Monday, August 15, 2011

Contraband 101: has anything really changed in the past three years ? Part Two ...

As a followup to the article published two weeks ago, this is the second in the series of the three part story. In the series, we are looking at the difference in how contraband interdiction was handled three years ago as the Terrell unit corruption probe was in the news and in special session in Austin, and how it's handled today. TDCJ employees from all over Texas complained via email about the use of Xray machines and Walk through metal detectors on selected units in the state. They contended that there was no real documented training on the units, and no training program in effect at pre-service or inservice training focused on these new tools. The employees also questioned the effectiveness of having their friends (co-workers) perform searches on them and how those searches weren't always thorough. Two weeks ago we spoke with Texas Senator John Whitmire on the matter who stated ;

" I have used every tool available to draw attention and seek TDCJ's total
commitment to a zero tolerance on contraband items, from conducting hearings, 
working with the Finance Committee on funding and direct appeals to the individuals
who run the prison system.  At the end of the day it is up to Oliver Bell, along with 
the other governor's appointees and Brad Livingston to fix the problem and run 
TDCJ appropriately." 
  In this story we spoke to Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Oliver Bell, who is no stranger to the Backgate. Employees brought up issues with the lack of real documented training and consistency in using Xray machines and walk through metal detectors to scan employees entering some selected TDCJ units.. We showed him the statement made by Senator Whitmire and asked him what his thoughts were on the issues. He had this to say.

" First let me say that the majority of your co-workers in the TDCJ are
exceptional people who are dedicated to accomplishing their job in the
safest most efficient manner possible each day and for this they deserve
the thanks of all Texans."

" Security training, as well as training in a number of other areas, is an
ongoing and sustained process that touches many areas of our operations.
Security training is not a static onetime event.  It also includes
pre-service, in-service, and training on new equipment and search
procedures that occur during the course of day-to-day operations."
" TDCJ employees have excelled in pat searches, wand searches, monitoring
traditional walk through detection devices and at some locations have
recently been trained and exposed to new equipment and technology to help
further identify and stop contraband."

 "Training on the operation of the security monitoring equipment has been
provided by vendor representatives directly to front line staff at
appropriate facilities. This staff in turn has served as trainers on the
units to teach their fellow staff members.  It is this training that helps
us operate effectively and also learn more about the operation of specific
equipment.  This subsequently allows the staff to look for other
opportunities to enhance our security operations."

" I do not know anyone on the TDCJ leadership or any member of the
organization that would not seek ways to improve security and implement
those ideas whenever operationally or financially possible."

"These procedures helped us intercept over 400 cell phones last year before
they reached offenders.  Further we have the lowest cell phone infiltration
rate of any large corrections system in the nation. That is still not good
enough because our goal is to have none."

"While our staff continues to screen, some people continue to test us.  When
they are caught we make every effort to use the law to our best advantage
to discourage crimes of this type.  We are not giving up or giving in, and
I thank your co-workers for all their efforts."

"The bottom line is, while we will never be satisfied as long as any
contraband reaches the offender population, search procedures and security
equipment are clearly having an impact.  The number of cell phones found in
Texas prisons has declined. The agency leadership is open to any
suggestions or ideas on how we can be more effective to the benefit of the
public safety of Texans."

Oliver J. Bell
Chairman, Texas Board of Criminal Justice
That being said, join us next time for the actual numbers on contraband seizures 
statewide as supplied by TDCJ and compare them with those of three years ago. Find
out what the largest TDCJ employee union has to say about those numbers. 
(In all fairness to the agency, while researching information for this story via open 
records requests, it was determined that training was conducted on the xray machines
 and metal detectors on most of the units polled, although that training was not always
 documented. To date there is still no training supplied within the curriculum at yearly
 Officer inservice or pre-service classes.)   


  1. While I personally have no problem with being pat-searched, scanned, waned,or whatever our directors want to come up with to stop contraband ending up in offenders hand; our safety as officers is still in jeopardy. Regardless of what the numbers on the books show, we are still short handed and violence upon officers is rising. Even in the ad-seg environment, offenders receive disposable razor which they use to cut officers and themselves. It seems the offenders are receiving more and more rights and officers less and less. There has to be three of me just to follow policy by the book. I am all for offender safety while in custody but what about officer safety?

  2. if you are on one of the units that actually does this, do you feel like the searches are thorough ? And are they consistent for everyone ?

  3. They are only partially effective. If I wanted to sneak something in all I would have to do is put it in my private area. The searchers rarely go above the knee or below the navel when searching. I had complaints of over familiarity when I did so they quit putting me up there.

  4. That's been our contention since the inception of the new policy. TDCJ spent millions on new equipment that is basically useless. You have to depend on employees to operate the equipment and be honest about looking for contraband. The whole reason TDCJ got the equipment was because corrupt staff were bringing in contraband. So how are those same staff members effective at prohibiting contraband from entering the units ??? Can you say smoke and mirrors...