 576-bed Henley State Jail in Dayton, northeast of Houston.

          During April, 13 additional prisons are expected to get working inmate phones, and 31 more are expected to be added in May, said Paul Cooper, director and general manager of inmate phone systems for Embarq, the company hired to install and operate the new system.

          By September, all of Texas’ 112 state prisons and jails should have inmate phones ringing.

          Texas is the last state in the nation to allow an inmate phone system.

          Only outgoing calls are to be allowed. And those calls can be made only to friends and relatives approved in advance by prison officials.

          For years, as other states installed inmate phone systems, Texas prison officials resisted such a move. But two years ago, lawmakers changed state law to allow for prison phones as a way to generate revenue for state coffers and the Victim’s Compensation Fund — probably tens of millions of dollars, officials said.

          More than a million people are expected to register to receive calls from the 140,000 convicts who will be eligible to make them, Cooper said. So far, 400 people are registered to receive calls — although Coper said he expects that number to grow steadily as additional prisons get working phones.

          Project manager Wendell Stewart and Cooper said the system will work like this:

          ¬ Convicts must be approved to make calls, and the numbers they are calling must be pre-approved by prison officials to ensure that no victims or their families are included.

          ¬ Each time they make a call, the system will validate the convict’s prison number, their “biometric voice print” — verify their voice — and the number they are calling.

          ¬ People who answer the calls will hear a recorded voice message alerting them that the call is coming from a prison, and giving them the option of accepting the call, declining it or blocking all further prison calls.

          Stewart said the system will allow for collect calls, or for calls pre-paid from an account into which family members can transfer money or convicts can transfer funds from their prison accounts.

          Inmates’ family members will be able to sign up online at TEXAS PRISON PHONE

          The new system features a number of security measures to allow officials to monitor calls to block any planning of crimes, to keep crime victims from getting called and to protect people who do not want to get phone calls, prison officials said.

          Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

          Legal prison phones start ringing

          New rules let prison inmates make regular calls

          April 3, 2009

          AUSTIN — Texas prison inmates are making routine phone calls for the first time.

          The Texas prison board was told Friday the first of a planned systemwide program of telephone service to be available to most inmates began working this week at the Henley State Jail in Dayton, east of Houston. The system is being phased in this year throughout the 112 units of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the nation’s second-largest corrections agency.

          Under terms of a contract with a Kansas telecommunications firm, the country’s most restrictive telephone policy for state prisoners is ending for an estimated 120,000 inmates who will be allowed up 120 minutes of prepaid and collect calls each month.

          Three more prisons — Vance, in Fort Bend County; Luther, in Grimes County; and Hobby, in Falls County — are to have phone service next week and should be among 13 brought up in April.

          Texas is the last state to bar routine phone access for inmates. Most Texas prisoners now are allowed one five-minute collect call every 90 days, and only with a warden’s permission and only with a prison officer present to monitor the call.

          The new system will allow inmates up to 15 minutes per call to friends and family on an approved list of visitors. Inmates and their families can prepay for telephone calls at rates of about 23 cents a minute for in-state calls and 39 cents for out-of-state calls.

          New rules let prison inmates make regular calls

          March 09, 2009

          Offender Telephone System

          The Offender Telephone System (OTS) allows eligible offenders to make paid telephone calls to friends and family listed on the offender's Visitor List.

          Offenders with major disciplinary problems, gang affiliations, or on death row will not have access to the telephone system.

          Telephone calls can be placed in the following manner:

          Collect calls charges are accepted when the offender calls.

          Friends and Family Prepaid the telephone number owner establishes an account in which to deposit money to pay for the offender's calls.

          Offender Telephone Prepaid Debit Account the offender or family can deposit money into the offender's account.

          The following rules apply to the system:

          Phones are available from 7:00 AM - 10:00 PM, unless conditions dictate a change.

          Calls are limited to 15 minutes.

          You will hear a warning message one minute before being disconnected.

          Offenders are limited to 120 minutes per month.

          All calls, except to the Attorney of Record, are subject to monitoring and recording.

          Calls may only be made to home landline telephone numbers. No calls are allowed to cell phones, 800 numbers, businesses, pay phones, or international numbers.

          To receive calls:

          To receive calls, the telephone number owner must be listed on the offender's Visitors List. Additionally, the name on the Visitors List must match the name on registrant's driver's license or state identification card. Additionally, this information must also be reflected on their telephone listing or bill.

          To register you will be required to confirm that you:

          Are the registered owner of the telephone number.
          Are not registering a wireless number.
          Agree to allow the offender to call the phone number.
          Agree to accept financial responsibility for collect calls.
          Are at least 18 years old. For more information or to register,
          click on the link below.
          Texas Prison Phone

          Complaints about the vendor's service should be forwarded in writing to:
          Texas Department of Criminal Justice
          Information Technology Division
          Offender Telephone System Contract Manager
          P.O. Box 4016
          Huntsville, TX 77342-4016
          Offender Phone

          Offender Telephone System Implementation Schedule

          This table projects the month the TDCJ Offender Telephone System will activate at the respective units. The dates are approximations only and could change due to construction issues or material availability.

          Significant changes to the schedule will be posted as they occur.

          Site Name/Projected Month:




          BM MOORE






          C. MOORE










          CRAIN (aka GATESVILLE)













          FT. STOCKTON

          GARZA EAST

          GARZA WEST


















          JESTER I

          JESTER III

          JESTER IV

































          SAN SABA


















          WAYNE SCOTT








          TDCJ Phone Schedule

          February 15, 2009

          Cell phone trafficking in Texas prisons

          Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman has an excellent piece this morning describing in detail how investigators believe cell phones and other contraband were smuggled onto Texas death row ("Texas prison cell phone smuggling blamed on inmate rings," Feb. 15):

          Instead of the phone being smuggled by a single corrupt guard, as originally thought, investigators now say it and dozens of others might have been put in the hands of Texas' worst killers by an intricate network of supporters and their families who used code words, fake names, money transfers, prearranged drop sites and even a secret compartment at the bottom of a garbage can to get the phones inside what is supposed to be the most secure part of Texas' prison system.

          Investigators say they believe several organized groups are involved in the trafficking.

          "From the time someone puts up the money to get the phone for an inmate, there may be six to eight sets of hands involved with that phone, six to eight different people who do one thing or another," said the prison system's top investigator, Inspector General John Moriarty. "It's a convoluted, complicated network that's very difficult to trace. And it's going to be very difficult to shut off, because as soon as we bust someone, another person will step in and start it all over again.

          "The demand is the problem. It's huge."

          If nothing else, the new details explain why smuggling cell phones into Texas prisons continues almost unabated four months after [Richard] Tabler's arrest triggered an unprecedented lockdown of the 154,800-inmate system, a new zero-tolerance policy on all contraband and an emergency request by prison officials for $66 million to upgrade security to curb the problem.

          TDCJ had earlier announced it had caught dozens of guards smuggling cell phones onto prison units, so this news doesn't necessarily exonerate TDCJ from allegations of guard corruption, but it certainly complicates the picture involving cell phone smuggling and makes it a more difficult challenge to solve. Definitely read the whole thing.

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at:
          Cell phone trafficking in Texas prisons

          Labels: contraband, TDCJ

          Texas prison cell phone smuggling blamed on inmate rings

          Elaborate networks of prisoners and their supporters are main culprits, investigators say.

          By Mike Ward
          February 15, 2009

          Authorities say they are closing in on at least four groups of convicts and their supporters — both inside prison and out — who are believed to have helped smuggle dozens of cell phones into Texas' death row.

          And with arrests near in the high-profile investigation, details are surfacing about contraband trafficking inside state prisons.

          The cell phone that condemned killer Richard Lee Tabler used to call a state senator probably was not his. It's believed to have been sneaked into the maximum-security Polunsky Unit near Livingston in East Texas by a convict who probably then "brokered" it to Tabler and other inmates for favors and cash.

          Instead of the phone being smuggled by a single corrupt guard, as originally thought, investigators now say it and dozens of others might have been put in the hands of Texas' worst killers by an intricate network of supporters and their families who used code words, fake names, money transfers, prearranged drop sites and even a secret compartment at the bottom of a garbage can to get the phones inside what is supposed to be the most secure part of Texas' prison system.

          Investigators say they believe several organized groups are involved in the trafficking.

          "From the time someone puts up the money to get the phone for an inmate, there may be six to eight sets of hands involved with that phone, six to eight different people who do one thing or another," said the prison system's top investigator, Inspector General John Moriarty. "It's a convoluted, complicated network that's very difficult to trace. And it's going to be very difficult to shut off, because as soon as we bust someone, another person will step in and start it all over again.

          "The demand is the problem. It's huge."

          If nothing else, the new details explain why smuggling cell phones into Texas prisons continues almost unabated four months after Tabler's arrest triggered an unprecedented lockdown of the 154,800- inmate system, a new zero-tolerance policy on all contraband and an emergency request by prison officials for $66 million to upgrade security to curb the problem.

          "You can stop contraband from coming into prisons if you want to," said Sen. John Whitmire, the Houston Democrat whom Tabler threatened.

          "It may be complicated, but they keep it out of county jails and federal prisons and airports. This is not rocket science."

          Though they refuse to discuss details of any of the pending criminal cases, Moriarty and other investigators say the delivery relay — on and off death row — usually begins with an inmate asking a friend or family member for a cell phone, either in a letter or during a prison visit.

          The friend asks around — usually with prison family organizations, those opposed to the death penalty and other affinity groups — and eventually gets in contact with someone who says he can get the inmate a phone.

          They set a price, and money is sent to that person — usually by check or money order, often to someone in another state. The person buys the phone or has a roommate or acquaintance do so, paying cash and leaving a fake name or no name at all.

          The phone, loaded with calling minutes, is then shipped to Texas — usually to someone who lives near the prison. The phone gets handed to a dishonest prison employee or is delivered to a prearranged drop site outside the prison, a landmark such as a tree or a telephone service box where it will be picked up.

          In a prison, convicts do all kinds of jobs, inside and outside the fences. They mow the lawns, hoe the crop fields, take out the trash, cook the food, map the cellblocks and do the laundry.

          Those workers, known as trusties and "support service inmates," go in and out through various gates and checkpoints. Similarly, traffic through outside perimeter gates bustles with delivery trucks, work crews and correctional staffers.

          A trusty working in a field could be alerted by an inmate or a guard to pick up the hidden phone and deliver it to another inmate. For that, a contact in the free world would have $50 or $100 transferred into the inmates' trust accounts, which can be used to buy snacks and other items from the commissary.

          "It might go through two or three more sets of hands once it gets inside, before it gets to the inmate who ordered it," Moriarty said.

          "Everybody would get a little something for taking care of it."

          And once the phone arrived at death row, the inmate who ordered it would use it — or barter it to other convicts in his cellblock, arranging for family and friends in the free world to transfer money into trust accounts.

          In recent weeks, officials confirmed, several convict accounts have been frozen as a part of the cell phone investigation.

          "You track money. You track the calls. Neither is easy. It can take months and months," said one investigator, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak publicly.

          So far, authorities say, the Tabler case alone has involved "tens of thousands of pages of documents" that are being reviewed by more than a dozen investigators. Prison investigators even had to purchase special software to sort the electronic phone records because they were so voluminous, Moriarty said.

          One target of the expanding probe, by her own admission, is Tina Church, an Indiana investigator known as the "Angel of Death Row" for her long-standing research work on behalf of condemned inmates seeking to win their life-saving appeals.

          Though she acknowledges talking with Texas death row convicts on cell phones during the past two years, Church, 54, insists that she tried repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — to report the calls.

          "I tried to report it once, and all I got was death threats from the inmate," she said. "I'm a target only because my name was listed on those phone records, is all."

          Moriarty and other investigators will not discuss the case or even say whether Church is a suspect.

          Church said most cell phones are arranged and paid for by relatives and friends.

          The current asking price for a cell phone, according to inmates and their friends: about $3,100, up from $2,100 last fall, before Tabler's calls to Whitmire and others exploded in headlines.

          "I heard stories all the time about inmates accessing the Internet on the phones," Church said.

          She said she has received cell phone threats from at least one condemned convict whom she dropped as a client.

          "This whole thing is a cesspool," Church said. "I'm sorry I ever got involved in all this."

          If the phones are difficult to track, current law gives investigators little help, those in Texas and other states say.

          The problem is that the phones can be bought in large numbers at one time, and if the buyer pays cash, the store usually keeps no record of who bought them.

          In the Tabler case, authorities used subpoenaed phone records to determine that minutes were purchased for the phone at a Wal-Mart in Waco. After reviewing store security camera tapes, they identified the purchaser: Tabler's sister.

          Who bought the phone? "We're still tracking that," Moriarty said. As many as a dozen different SIM cards — the electronic cards that allows the phone to operate and are roughly the size of a postage stamp — may have been used in the phone.

          "If you think the phones are easy for convicts to hide, think about the SIM cards. They can hide those about any place: in the waistband of their boxer shorts, in a crack in the wall of their cell, places you wouldn't want to think about," Moriarty said.

          When nearly seven dozen brand-new cell phones were discovered last November rattling inside the air tank of a shop compressor being delivered to the Stiles Unit near Beaumont, authorities ran into a dead end trying to find out who bought them.

          "We tracked it only because they used a credit card to buy the air tank," Moriarty said. "More ID is required to buy an air tank than 76 cell phones."

          Smuggled cell phones have been on the rise in prisons across the country, according to news reports. The phones have been used from inside prison to order a murder of a witness in Maryland, to orchestrate a prison riot in Oklahoma and to arrange drug deals and threaten witnesses in several other states.

          In addition to urging a change in federal law to allow the prison system to jam cell signals, prison officials in Texas and other states are pushing for a law that would require ID for any cell phone purchases. Such a move has been vigorously opposed by cell companies and large retailers that sell the phones, and so far no such change has been enacted.

; 445-3617

          Find this article at:
          Texas prison cell phone smuggling blamed on inmate rings

          First prison phones connect March 30

          By Mike Ward
          February 13, 2009

          Using voice-identity technology once used to order U.S. military air strikes, Texas on March 30 will begin allowing prison convicts to make legal phone calls for the first time — on old-fashioned, hard-wired handsets that promise to earn taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

          Texas is the last state in the nation to allow an inmate phone system.

          Prison officials announced today that the first eight phones will be activated at the Byrd Unit, the prison system’s primary intake and assessment unit in Huntsville. Within a month, five additional prisons will get hundreds more.

          Only outgoing calls will be allowed. All of Texas’ 112 state prisons should have inmate phones ringing by September, when the final lockups are to be hooked up. That’s two months later than initial projections, a delay that officials attributed to planning delays. Ironically, the change comes as authorities officials are battling to rid prisons of smuggled cell phones and other contraband, an issue that came to light last October after a death row inmate called — and then threatened — a state senator with a smuggled cell phone.

          For years, as other states installed inmate phone systems, Texas prison officials resisted such a move.

          But two years ago, lawmakers changed state law to allow for prison phones as a way to generate revenue for state coffers and the Victim’s Compensation Fund.

          Officials said they hope the new phone system will lessen the demand for smuggled cell phones, although that has not necessarily proven the case in other states that already have inmate phone systems.

          Project manager Wendell Stewart and Paul Cooper, director and general manager of inmate phone systems for Embarq, the company hired to install and operate the phones, said the system will work like this:

          ¢ Convicts must be approved to make calls, and the numbers they are calling must be pre-approved by prison officials to ensure that no victims or their families are included.

          ¢ Each time they make a call, the system will validate the convict’s prison number, their “biometric voice print” — verify their voice — and the number they are calling.

          ¢ People who answer the calls will hear a recorded voice message alerting them that the call is coming from a prison, and giving them the option of accepting the call, declining it or blocking all further prison calls. Stewart said the system will allow for collect calls, or for calls pre-paid from an account into which family members can transfer money or convicts can transfer funds from their trust accounts. Inmates’ family members will be able to sign up online.

          More than a million people are expected to register to receive calls from the 140,000 convicts who will be eligible to make them, Cooper said. “I have never encountered a project with as many details as this project,” Stewart said.

          Cooper told the Texas Board of Criminal Justice that the “biometric” aspect of the new system “was used in Vietnam in air strikes … to verify that the person asking for the air strike was approved to do so.”

          Cooper said secure underground cables and other equipment are being installed in prisons, and crews expect to complete the work at a rate of about 15-18 prisons per month.

          Board member Tom Mechler questioned whether a security lapse could occur if a convict called his mother’s house — an approved number — “and his mom is gone and his drug contact is at home.”

          Prison officials acknowledged that calls could be answered by someone not approved to receive them, but they insisted such calls would be quickly detected by other security measures being built into the system.

          All calls will be recorded, and the calls will be monitored on a sporadic basis by prison investigators, gang specialists and even wardens.

          Wardens can turn off all phones if a problem arises, officials said. Mechler appeared assured by the detail, noting he was confident “we’ve taken every effort to make sure we’re doing everything right.” Added John Moriarty, the prison system’s inspector general: “I think we’ll have the most secure inmate phone system in the country.”

          Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol
          Categories: Criminal justice

          First prison phones connect March 30

          Perry: Emergency for prison security

          By Mike Ward
          February 3, 2009

          Gov. Rick Perry today designated the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s request for $66 million to ramp up security in state prisons, partly to curb the flow of smuggled cell phones and other contraband.

          The designation was among several issues declared as emergencies so the Legislature can begin considering the issues in the initial 30 days of the legislative session.

          Wording in Perry’s order: “Legislation to appropriate funds to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the purchase and use of screening and detection devices for contraband and personnel, as well as comprehensive security equipment.”

          The prison agency sought the funding late last year in the aftermath of a revelations that smuggled cell phones inside prisons posed a growing threat to security and public safety, after a death row convict called —Â and then threatened — a state senator.

          Emergency for prison security

          Former downtown Waco jail guard indicted amid allegations he let prisoners use a cell phone

          January 29, 2009
          By Tommy Witherspoon
          Tribune-Herald staff writer

          The state prison system apparently is not alone when it comes to prisoners getting access to cell phones.

          A McLennan County grand jury Wednesday indicted a former guard at the privately operated McLennan County Detention Center on Columbus Avenue on a charge of giving contraband to inmates at a secure facility, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

          Michael Ray Hamilton III, an 18-year-old former jail guard known as “Big Mike” to inmates, was indicted for allowing two prisoners, Morgan Dyer and Chris McWilliams, to use his cell phone to make calls in October, authorities said. The use of cell phones by inmates is prohibited in detention centers, according to records filed in the case.

          Hamilton and both inmates gave written statements to McLennan County Sheriff’s Office investigators about use of the phone, an affidavit to support Hamilton’s arrest said.

          A man who identified himself as a warden at the downtown jail, which is operated by Community Education Centers in a lease agreement with McLennan County, referred questions about Hamilton to the sheriff’s office. He declined to give his name.

          More than 200 cell phones have been confiscated in state prison cell blocks since a systemwide shakedown for contraband ended in November.

          Eight of the phones were seized from death row, where the shakedown started after condemned two-time murderer Richard Lee Tabler called and threatened to kill state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Tabler was sentenced to death for killings in the Killeen area.

          The Associated Press contributed to this story.


          Former downtown Waco jail guard indicted

          Lawmakers grill prison officials over smuggling

          New numbers show cell phones are still being smuggled into prisons.

          By Mike Ward
          January 28, 2009

          Facing a legislative committee short on patience and demanding answers, state prison officials offered few details Tuesday on why they have been unable to stop the flow of smuggled cell phones onto Texas' death row.

          "Shut it down," state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, a member of the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee, told prisons Director Brad Livingston. "If your job depended on keeping cell phones off death row, and I think that's an accurate statement, why can't you stop it?"

          "This is a top priority," Livingston replied. "We are being vigilant."

          At issue were new statistics showing that since a lockdown of Texas' 112 state prisons ended in early November, cell-phone smuggling has continued — 220 have been seized in the past two months.

          The problem is centered at seven state prisons, where most of those phones have been confiscated. Whitmire and other members of the House- Senate committee questioned why a focused crackdown has not been ordered at those prisons — especially on death row, where eight cell phones have been found since November.

          Smuggled cell phones in Texas prisons have been an issue since October, when death row inmate Richard Lee Tabler was busted for possessing a phone on which more than 2,800 calls had been made in one month — including several calls to Whitmire, who reported the contact to authorities.

          Tabler told investigators that he bought the phone for $2,100 and that it was smuggled into the Polunsky Unit in East Texas by a guard.

          Tabler's mother and sister were arrested and charged with assisting contraband smuggling, and Gov. Rick Perry ordered the entire Texas prison system locked down for cell-by-cell searches.

          About 140 cell phones, chargers and related gear were confiscated, including 18 phones from death row.

          During Tuesday's hearing, John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general, said four prison employees have been arrested in the continuing investigations into contraband smuggling — none in connection with the smuggled phones found on death row. Two are accused of smuggling in tobacco, one of smuggling a cell phone and one of bribery, he said.

          Citing ongoing investigations, he provided no additional details.

          Gina DeBottis, director of a special prosecutions unit, said no cell- phone cases have been prosecuted in at least two years. Moriarty and DeBottis told Whitmire that convicts facing death and life sentences may not be prosecuted because giving them longer sentences would do little good; cutting off privileges such as visitation may work better.

          Whitmire said he wasn't satisfied with that explanation.

          "If you're going to look the other way when they violate the law, where do you cut it off?" he asked. "It sends a horrible message" not to prosecute contraband cases, he said.

          Prison officials also said that about 600 of their 6,000 surveillance cameras are broken; that Tabler may have obtained his cell phone from a trusty, instead of directly from a guard; and that Tabler may have borrowed the phone from another convict on death row, rather than owning it himself as originally thought.

; 445-1712

          Lawmakers grill prison officials over smuggling


          Cell phones continue to turn up in state prisons

          Officials say they've confiscated twice as many phones since lockdown ended.

          By Mike Ward
          January 27, 2009

          More than 200 cell phones have been confiscated in state prison cellblocks since a systemwide shakedown for contraband ended in November. That's almost twice as many as were seized during the Oct. 21 to Nov. 11 lockdown, new statistics show. Eight of the phones were seized from death row, where the shakedown had started after a condemned two-time murderer called and threatened to kill state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

          "We've got some hard questions to ask about the zero-tolerance policy they supposedly put into effect," said Whitmire, D-Houston. Prison officials on Monday said the confiscations of 220 cell phones from convicts at Texas' 112 state prisons between Nov. 12 and Jan. 15 show their continuing crackdown is working. "This is an ongoing problem, something that we're continuing to battle, continuing to fight," said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

          The issue of smuggled cell phones in Texas prisons promises to provide fuel for intense questioning at a legislative committee hearing today and will add impetus for passage of federal legislation to allow state prison officials to jam cell phone calls as a way to neutralize what they say is becoming a nationwide epidemic.

          Texas prison officials have asked for $66 million in extra state money to beef up security, including contraband detection. "It's a constant assault on security," said John Moriarty, inspector general for the prison system. "We had 1,164 (cell phone) cases opened last year, and 49 already so far this year. Jamming is the solution."

          The newly released numbers of confiscated cell phones do not include cell phones seized from correctional officers, staff and visitors, who have been subject to mandatory pat searches since Gov. Rick Perry ordered the zero-tolerance policy Oct. 20.

          At the top of the list: 96 smuggled phones seized at the Stiles Unit near Beaumont, 21 at the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony in Northeast Texas, 20 at the Darrington Unit southwest of Houston, 19 at the privately operated Mineral Wells pre-parole lockup, and 12 at the Connally Unit southeast of San Antonio. In one recent seizure, 25 cell phones were discovered inside a toner cartridge delivered in an overnight express package to the Stiles Unit, Clark said.

          Smuggled cell phones have been an issue in Texas prisons since October, when death row convict Richard Lee Tabler was busted for possessing a phone on which more than 2,800 calls had been made in one month — including calls to Whitmire. Tabler told investigators he bought the phone for $2,100, and it was smuggled into the Polunsky Unit by a guard. Tabler's mother and sister were arrested and charged with assisting contraband smuggling, but no guards have been charged or arrested as the investigation enters its fourth month.


          Cell phones continue to turn up in state prisons

          Cell phone smuggling continues

          By Mike Ward
          January 26, 2009

          More than 200 cell phones have been confiscated in state prison cellblocks since a system-wide shakedown for contraband ended in November, almost twice as many as were seized during the lockdown.

          Eight of the phones were seized from death row, where the crackdown started after a condemned two-time murderer called — and then threatened to kill — a powerful state senator.

          “We’ve got some hard questions to ask about the zero-tolerance policy they supposedly put into effect,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston.

          “What do we have to do enforce zero tolerance? What we see doesn’t look like zero tolerance. Obviously, I’m still concerned.”

          Prison officials this afternoon insisted the confiscations of 220 cell phones from convicts at Texas’ 112 state prisons between Nov. 12 and Jan. 15 shows their continuing crackdown on smuggled phones and other contraband is working.

          “This is an ongoing problem, something that we’re continuing top battle, continuing to fight,” said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “It’s something we take very seriously.”

          The continuing issue of smuggled cell phones in Texas prisons promises to provide fuel for intense questioning at a legislative committee hearing today (Tuesday), and will add impetus for passage of federal legislation to allow state prison officials to jam cell phone calls as a way to neutralize what they say is becoming an epidemic nationwide.

          Texas prison officials have asked for $66 million in extra finding to beef up security including contraband detection.

          “It’s a constant assault on security,” said John Moriarty, inspector general for the prison system whose staff investigates cell phone smuggling among other crimes. “We had 1,164 (cell) cases opened last year, and 49 already so far this year. Jamming is the solution.”

          The newly released numbers of confiscated cell phones do not include cell phones seized from correctional officers, staff and visitors, who have been subject to mandatory pat searches since Gov. Rick Perry ordered the zero tolerance policy Oct. 20.

          At the top of the list: 96 smuggled phones seized at the Stiles Unit near Beaumont, 21 at the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony in Northeast Texas, 20 at the Darrington Unit southwest of Houston, 19 at the privately operated Mineral Wells pre-parole lockup, and 12 at the Connally Unit south of San Antonio.

          In one recent seizure, 25 cell phones were discovered secreted inside a toner cartridge that was delivered in an overnight express package to the Stiles Unit, Clark said. Earlier, authorities discovered as many as 70 cell phones inside the tank of an air compressor that was being delivered to the prison in late summer.

          Smuggled cell phones in Texas prisons have been an issue since October, when death row convict Richard Lee Tabler was busted for possessing a phone on which more than 2,800 calls had been made in one month — including calls to Whitmire.

          Tabler told investigators he bought the phone for $2,100, and it was smuggled into the Polunsky Unit by a guard. Tabler’s mother and sister were arrested and charged with assisting contraband smuggling, but no guards have yet been busted as the investigation enters its fourth month.

          In cell-by-cell searches during the lockdown — in which all convicts were confined to their cells around the clock —144 cell phones were confiscated along with weapons, drugs and other illegal items.

          Eighteen were confiscated from death row, including Tabler’s.

          After Whitmire said he had received calls from Tabler, the inmate threatened to kill Whitmire and this reporter, who broke the story.

          Prison officials say those threats highlight the danger from smuggled cell phones: convicts could order crimes from behind bars.

          In the past four years, authorities have said they thwarted several crimes involving the use of smuggled cell phones but didn’t provide details. Officials in other states have blamed smuggled cell phones for the murder of a witness, a prison riot and other crimes.

          Cell phone smuggling continues

          Jan. 23, 2009

          Official says death row inmate attempts suicide

          A Texas death row inmate at the center of a monthslong investigation of cell phone smuggling within the prison system has been moved to a psychiatric unit after apparently trying to kill himself a 2nd time, an official said Friday.

          Condemned murderer Richard Tabler was moved from death row earlier this week after cutting his arms, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

          In an interview aired this week on Austin television station KEYE, Tabler accused an officer of smuggling the cell phone that was discovered in his prison cell in October after he made a threatening call to state Sen. John Whitmire. It was among some 2,800 calls records show were traced to the phone and prompted a lockdown of the nation's second-largest corrections system for weeks while officers combed 111 prisons for contraband.

          More than 100 phones, 100 phone chargers and nearly 200 weapons were confiscated in the sweep. Other phones and phone components have been discovered since.

          In the TV interview, Tabler complained officials were not trying to find officers he said were involved in smuggling operation.

          John Moriarty, the inspector general for the 155,000-inmate prison system, denied that accusation Friday.

          "In the cases we are investigating on death row there has been no evidence to indicate that an employee is involved," he said.

          Moriarty said investigators were focusing on the families of inmates and inmate trusties as the source of the phones and the phone deliveries.

          Trusties do jobs around prisons like garbage collection, maintenance and laundry work and have greater freedom to move within the units.

          The use of cell phones, prohibited in prisons, already had been under investigation in Texas and other corrections departments around the nation when Tabler's calls to Whitmire prompted Gov. Rick Perry to order the lockdown.

          Moriarty said Friday that over the past 12 months, investigators have asked for 1,000 subpoenas for phone records to track the use of the phones in prison. He told the Temple Daily Telegram the investigation of Tabler's phone indicates Tabler borrowed the phone from another inmate.

          Tabler was not available for interviews this week on death row at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston because prison officials considered him a security threat, then he was moved to the Jester psychiatric unit. Last October, after his phone was confiscated, he was taken to the same psychiatric hospital outside Houston after officers found he'd ripped a 3-foot piece of bedsheet, attached it to a light fixture in his death row cell and had red marks around his neck in an apparent attempt to hang himself.

          Tabler, 29, from Killeen, was convicted in 2007 of fatally shooting Mohamed-Amine Rahmouni, 25, and Haitham Zayed, 28. He also confessed to killing Tiffany Dotson, 18, and Amber Benefield, 16. All 4 had ties to a Killeen strip club.

          He recently told his trial judge he wanted appeals waived so he could be put to death.

          District Judge Martha Trudo told the Temple newspaper she received a letter from Tabler 2 weeks ago asking for an execution date and indicating he would continue to seek an execution date even though the mandatory appeal of his conviction before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has not yet been completed.

          The judge said she's forwarded the letter to the appeals court.

          "Until the appellate court speaks, I don't set an execution date," she said.

          (source: Associated Press)

          Bill introduced to prevent cell phone use in prison

          Posted: Jan 15, 2009

          WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Texas' senior Senator, and U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) today introduced legislation, the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009, aimed at preventing prison inmates from using smuggled cellular phones.

          "This legislation will fight criminal enterprises behind bars and protect innocent victims and public officials from harassment and threats from criminals," said Sen. Hutchison. "Recent cases of prisoners smuggling cell phones behind bars highlight the need to use current technology to prevent this ability."

          "I strongly urge my colleagues to get behind this legislation," said Rep. Brady, who has worked on this bill in connection with the FCC and various telecommunications committees. "It is unacceptable that these inmates have been able to threaten people from behind bars, and it must not continue."

          The legislation will allow the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a Governor or the Governor's designee (depending on whether a facility is federal or state-operated) to submit a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting to operate a wireless jamming device in a particular correctional facility. In determining whether to grant the petition, the FCC must consider, among other things, whether the jammer would interfere with emergency or public safety communications outside the prison's walls. The FCC will test and approve devices for use by correctional facilities.

          Current law prevents interference with wireless services. This is an important safeguard to ensure the dependability of 911 emergency calls, and serves to protect the rights of legitimate users of wireless services. This legislation provides a process for approval and use of jamming technology while continuing to protect public safety and legitimate use.

          Recent news reports indicate that in Texas, authorities say death row inmate Richard Tabler used a smuggled cell phone to make threatening calls to a state senator. Tabler's phone was found in the ceiling above a shower and officers found 11 additional phones belonging to other death row inmates while looking for it.

          Corrections departments across the country are reporting a sharp increase in cell phones being smuggled into prison facilities. In some states, the number of cell phones confiscated has doubled over the past two years, while in others, smugglers are making brazen attempts, such as using slingshots to propel cell phones over prison fences, to get cell phones into the hands of prisoners.

          Bill introduced to prevent cell phone use in prison

          Bill to allow prison cell jamming

          By Mike Ward
          January 15, 2009

          Two GOP Texas lawmakers today filed federal legislation to allow prison systems to curb a growing epidemic of smuggled cell phones inside the nation’s prisons.

          The bill by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady — entitled the Safe Prisons Communications Act — would allow state authorities to jam cell phone calls with permission from the Federal Communications Commission.

          The epidemic was highlighted across the nation in October, when a Texas death row inmate called state Sen. John Whitmire and this reporter — then threatened to kill both of them after he got busted for having the contraband. In other states, convicts have used smuggled cell phones to order murders, to spark riots and to run drug rings, authorities have said.

          “This legislation will fight criminal enterprises behind bars and protect innocent victims and public officials from harassment and threats from criminals,” Hutchison said. “Recent cases of prisoners smuggling cell phones behind bars highlight the need to use current technology to prevent this ability.” Added Brady: “It is unacceptable that these inmates have been able to threaten people from behind bars, and it must not continue.”

          Under the proposal, the legislation will allow a governor or a designee and the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons to petition the FCC to jam cell phone calls at a specific prison.

          The FCC will then have to determine whether the jamming would interfere with emergency or public safety communications outside the prison’s walls. And the FCC would have to test and approve devices for use by correctional facilities.

          Under current law, which took effect in 1934, jamming of cell phone calls at prisons is illegal. After the Texas death row convict, Richard Tabler, was arrested, Gov. Rick Perry ordered an emergency lockdown and sweep for cell phones and other contraband at Texas’ 112 state prisons.

          More than 40 phones and related gear were found, among weapons, illegal drugs and other contraband, were subsequently found — including 18 phones and cell items on death row.

          Death row is supposed to be the most secure part of Texas’ prison system.

          In Texas, prison officials have reported a sharp increase in smuggled cell phones in recent years, confiscating more than 700 last year alone. In some states, including Texas, the number of cell phones confiscated from prisoners has doubled over the past two years.

          In some instances, Texas authorities have said smugglers use brazen methods, such as using slingshots to propel cell phones over fences or hiding them inside footballs and air-compressor tanks, to get cell phones into the hands of convicts.

          “Great. Great. Great,” Whitmire, D-Houston, said late this morning when advised of the bill. “It’s about time.”

          Bill to allow prison cell jamming

          Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol



          Ozmint: In the interest of public safety, allow prisons to block cellular signals

          Jon Ozmint, SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR
          December 19, 2008

          Technology advances at an amazing pace, and criminals figure out how to employ it for illegal purposes at an equally amazing pace. Within our nation's prisons, criminals and their accomplices are using wireless technology to threaten public safety.

          The Federal Communications Act of 1934 was created "for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communication. " By withholding surgical jamming technology from state and local law enforcement, the Federal Communications Commission violates this purpose and fails to acknowledge advancing technology.

          Cell phones are contraband in prison. However, contraband can get past even the best detection systems. X-ray scanners, metal detectors, drug and bomb dogs, and the best search techniques are all creations of human ingenuity, and they can all be defeated by human ingenuity.

          In South Carolina prisons, we have improved procedures to squeeze the traditional contraband pipelines. As a result, we are experiencing an increase in what we call "throw-overs" : efforts to introduce contraband directly over our fences by throwing, shooting or dropping packages containing contraband. This method requires coordination with the "throwers" on the outside via cell phones.

          Today, cell phones and related technology are the contraband of choice in America's prisons. Cell phones allow inmates to avoid using inmate phone systems, where calls can be monitored and recorded. Recently, witnesses and others have been murdered as a result of hits issued by inmates using cell phones. From drug dealing to credit card fraud to escapes, cell phones in prisons threaten public safety.

          There are two ways to deal with the issue of cell phones in prisons.

          One is detection and location technology, which is expensive and imprecise. Further, it is only partially effective since it only works while phones are operating and it requires continuous staffing to monitor and search for phones, SIMS cards and parts.

          The second method, blocking or jamming, is 80 percent cheaper and 100 percent more effective. It is continuous, and it cannot be defeated by hiding and moving phones and their parts. It eliminates the threats created by cell phones.

          Years ago, technology used to block and jam signals was imprecise: To block cell phones within a target area, such as a prison or a single building, the technology would interfere with other calls outside of that radius. So the FCC was justified in prohibiting such blocking.

          Now, improved technology can block only certain signals within a set radius. "Surgical jamming" can be aimed. In fact, we invited the FCC to attend a recent demonstration of the technology in one of our maximum security prisons. Disappointingly, they refused to even send a representative.

          From the beginning, the wireless industry has voiced two objections to using this technology in prisons: interference with calls outside of prison, such as 911 calls, and interference with law enforcement radios. After our demonstration, the public and the media saw that these arguments are specious: Surgical jamming does not interfere with law enforcement radios or block 911 calls. In fact, it will not block any call or frequency outside the prison perimeter.

          Jamming cell phones can be an effective and necessary tool for law enforcement. Federal agencies are already allowed to purchase and use this jamming technology. So, if a cell phone-detonated bomb threatens the U.S. Capitol or the FCC building, federal law enforcement can jam the signal. After all, they are very important people.

          But out here in the hinterlands, if a cell phone-detonated bomb threatens a local courthouse or school, Congress and the FCC have made it a crime for state and local law enforcement to use the same technology that they afford to federal authorities. Apparently our safety is not quite as important.

          This double-standard is the pinnacle of arrogance, even by Washington standards.

          Congress and the FCC should be ashamed.

          And they should act.

          Ozmint, the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, is asking the FCC to allow state and local law enforcement authorities to use jamming technology and to allow South Carolina to pilot surgical jamming technology in prisons immediately.

          In the interest of public safety

          FCC says Texas' test jamming cell phones in prison OK

          Associated Press
          Dec. 17, 2008

          AUSTIN — Texas officials are accusing the Federal Communications Commission of "bureaucratic double-talk" after agency officials just "encouraged" a cell phone jamming test that was cancelled because federal officials would not authorize it, according to a newspaper report.

          "Only in Washington can a federal agency encourage conduct it previously said was unauthorized," Jerry Strickland, communications director for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said after the FCC issued a statement encouraging the test.

          The test is in response to a deluge of illegal cell phones discovered in Texas prisons. The cell phones first came to light in October when a condemned inmate made threatening calls to Sen. John Whitmire, prompting a statewide prison lockdown and shakedown for contraband that turned up hundreds of smuggled phones. Whitmire is a Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

          A successful demonstration of the device was recently held in South Carolina.

          Because of a federal law that makes jamming of radio signals illegal, Texas officials on Monday cancelled Thursday's demonstration of an electronic device that would do just that. In effect, the device would render a phone inside a prison useless.

          But on Tuesday morning, FCC spokesman Robert Kenny surprised Texas officials with a statement proposing that Texas move ahead with the test law or not.

          "We recognize the concerns of public safety regarding this complex issue, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin remains committed to trying to work with public safety officials to address their needs," Kenny said.

          Afterward, state Rep. Jerry Madden, of Richardson, planned to proceed with Thursday's test but was rebuffed.

          Strickland said "what the State of Texas needs from the FCC is real action ..." the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday for an online story.

          Strickland noted The Associated Press quoted Kenny on Oct. 21 as saying the agency "could not authorize a state to interfere with cell phone signals."

          Kenny said that Martin remains "willing to work with (Texas officials) on this complex issue."

          Jamming cell phones in prison OK

          Prison phone-jamming demo halted
          Attempt to keep inmates from using smuggled devices could violate law, AG tells officials

          By JANET ELLIOTT
          Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
          Dec. 15, 2008

          AUSTIN — State prison officials, looking for ways to stop contraband cell phones from landing in the hands of inmates, had planned Thursday to take a look at the latest technology: phone jamming.

          But the demonstration was summarily canceled Monday after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told them it could violate a 1934 federal law prohibiting states from interfering with federal airways.

          The law has been a sticking point as prison officials and lawmakers deal with an epidemic of smuggled cell phones into prison units, including death row.

          "At every turn, we have attempted to identify a legal way to perform this test so that we could move forward," said Oliver Bell, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which oversees the prison system. "I cannot, in good faith, violate the law in front of our nearly 38,000 employees and then demand they violate no law under threat of prosecution."

          The decision disappointed Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who received threatening calls from a death row inmate on a smuggled cell phone. Those calls prompted a systemwide sweep that uncovered hundreds of the devices, including 18 on death row.

          Other states have been struggling with the issue, and prison officials in South Carolina demonstrated the jamming technology last month.

          "I do question why they changed their mind," said Whitmire. "The federal statute should not be a roadblock. They did it in South Carolina, and there were no repercussions."

          CellAntenna Corp. of Coral Springs, Fla., conducted the presentation in South Carolina and was scheduled to do the same in Austin this week.

          Howard Melamed, CEO of the company, said he doesn't believe there were any legal issues because the company was not marketing or selling its equipment to Texas. The company wanted to show technology could be safely confined to the lockup and wouldn't affect emergency calls and police radios, Melamed said.

          He said officials from several other states had planned to attend the demonstration, which CellAntenna was doing at no charge to the state.

          Brad Livingston, executive director of the criminal justice department, said the jamming technology would be a valuable tool in controlling illegal cell phones brought into prisons. The department is working with Gov. Rick Perry, members of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to have the law changed, he said.

          Meanwhile, prison officials are seeking nearly $66 million for new security equipment to rid prisons of cell phones and other contraband.

          Prison phone-jamming demo halted

          Death row cell phone scandal prompts big budget request

          By LISA SANDBERG
          Copyright 2008 San Antonio Express-News
          Dec. 3, 2008

          Texas prison officials are seeking nearly $66 million in public money for new security equipment in an effort to rid cell phones and other contraband from their lockups, just weeks after a systemwide sweep uncovered hundreds of smuggled phones, including 18 on death row.

          Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston said today that the money would be spent on items such as video surveillance, walk-through metal detectors and wand detectors.

          Twenty maximum-security prisons, including the Polunsky Unit, which houses death row, would be equipped with a comprehensive video system.

          Oliver Bell, the chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, issued a stern warning today to anyone who might be unaware of the changes underway and tempted to break the law.

          "We will find (the contraband) wherever it is. We will stop it at the perimeters. We are willing to do every single thing that is legal," Bell said at this morning's board meeting.

          The funds sought by Livingston would have to be approved by both the governor's office and the Legislative Budget Board.

          While smuggled cell phones have been a growing problem for Texas prison officials, they became a major headache for them six weeks ago when 10 death row inmates were discovered to have placed nearly 2,800 calls from an illegal cell phone. The recipient of several threatening calls was Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

          A systemwide lockdown was ordered, and in the three-week sweep that followed, 289 cell phones and cell phone parts were discovered. John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general, said no employees have been charged but investigators are pursuing leads.

          Moriarty said that all prison visitors, including him, are now patted down before being allowed entry.

          Death row cell phone scandal prompts big budget request

          Texas prison officials plan cell phone jamming test
          Officials point to successful test in South Carolina.

          By Mike Ward
          November 26, 2008

          Buoyed by the successful test of cell-phone jamming technology Friday in a South Carolina prison, Texas officials confirmed Tuesday that they are working on a similar demonstration in the Lone Star State.

          House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden said he has requested a test of the technology at a Texas prison "as soon as it can be worked out."

          The proposed date and site: Dec. 18 at the Travis County state jail in Austin.

          "It would take a change in federal law to allow jamming such as this, but I would hope there could be some action to change the law sooner rather than later," Madden said. "Federal law gives federal agencies the authority to jam cell signals, and I think it's strange the states could have inmates just as dangerous as the feds, and we can't jam the cell signals."

          Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the state's prison system, said officials were working Tuesday to get the demonstration set up.

          Priscilla Doyle, a spokeswoman for CellAntenna Corp., the Florida- based company that conducted the South Carolina test, said the firm has agreed to do the Texas test.

          The issue has been a hot topic after condemned double murderer Richard Lee Tabler made cell phone calls from death row to state Sen. John Whitmire and this reporter last month.

          Tabler, his mother and his sister were busted on contraband charges after Whitmire — who chairs the powerful Senate committee that oversees prisons — reported the calls.

          Eighteen cell phones and related paraphernalia have been found on death row since Gov. Rick Perry ordered a zero-tolerance policy on contraband in state prisons, a move that brought the first lockdown and coordinated sweep for contraband in all of Texas' 112 state prisons in a decade.

          Whitmire earlier demanded that state prison officials begin jamming cell signals at state prisons in the interest of public safety.

          But the Federal Communications Commission recently warned that tests like the one in South Carolina are illegal under a law that is 73 years old.

          Based on Friday's test, Josh Gelinas, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, said corrections officials there plan to petition the FCC for permission to conduct a pilot program using the technology.

          Gelinas and Doyle said Friday's test jammed cell phone traffic in a contained area inside a South Carolina prison but did not interfere with radio traffic between correctional officers or cell traffic outside the prison.

          "It was very successful," Gelinas said.

          Earlier, FCC officials said federal agencies — but not state or local ones — can get permission to use the technology, which prevents cell tower transmissions from reaching the phone.

          FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has publicly offered support to law enforcement and prisons seeking to use jamming equipment, expressing a willingness to work with them on the issue. FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said Martin will "give careful consideration" to South Carolina's request, according to an Associated Press report.

          Madden said Texas' two U.S. senators and several congressmen are looking at filing legislation to allow state prison officials to jam cell phone signals inside prisons.

          Asked about cell phone jamming Tuesday, Perry said: "We're not going to do what we cannot do. Maybe there's some middle ground where we can find a way to keep criminals from using cell phones in ways harmful to our citizens. We don't agree with the FCC that jammers in places like prisons are necessarily a bad thing."

; 445-1712

          Additional material from staff writer Asher Price.

          Phone Jamming

          Journalist writing article on cell phones in prisons

          November 19, 2008

          Dear folks,
          I'm an award-winning magazine writer who has been covering prison issues for years - you can get a sense of where I'm coming from by visiting my website at http://www.vincebei

          I'm currently working on a piece for Wired magazine about inmates using cell phones inside prisons.

          One reason that this is happening, of course, is because of the extortionate rates for phone calls made through official prison payphones.

          Another is the simple wish to have a conversation without prison officials listening in.

          So I'm looking to talk with anyone who has used, or is currently using, a cell phone while behind bars -for whatever purpose.

          Naturally, I will not print anyone's name or any other identifying information if they don't want me to. But it would be a big help to speak with people who have direct experience with the issue.

          If you could put me in touch with anyone who fits the bill - including people who have been released but used cell phones while locked up - I'd very much appreciate it.

          I'd also like to speak with friends, family members etc. who have communicated with incarcerated loved ones via cell phones.

          Please write me back at, or call me at 323/229 9135.

          Thanks very much for your time.

          I hope to hear from you soon.

          All best,
          Vince Beiser

          Vince Beiser
          6381 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 655
          Los Angeles, CA 90028
          tel: 323/229 9135
          fax: 801/218 9135

          Cellphone found in cell of Texas death row inmate convicted in Dallas-area slaying

          November 13, 2008
          Associated Press

          HUNTSVILLE, Texas - Just hours after the end of a massive lockdown and sweep for contraband items in Texas prisons prompted by a death row inmate's calls from prohibited cell phone, another phone has been seized from a condemned inmate in his cell.

          An officer doing a routine search of convicted killer Mark Stroman's cell at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston discovered a phone stuffed in a sock, along with a charger and "trace amounts of a green leafy substance believed to be marijuana," Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Thursday.

          In addition, Lyons said officers found a "flat piece of metal, sharpened on both sides, resembling an arrowhead."

          The Polunsky Unit, which includes death row, just returned to normal operations Wednesday and was the last of the state's prisons on a systemwide lockdown imposed last month after a condemned inmate made threatening calls to a state senator.

          The latest discovery came midday Wednesday, Lyons said. The items have been turned over to the inspector-general's office, the corrections department's investigative agency.

          The prison has not been returned to lockdown, which restricts inmates to their cells and limits visits from outsiders, she said.

          Stroman, 39, has been on death row since 2002 for the 2001 slaying of a Dallas-area convenience store clerk during a robbery.

          After his arrest, he blamed the shooting on rage of the terrorist attacks a month earlier on Sept. 11.

          Prosecutors disputed the claim and a jury found him guilty of killing Vasudev Patel, 49, an immigrant from India. The shooting was captured on a store surveillance video. At his sentencing, Stroman held a small American flag.

          Stroman also is accused of killing another convenience store clerk, Waquar Hassan, on Sept. 15, and of wounding another clerk, Rais Uddin, in a separate attack during another robbery attempt.

          The victims in those shootings were Pakistani.

          The search of death row during the sweep that began Oct. 20 turned up a dozen phones, plus chargers and other contraband.

          The phone use is a continuing problem in prisons nationwide where the phones are considered a security breach and of particular value to gang members.

          Authorities said inmate Richard Tabler, whose calls triggered the statewide lockdown, also shared the device with at least nine of his fellow condemned prisoners.

          Investigators determined some 2,800 calls were made from his phone from inside the Polunsky Unit.

          Texas prison officials now are looking into specialized equipment that tracks phones as a possible means of combating the problem.

          Prison officials looking at cell phone tracking technology

          By Mike Ward
          October 30, 2008

          Stung by revelations this month that death row inmates used a smuggled cell phone to log thousands of calls, prison officials confirmed Wednesday that they are actively reviewing technology to curb the problem.

          The possible solution: high-tech gear that could pinpoint the location in a prison where a smuggled phone is being used.

          The development came as officials released an updated tally from a recent contraband sweep during a lockdown of Texas' 112 state prisons: Seventy-one cell phones were confiscated — including five from death row — along with 65 chargers.

          By early Wednesday, the lockdown had been lifted at just over a third of state prisons — after the contraband search was completed.

          Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the agency is evaluating specialized equipment that can detect the locations of cell phones in prison cells.

          "We're evaluating a range of technologies from a number of vendors," she said.

          Neither the names of the companies nor the types of technology being examined by prison officials were made public.

          "No decisions have been made," Lyons said.

          Tom Matthews, a spokesman for Embarq, a phone company that in August won a multimillion-dollar contract to install pay phones in Texas prisons, said cell-detection equipment tracks the radio signals that cell phones emit when they are used. Embarq has not offered such a system to Texas.

          John Moriarty, the prison system's independent inspector general, said many detection systems are on the market. Some are hard-wired antennas that intercept cell signals; others use portable equipment to locate the origin of the signal, he said.

          This month, prison investigators busted condemned Bell County murderer Richard Lee Tabler, 29, after linking him to a cell phone that logged more than 2,800 calls in one month. Authorities suspect that he let other death row convicts borrow the phone and make calls.

          Among the calls made by Tabler were several to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the prison system.

          "It's amazing we didn't ask about this equipment earlier to curb a problem that is now all too obvious to all of us," Whitmire said. "The prison officials either knew they had a problem and covered it up, or they didn't know they had a problem. Neither answer is good."

          When the controversy about cell phones erupted, prison officials were ironing out final details for installing pay phones in state prisons beginning early next year — making Texas the last state in the nation to allow convicts routine phone access.

          Lyons said the pay phone system could be operational as early as February. A partnership of Embarq and Securus Technologies was selected in August to install as many as 4,000 phones that will be used by most of the state's 155,000 imprisoned felons.

; 445-1718

          Cell phone tracking technology

          Shakedown yields a dozen phones in Texas prisons

          Associated Press Writer © 2008 The Associated Press

          Oct. 22, 2008

          HOUSTON — An intense shakedown of Texas's 155,000 prison inmates yielded 13 cell phones and 12 phone chargers in a growing scandal over prohibited telephones being smuggled in to inmates.

          Authorities charged a second person Wednesday, accusing her of being involved in a death-row inmate's possession of a phone.

          Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials also said officers have seized at least one subscriber identity module, or SIM card, a postage-stamp-size tool that plugs into cell phones and transfers information from one phone to another.

          A phone and a charger were found in the ceiling of a shower area in the death row building at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

          The 111 prisons in the nation's second-largest corrections system have been locked down since Monday evening after Gov. Rick Perry ordered agency officials to ferret out any contraband.

          The order followed the disclosure that death row inmate Richard Tabler had made threatening calls to a state senator and had shared his illegal cell phone with at least nine of his fellow inmates.

          The 10 condemned prisoners made 2,800 calls in nearly a month and the inmate's mother, Lorraine, was arrested Monday and jailed on suspicion of paying for phone minutes. It is illegal to give inmates prohibited items like cell phones or the minutes needed to use them.

          Tabler's sister, Kristina Martinez, turned herself in to police in Killeen Wednesday after she was named in a warrant, Lyons said.

          Martinez and Lorraine Tabler were charged with providing a prohibited item to a corrections facility, a felony. Martinez's bond was set at $10,000.

          The systemwide lockdown means inmates are confined to their cells and normal visits with relatives have been suspended. Employees and visitors also are subjected to searches with hand-held metal detectors.

          Lyons said it could take three weeks to complete the search of large prisons, some of which — including Polunsky where death-row inmates are house — have more than 2,000 inmates.

          Even before the lockdown, Polunsky Unit officers conducting searches after Tabler was busted with his phone found two other cell phones in the prison, officials said.

          And investigators had closed or were working on 19 cases of prohibited phones or phone components on death row and some 700 cases systemwide this year alone before the Tabler case broke.

          Some prisons, like the Polunsky Unit, have airport-style metal detectors. Others, like the Huntsville Unit, do not. On Tuesday, a new station with an officer equipped with a hand-held device was at the inside front door to the Huntsville Unit.

          At a hastily called meeting Tuesday in Austin of the criminal justice committee he chairs, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who Tabler called, grilled state prison administrators for what he called rampant security failures and a lax attitude.

          John Moriarty, the department's inspector general, blamed a handful of corrupt officers for smuggling phones.

          A phone can command a bribe of $2,000 — nearly a month's salary for a rookie corrections officer — and be used to coordinate with gangs on the outside. The same system is used to smuggle in drugs and cigarettes, he said.

          "All it takes is one (bad officer) and you've got a big problem," Moriarty said.

          Tabler, from Killeen, was convicted last year of fatally shooting Mohamed-Amine Rahmouni, 25, and Haitham Zayed, 28. He also confessed to killing Tiffany Dotson, 18, and Amber Benefield, 16. All four had ties to a Killeen strip club. He recently told his trial judge he wanted appeals waived so he could be put to death.

          Individual lockdowns at prisons are fairly routine but the overall lockdown is believed to be the first since March 2000, after an inmate used dental floss or a similar coated string to cut his way out of his cell, then attack and kill a rival gang member who was being escorted by officers to a shower.

          Shakedown yields a dozen phones in Texas prisons



          Phones will be at your place soon!

          Rumors are flying! Here's to doing away with the what-ifs and the countless hypothetical scenarios about what might be or should be.

          The facts are:

          1. The contract has been awarded by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice on 8-14-08. Most units will have phones within the next seven months, some even prior to the close of this year.

          2. Calls can be up to 15 minutes per call, with a maximum of 120 minutes per month.

          3. Only offenders' attorneys and people on the approved call list (it has not yet been stated whether or not that will be a separate list from the visitor list can be called.

          4. Voice identification will be used and conversations will be digitally recorded and monitored.

          5. Direct calls will draw money from a special account and cost 23 cents a minute ($3.45 for 15 minutes) in-state, while collect calls will cost 26 cents a minute (($3.90 for 15 minutes) in-state.


          6. Individual recognition technology will be in place, either through voice recognition or a thumb print, and each offender will also have a special pin number to gain access to a line.

          7. Offenders with any major disciplinary violations within 90 days will not have access to a line; eligible offenders must have a job, be in school or in a treatment program.

          August 21, 2008

          Federal prisoners to get limited email access by 2011

          Earlier this month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice decided to join the other 49 US states in allowing most prison inmates regular access to telephones in the face of rampant cell phone smuggling by TDCJ guards. But the federal system is doing even more to reduce contraband flow and connect inmates with their families and approved contacts in the outside world, reported USA Today (Aug. 16): "By the spring of 2011, all 114 U.S. prisons are expected to have e-mail available for inmates."

          The program, started several years ago, has reduced the amount of old-fashioned paper mail that can sometimes hide drugs and other contraband. Just as important, officials say, e-mail helps prisoners connect regularly with their families and build skills they can use when they return to the community.

          For [inmate Melvin] Garcia, that means learning the computer.

          "LET'S JUST SAY THAT MY PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT DIDN'T REQUIRE IT :o)," he joked in a recent e-mail.

          The system inmates use isn't like programs used in most offices and homes.

          Inmates aren't given Internet access, and all messages are sent in plain text, with no attachments allowed. Potential contacts get an e-mail saying a federal prisoner wants to add them to their contact list and must click a link to receive e-mail, similar to accepting a collect call from a lockup.

          Once approved, prisoners can only send messages to those contacts — they can't just type in any address and hit send. And contacts can change their mind at any time and take their name off the prisoner's list. ...

          The Federal Bureau of Prisons says the system pays for itself with some of the proceeds from prison commissaries. Inmates also pay 5 cents per minute while composing or reading e-mails.

          Security, of course, is a concern. That's why the messages can be screened for keywords that suggest an inmate may be involved in a crime, or read by a corrections officer, just like paper letters. That can create some lag time between when messages are sent and received.

          Without analyzing the program specifically, it would be impossible to tell whether inmates could abuse their e-mail privileges, said Bruce Schneier of the security firm BT Counterpane. Coded messages could be sent over e-mail, but that could happen just as easily over the phone, he said.

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
          Labels: federal prisons, phone service

          Beware of collect calls from jail


          RICHLAND HILLS — A telephone scam operated by inmates is back.

          A Richland Hills business owner was bilked out of more than $72 in telephone charges last weekend after she became a victim of a scheme called "*72" or "72#," in which someone gets free access to a phone line by asking a phone customer to forward a call.

          Police continued to search Wednesday for a Tarrant County Jail inmate accused of operating the scam on Saturday.

          "The owner has managed to stop the process," Richland Hills Detective Tye Bell said. "But inmates apparently do this all the time, and people have to be careful."

          The 46-year-old business owner said she got involved only because she thought she was helping an inmate take care of his 2-year-old daughter.

          "I wasn’t aware that this sort of thing happens," said the woman, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used for fear of retaliation. "I was just trying to help because he talked about his little girl. If he had called asking help for himself, I wouldn’t have listened."

          The scam

          Generally, the scheme involves an inmate calling collect to someone who accepts the call. The inmate asks the person to dial "*72" and a telephone number, which forwards the call. The charges for these calls are placed on the forwarding customer’s account, giving the inmate free telephone calls.

          The case

          On Aug. 4, an employee of the business owner declined a collect call from the Tarrant County Jail. But on Saturday, the owner accepted a collect call after she heard a man yelling, "Mom, Mom. It’s an emergency. Pick up the phone."

          "He told me if his mother was there," the woman said. "When I said no, he asked please call a telephone number to get his mother because his daughter was with him down in jail and he needed someone to take her."

          The woman said she promised to make the call.

          "When I did, this young woman answered and she didn’t know what I was talking about," the victim said. "When I called the jail, I told them what had happened and they said I had been scammed."

          With her telephone number, the inmate also opened a separate telephone account so he could call other people, police said.

          The investigation

          Police determined that the inmate had made about a dozen calls worth about $75 that were charged to the business owner’s telephone number.

          But Bell said it may be difficult to prove which inmate made the call because more than two dozen are in areas where the telephones are located.

          Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department, said Wednesday that the scam happens from time to time, but that officials are working with a private telephone company to warn people who receive the collect calls that they should be cautious if they are asked to call another telephone number.

          "People should just never accept a collect call from a jail unless it’s a relative or friend," Grisham said. "Call us first if you want to help somebody."

          Telephone tips

          Here are ways to avoid fraudulent callers involved in scams called "72#" or "*72."

          If you doubt the identity of a caller, hang up. Fraudulent callers may misrepresent themselves.

          Be careful about disclosing personal information over the telephone.

          Read telephone bills carefully and make sure you are charged only for calls you make.

          Contact your telephone company and ask about your account if you find calls that you did not make.

          Source: Area telephone companies

          DOMINGO RAMIREZ JR., 817-685-3822

          Beware of collect calls from jail


          TBCJ finally approves expanded prisoner phone access


          AP brings word that the Texas Board of Criminal Justice yesterday finally passed new rules, discussed earlier on Grits here, allowing most TDCJ inmates more liberal access to telephones in prison. Now the contractor just has to install phone infrastructure in Texas' 106 prisons, no small task but one which should be completed within the year. TDCJ originally had hoped the phone installation would be complete by next month, but those deadline have long ago passed. Said AP:

          The Texas Board of Criminal Justice has voted to allow prison inmates to use telephones on a prepaid and collect-call basis.

          The action Thursday ends the nation's last ban on regular phone use by state prisoners.

          Embarq, a Kansas-based communications company, was awarded a seven-year contract to put the phone service into place.

          About 120,000 Texas inmates will each be allowed to purchase up to 120 minutes of phone time a month. The privilege will not be extended to an estimated 36,000 inmates with disciplinary problems or gang affiliations, or those on death row.

          Currently, most state prisoners are allowed only one five-minute collect call every 90 days.

          The new system will allow calls of up to 15 minutes.

          Texas is the last U.S. state not to give prisoners regular phone access.

          State officials have long feared that "allowing the inmates to have access to telephones could allow them to continue their criminal enterprises outside the prison walls," said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

          "There also was a concern that they also would be able to contact their victims. But technology has advanced to a point where those concerns are really no longer valid."

          Embarq's proposal includes technology that will allow prison officials to monitor and record calls, except those between inmates and their attorneys.

          Calls will be limited to friends and family on the prisoner's approved list of visitors. Calls to victims or their families will be prohibited.

          Inmates or their families can prepay for telephone calls at rates of 23 cents for in-state calls and 39 cents for out-of-state calls. Collect calls will be 26 cents and 43 cents, respectively.

          International and cell phone calls will not be allowed.

          A spokesman for Embarq said the system will be phased in at more than 100 prisons over the next year.

          The Texas Legislature approved phone service for prisons last year, with proponents calling the easily granted and retracted privilege "a marvelous tool for discipline." Fees from prisoners and families will pay for the system and generate additional revenue streams for the state:

          The company, which handles prison phone contracts in five other states, will keep 60 percent of the Texas revenues generated, with the remainder to be divided between the state's general fund and the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

          This is good news that TDCJ is finally moving forward. Texas may be the last state in the union to offer phone access to well-behaved prisoners, but for my money, better late than never.

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

          First Texas prison pay phone system approved
          Inmates to pay 26 cents a minute for in-state calls.

          By Mike Ward
          Friday, August 15, 2008

          A technology partnership Thursday was selected to install a multimillion- dollar pay phone system in Texas prisons to allow convicts to routinely make calls for the first time in state history.

          Texas is the last state prison system in the nation to allow inmate phones. And the contract has been viewed nationally by vendors as a big prize.

          Meeting at an Austin hotel, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice unanimously approved a seven-year contract with Embarq/Securus Technologies to install the phones that will digitally record all calls for investigators to monitor.

          Two other firms — Global Tel Link and Unisys — unsuccessfully bid for the project. Prison officials said that although Global Tel Link offered a lower per-minute phone charge than the winning bid, the Embarq bid offered better, more secure technology.

          "It will be the finest (inmate) phone system in the United States," said board Chairman Oliver Bell, an Austin businessman. "We are the last state to do this. But we have learned from the other states what works and what doesn't, and our system includes all the best features."

          Under the deal, roughly two-thirds of Texas' convicts will be able to make calls for a per-minute fee — up to 15 minutes a call, for up to 120 minutes a month.

          By some estimates, the state could earn more than $30 million annually in commissions from convicts' calls — 40 percent of the profit from the collect calls. The state Crime Victims Compensation Fund will receive the first $10 million and half of any additional profit. The rest will go to the state's general fund.

          Over its seven-year run, the contract could generate as much as $600 million in gross revenue, officials estimated.

          Embarq officials said they plan to install about 4,000 pay phones in Texas' 106 prisons, each of which will require a voice ID and personal ID number to ensure that only authorized convicts make calls.

          Pre-paid calls will cost about 23 cents a minute in-state and about 39 cents out of state. Collect calls will be 26 cents and 43 cents a minute, respectively. Calls to cell phones will be blocked.

          Prison officials said keeping the cost per-minute low was a key consideration in reviewing the bids and, although Embarq had a higher fee, it offered better safeguards against misuse.

          "The schedule calls for the system to be installed within 71/2 months," said former state Rep. Ray Allen, an Embarq consultant. "We'll install about $28 million worth of infrastructure that the state will eventually own. ... This a great deal for the system and for the state."

          Overland Park, Kan.-based Embarq operates prison phone systems in 22 states and hundreds of county jails — including about half of those in Texas. Securus Technologies, one of the largest independent providers of calling services to correctional facilities in the country, will provide the secure technology, officials said.

          Thursday's vote reversed a traditional no-phone policy in Texas prisons. In recent years, only occasional collect calls from state phones have been allowed — usually from wardens' offices as a reward for good behavior.

          In other action, the board unanimously approved a $6 billion budget request to the Legislature that includes $453 million for pay raises for correctional officers and parole officers — the largest such increase in decades.

          Next stop for the package is the Legislature, which convenes in January.

; 445-1712

          Pay Phones

          Texas Prison System Gets New Phones


          The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board approves a Kansas firm to put new phones inside Texas prisons. The new system will allow inmates with good disciplinary records to get up to 120 minutes of pre-paid time or collect calls per month.

          Prison Spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says they won’t be able to call just anyone. "They may call any of the ten people on their approved visitation list." Lyons says they can also call their attorneys. All calls with exception of attorney calls can be monitored and recorded.

          Lyons says the phone system won’t cost the state anything, in fact it will make money. The first ten million is pledged to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

          Texas prison board OKs deal to install, operate inmate phones

          KLBJ-AM Newsroom

          (AP) - The Texas Board of Criminal Justice today approved a contract that will allow inmates to use telephones on a prepaid and collect call basis.

          The move ends the last ban on state prisoner phone use in the nation.

          Kansas-based Embarq won the seven-year contract that will allow an estimated 120,000 Texas inmates up to 120 minutes of phone time per month.

          Currently, most state prisoners are allowed one five-minute collect call every 90 days.

          The new system will allow them up to 15 minutes per call.

          Embarq will keep the first 60 percent of revenues. The remaining revenue, up to 10 million dollars, will go to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. Proceeds beyond that will be split evenly between the state's general revenue and the crime victim's fund.

          Pay phones pay-dirt for one firm
          Texas expected to award contract for state's prisons

          By LISA SANDBERG
          Aug. 13, 2008

          AUSTIN — Texas prison inmates may soon be a dial tone away from family and friends.

          The Texas Board of Criminal Justice today is expected to award one lucky company the right to install and operate as many as 4,000 pay phones throughout the prison system. Three companies are in contention for the multi-million-dollar contract that would give for the first time regular telephone access to roughly 120,000 prisoners, two-thirds of the system's population.

          Texas is the last state in the union to provide inmates with phone privileges. Lawmakers decided last year to repeal the ban after telecommunications companies waged an intense lobbying campaign and after technological improvements relieved fears the phones would be used by inmates to commit new crimes.

          John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general, said Wednesday the phone companies would be required to utilize the latest biometric advances to ensure that the inmate making a call is properly identified.

          "I can say we've gone above and beyond what other states have done to ensure this doesn't become a public safety issue," Moriarty said.

          He added that inmates can and do use prison visits or mail, or a smuggled cell phone to engage in criminal activity. Recorded telephone conversations would likely aid authorities in pursuing crimes, Moriarty said.

          Prisoners eligible to use phones must have no major disciplinary violations for 90 days, and have a job, be in school or in a treatment program. Prisoners may only call friends and family who are approved in advance; the recipients must agree to be included on a call list.

          Officials are prohibited from disclosing details of the bidding process.

          Pay Phones

          Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

          Can you hear me now? Region 3 Clemens unit now over 56 cell phones found this year, and rising!

          By: Tonya Peters
          Backgate Website

          In a report the Backgate recieved from state officials just days ago, Clemens still holds statewide records for the harboring of cell phones by inmates.

          In June, state legislators debated the fact that the region 3 unit had the worst record in the state where cell phones on inmates was concerned. TDCJ's director Brad Livingston pledged to correct the issues. But so far, no metal detectors, no employee pat downs, and no talk of anything new.

          The report claims that 10 more from the original 46 that the senate committee hearning panel heard about in June have been located since then. Placing the unit even higher on the tally board. "That doesn't even count the ones that the inmates were able to flush, or destroy before staff could get them" claims one Clemens staff member.

          Although we applaud the efforts of the staff on Clemens that are doing the right thing and finding these cell phones, we also have to wonder why Huntsville has not been more aggressive when it comes to preventing thier entry into the facilty in the first place.

          There were promises of metal detectors, random pat downs for staff, and more OIG presence. So far, nothing, claim staff. Many staff that we received emails from there stated that they routinely hear cell phones ringing, and cannot pin point the location. Others claimed that it has become so rountine for inmates that some that have been caught red handed were sitting on thier bunks in plain site, talking on the phone.

          The possession of a cell phone in a Texas prison is a felony, but that hasn't slowed down the entry of the devices behind the walls. Dirty staff members can make as much as $400.00 per phone that they introduce into the facilty on the inmate black market. This has many staff members riding the fence some say. But until the issues are addressed and corrected, the problems will only increase. The professional officers say they want that unit back, but without administrative support, their hands are tied.

          July 15, 2008

          Chasing illegal cell phone use in TDCJ

          The Back Gate, a Texas prison guards' blog, has this story from June about staff catching an inmate on a cell phone and the resulting chaos when the prisoner tried to flee:

          [Y]et another cell phone was discovered on the region 3 Clemens unit in Brazoria. But this time the story behind the discovery is actually the entertaining part as a Huntsville generated report disclosed. As an eagle eyed employee made rounds on a Clemens unit outside trusty status dorm, they ran into something thats beginning to become all to familiar. An offender was lying on his cubicle bunk, gossiping away on his very own cell phone.

          The attentive staff member had the offender get up and the chase was on from there. The offender bolted out of his cubicle, and ran to the rear of the dorm trying to evade the persuing officer. The officer called for more staff and tried to box the offender into the rear of the dorm until help arrived. As other staff members arrived, the offender saw his hopes of a clean getaway dashed as they all converged. He then made the decison to dive through a screened mesh dorm window to get outside where he took off on foot with his cell phone still in hand.

          Officers gave chase, and eventually caught up to the offender after he had made his way to an area at the perimeter of the trusty camp compound. He then attempted to bury the device in the ground . At which time he was apprehended and promptly moved into the main compound. He is anticipated to be charged with possession of a cell phone in a secure correctional facilty, a felony that has fetched as many as 30 additional years in prison for some.

          The Clemens unit remains at the top of the cell phone exchange within TDCJ. A recent state senate hearing admonished a clearly shaken TDCJ executive director over the unit's stats, that at the time were 46 so far this year.

          That was June 4th. Today, officials claim that numerous other cell phones and their accessories have been located on the unit since the prior numbers were released just a month ago. And thanks to a professional correctional officer on the Clemens unit, another one is out of an offenders hands. But additional steps need to be taken to prevent the entry into the facility in the first place.

          Clemens currently does not routinely search staff coming in, and there is no metal detectors present for use on employees. If 46+ cell phones have made it in, what are the chances of a pistol showing up in the near future? Just a thought.....

          That's quite a tale. To be frank, since it's almost certainly guards bringing in the cell phones I imagine rational self interest will prevent the same couriers from bringing in a pistol. Still, someone who'd smuggle in a cell phone might well smuggle in other types of contraband, and when it's a staff person there's a doubled risk from future blackmail and long-term corruption.

          There are technological solutions to prisoners having cell phones, but the per-unit cost and the staff commitment for monitoring are more or less prohibitive. I'm similarly skeptical of the latest fad on the topic - cell phone sniffing dogs, of all things. (I don't know what it is about a cell phone the dog supposedly smells). Drug and bomb detecting dogs don't work well in noisy chaotic environments, and even in quieter quarters they often miss their mark.

          Even if cell phones do have some specific scent, I have a hard time imagining in a prison environment dogs would be able to stay focused and consistently perform the task.

          To me the best solution is much simpler: Finish implementing the new phone system to give more prisoners more frequent access to telephones for legitimate purposes, and fully staff prisons so that, as happened in the Clemens Unit anecdote, prisoners are adequately monitored and someone will likely see them talking on the phone.

          Finally, a prison unit with a large number of cell phones is usually a prison unit containing one or more corrupt guards. It's one thing to hunt for cell phones by whatever means after they're inside, but a lot better for everybody if wardens install preventive measures up front to keep staff from smuggling contraband in the first place and actively root out corruption in their ranks.

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
          Labels: contraband, phone service, TDCJ

          Texas Current Status - Correctional Collect Calls:

          (TX) Texas
          Telephone Company
          Cost of a 15-Minute Call

          Local Collect
          IntraLATA Collect
          InterLATA Collect
          InterState Collect
          Local Debit
          IntraLATA Debit
          InterLATA Debit
          InterState Debit

          Unique Features The system will utilize a biometric identifier to verify the prisoner making the call.

          Recent or Pending Legislation On May 15, 2007, the governor signed S.B. 1580, calling for implementation of a phone system in Texas prisons.

          The legislation specifies that the state will receive a commission of at least 40%. The system is to allow an average monthly call usage rate of 8 calls (of not less than 10 minutes) per eligible prisoner.

          Prior to passage of this legislation, calls were restricted to one per quarter for trustees only. At this writing, the phone company and contract details are unknown.


          ATT: In late 2002, AT&T introduced a program in Arizona called the "Correctional Discount Plan." For $5 per month, the call recipient receives a 15% discount on all calls from prisons that use their system. One eTc Campaign participant estimated that she saved $6.50 per month on $78.00 worth of phone calls.

          Global Tel Link: At the beginning of 2003, Global Tel Link began blocking phone calls from prisoners if the call recipient's local carrier does not have a billing agreement with Global Tel Link. The blocks can be avoided by prepaying the calls. States known to be affected include CA, GA, LA, NY, and VA.

          SPRINT: In 2002, Sprint began blocking phone calls from prisoners if the call recipient's local carrier does not have a billing agreement with Sprint. The blocks can be avoided by prepaying the calls. State known to be affected is MI.

          T-NETIX: T-NETIX is also apparently blocking phone calls from prisoners if the call recipient's local carrier does not have a billing agreement with T-NETIX. The blocks can be avoided by prepaying the calls. States known to be affected are KS and MD.

          TDCJ tackles cell phone smuggling
          Devices becoming one of most prized contraband items

          By STEVE McVICKER
          Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

          On a Monday night in April, 22-year-old Eula May Johnson, a prison guard for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, pulled her car into the parking lot of a southwest Houston shopping center.

          There, authorities say, she met with an associate of a prison gang member serving time in the Darrington Unit in Brazoria County, where Johnson worked.

          Within minutes, undercover officers converged on the pair.

          Investigators say Johnson was in possession of a quarter-ounce of heroin and a cellular telephone, as well as the $250 in cash she had been paid to smuggle the phone and drugs into the gang member's prison cell.

          Johnson is charged with bribery and drug possession.

          But while drugs, along with cash and tobacco, have long been highly valued contraband, TDCJ officials say cell phones have joined the ranks of the most prized illicit commodities inside Texas prison cells.

          "It's a big problem," said Lt. Terry Cobbs of the prison system's inspector general's office. "And they're not getting the phones so that they can call their mothers on Mother's Day. They're getting them to keep their communications open on the outside with their organized criminal activities and to make sure they're getting all the drugs that they need."

          Even Huntsville lawyer Yolanda Torres, who specializes in cases involving inmates' rights, has no objection to the crackdown on the smuggling of cell phones.

          "It's not like they're using them to call their lawyers," said Torres, who has fought to give prisoners better telephone access to their attorneys.

          The Texas Legislature attempted to address the problem in 2003 by making it a third-degree felony to provide an inmate with a cell phone, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

          Nevertheless, said Cobbs, inmates keep finding ways to get the phones into prison. He points to a recent incident at the Darrington Unit as an example of how widespread the problem has become.

          Last fall, Cobbs received a call from the FBI's Violent Crime Task Force in Austin, which was monitoring cell phone calls from a Darrington inmate to his associates in the free world. Citing security reasons, Cobbs declined to name the inmate or his friends.

          "We knew who had the phone," Cobbs said. "We knew who he was talking to and we were recording those calls. So we decided to let them keep talking unless we learned of something that we needed to stop."

          Eventually, investigators decided to raid the inmate's cell. They forgot to turn off the prison's water system first, however, and the inmate flushed the phone down his toilet.

          "And, of course, the commodes in those prisons will flush down a small tree," said Cobbs. "I mean, you better stand back and not get your shirt caught because it took that cell phone right down."

          Determined to retrieve the phone, prison officials shut down the water lines and ordered several unlucky inmates to don waders. Armed with garden rakes, they were sent into the prison's sewer traps, where they dragged the bottom for the submerged phone.

          "They were pulling up cell phones like they were going fishing," said Cobbs."And you'd think they'd be those inexpensive disposable phones like you buy at Wal-Mart. But we've even been seeing camera phones."

          TDCJ Inspector General John Moriarty said his office -- the equivalent of an internal affairs division -- has 50 cell phone prosecutions in progress, most with multiple defendants. Of those, he said, 47 originated at the Darrington Unit.

          Cobbs maintains that more phones have been seized at Darrington because officials there have cracked down aggressively.

          "We're staying focused on it," said Arthur Velasquez, the warden at Darrington since September 2002. "But I also attribute it to my staff going out and doing a good job."

          Velasquez has been a warden at various Texas prisons for almost 20 of his 27 years with the prison system. But he said it wasn't until early last year that he noticed the proliferation of cell phones.

          Besides finding the phones through random searches, he said, his officers work on tips from informants.

          After one such tip, he said, Maj. Frank Rodriguez opened a large jar of salad dressing on Thursday and found a cell phone and charger. The equipment had been sealed in a plastic bag and hidden in the white goo.

          Inmates also just outsmart themselves sometimes, Velasquez added.

          In one instance, he said, a prison employee took a call from an inmate's relative, who said he was returning a call from the inmate. A search of the prisoner's cell turned up the illegal phone.

          Suspicions about another inmate arose after a routine check of his incoming mail.

          "The person who wrote it said that they had put some more minutes on his phone," Velasquez said. "So we shook (the prisoner) down and found it."

          Although he jokes that searches have turned up "all brands and all plans," Velasquez said the phones present a serious security problem.

          "(Inmates) can call out and arrange any type of thing," he said. "They could even set up an escape."

          To help combat the infiltration, metal detectors recently were installed at the Darrington Unit. Prison officials also say they have talked with cell phone companies about jamming the cellular signal to prisons, but were told that would affect service to the surrounding areas.

          "Because of the locations of the prisons, we have to be careful not to jam legitimate signals," Moriarty said. "And the FCC regulates that pretty tightly. We're exploring a lot of options, but we don't have the silver bullet at this point."

          Moriarty, Velasquez and Cobbs also acknowledge that corrupt guards are a big part of the smuggling problem.

          "The majority of (the guards) are hard-working, good people," Cobbs said. "But we still have a significant number that are working for the convicts for extra pay. And some of them are making damn good money."

          Cobbs believes such guards are a bigger problem in TDCJ than in other areas of law enforcement because of low pay, lack of training and minimal background checks. Houston attorney Charles Gaston, who represents Johnson, the former Darrington guard now charged with bribery, agrees.

          "Here you've got a poorly educated black girl working in a prison, and her only qualification was that she applied for the job," said Gaston, who also is black. "They don't pay her (much) and she's got an illegitimate child. So you walk up to her and ask her,`Would she take a cell phone into prison and also take a little heroin in there? And here's a couple hundred dollars for your trouble.' Do you think she'd take it?"

          Salaries for TDCJ guards start at just over $1,700 monthly.

          ( This worries me in that it looks as if they are giving someone an excuse for doing wrong, This is what got the inmates in prison to start with: MOST HAVE LOW SALARIES. JUST AN OPINION BY MJ) The prison system is budgeted for about 26,000 guard positions, but more than 2,000 are vacant.

          Cobbs said the situation has gotten so bad that he believes prisoners could even get guns smuggled in. But, he said, he hasn't figured out how they get their cell phones to work.

          "I take my phone into a prison and I can't get any reception through.

          Any inmate found with a cell phone/accused of using one, would most likely meet with SEVERE punishment.

          Small or not-- the drains have recovery traps and TDCJ put them there for a reason.

          If a cell ph. is in operation in a housing block, it will 0nly take until the next inmate there catches a case, for the cell phone users to get snitched on.

          There are VERY few secrets kept inside TDCJ.

          A more possible means for calls is for the guards to allow inmates to use office phones and bosses frequently let them do it.

          Not all TDCJ bosses are Bad.

          Some help where they can.

          The next item of concern for this issue is:
          All groups have TDCJ guards signed
          on to read and report to TDCJ Huntsville on what they learn.

          This could be being read by TDCJ right now.

          That will result in lock down/searches for the ph./inmate and guards.

          In Solidarity! Dwight R.

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