Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Senator Whitmire speaks to the Backgate about cell phones
By Marcus Williams, Backgate Website
Just over a year ago, inmate Richard Tabler got hold of one of many cell phones said to be available on death row and manged to make a phone call to Texas Senator John Whitmire, threatening his safety. Whitmire publicly scorned TDCJ for he quoted as a lack of basic security. TDCJ reacted by increasing the frequency of employee searches coming into prison units, and even spent millions on new x-ray scanning machines and metal detectors. But after all the tax payer money spent on these new toys, has it helped reduce the number of cell phones found within the agency ?
The answer is no. data provided to the Backgate by TDCJ revealed that the numbers have actually increased. TDCJ Executive Services provided information stated "There were 370 phones discovered in calendar year 2009, and 398 phones discovered in calendar year 2010 (through November)." That period runs from January to January. These numbers reflect what was found to be inside of the secure facilities themselves, in the hands of Texas prison inmates.
The following are the total numbers of cell phones found each respective year: (found outside of the units as well for the grand total)
Calendar Year 2009 - 1,110
Calendar Year 2010 (through November) - 733
This information reveals that although the total amount of cell phones found was lower this year, more have actually made it into the prison units this year then last year. And this years numbers only represent phones found up until November.
Millions spent on new gadgets
With the millions of dollars spent on all of the new gadgets that TDCJ has employed to fight the war on contraband, no formal industry training has been conducted on how to use those gadgets. Many Officers around the state claim that they are just thrust into the position as necessary and are not really trained on what they are even looking for. "It's a smokescreen for TDCJ" said one Officer we spoke too via email. TDCJ training department administrators concede that no training is provided at any level formally within the training department for new incoming staff members, or those attending yearly inservice training. "No curriculum has been established as of yet." stated one training official we spoke with. "The search process remains in the hands of staff, and it's only effective as the quality of staff that are assigned there." " Not to mention the individual ethics of those staff members." said a long time TDCJ administrator we spoke with about the issues.
Just yesterday the Backgate broke a story that began on the Allred unit in north Texas. A female Officer who was assigned at a search point for employees, located a loaded pistol in the coat pocket of another female employee. That discovery was made by viewing the x-ray machine monitor at that location. This was a case of good search procedures and an employee being vigilant. But you have to ask yourself, how much gets through? How much slips by due to training issues, or ethics issues where an employee may look the other way for a co-worker ?
Senator John Whitmire weighs in
We posed these questions for Texas Senator John Whitmire just days ago. His response to us was "one phone is too damned many" and is still publicly critical of TDCJ's inability to secure it's prison units. Whitmire blasted TDCJ during public senate hearings last year after concerns were raised about contraband getting into prison facilities statewide when he himself got a phone call from death row. The Terrell unit corruption scandal that the Backgate brought to light in 2008 also resulted in Whitmire calling a hearing where TDCJ officials were admonished for lax security and supervision.
More Texas legislators have become interested in these new stats and we will print what they have to say about it here soon...