Saturday, August 6, 2011

TDCJ contraband 101 : has anything really changed in the past three years ?

 By Tonya Peters and Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website

As the first part of an upcoming series of stories, the Backgate once again called upon Texas State Senator John Whitmire for his thoughts on the continuing contraband issues plaguing the agency. We asked Whitmire what his thoughts were on the current state of TDCJ's contraband interdiction policy, and detailed to him just how the agency was handling those issues. Over the past few months the Backgate has received numerous emails detailing the usage, or mis-usage,  of the recently added walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines that were added at several TDCJ facilities. Not to scan inmates, but to scan incoming prison staff as they enter those facilities.

Staff detailed the added responsibility in being the Officer charged with doing the entry searches on their co-workers, how the searches could be biased, and how many items may be slipping in to the prisons due to employees misreading the X-ray scanners and not doing proper searches. Although TDCJ doesn't specify through record keeping just how many employees have been disciplined for failure to properly search incoming employees, judging by the number of employees polled, many have been in recent months. TDCJ introduced the added security of walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines after Senate hearings determined that enough wasn't being done to take on employee corruption and introduction of contraband. Hearings conducted after this website reported issues with corruption on a Region III unit that ended in terminations, arrests, and lockdowns in 2008.

In the latest information obtained by the Backgate, employees themselves are concerned that illegal items may be making into Texas Prisons, muled in by employees who are not properly searched, or overlooked during the search process as the enter a prison facility. An employee at a facility in central Texas stated that she had knowledge of employees assisting other employees in circumventing search procedures, allowing entry of such items as tobacco, marijuana, cell phones and other prohibited items. A charge that has not been verified, but is very possible say employees. " When Officers you are friends with, or maybe even hang out with when your off are assigned as search Officers, they are not going to really worry about that search." stated the source. Another employee stated " It's like the fox guarding the hen house."  A statement echoed by several people we spoke to from all over the state.

Senator John Whitmire
Outside of the "human" element involved at these search locations, training or lack thereof may also play a role in the inability to stop introduction of prohibited items. After the Senate Criminal Justice Committee pushed through added funding for walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines, which cost taxpayers millions, TDCJ took over two years to train the bulk of employees on how to operate the equipment properly. As of last week, TDCJ still has not initiated any in-service or pre-service based training to teach employees how to use the equipment. Although the walk through metal detectors are fairly self explanatory, the top grade X-ray machines are the same as those used in airports throughout the country by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). TSA does many hours of employee training on that equipment on contraband recognition and operation to ensure employees are effective in reading and identifying contraband. TDCJ recently had representatives from the X-ray machine company train selected employees on some facilities so they could eventually train other staff members on their facilities. Many employees state that they were never trained, and TDCJ could produce any documentation showing they had been even now.

After being briefed on the current system of searching employees, training issues, and seeing the newest numbers on contraband entry into State Prisons, Whitmire 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." 
Whitmire stated that he would continue to monitor how the agency detects contraband
and stated that  he was not aware of the issues presented by the employees.  In upcoming
articles in this series, see Texas Board of Criminal Justice chairman Oliver Bell's response
to the remarks made by Whitmire, and get his take on the current state of the agency that he
was appointed to ultimately oversee as he speaks to the Backgate. Also, see the numbers on
contraband seizures statewide. Have the numbers dropped, or have they risen ?  


  1. Contraband comes into a facility in more ways than just through the front gate via employees. Our trusty camps are a major problem with contraband introduction. Trusty's are allowed unsupervised access to all areas of a unit, even outside fence lines, and road sides, with only intermittent supervision. Trusty's drive tractors, mowers,....and other equipment. Some of this equipment sometimes has to come into a unit through the backgate. Inmate trusty's will hide contraband on the vehicles, and in body orifices, to get it through the backgate. Besides the trusty problem, is the problem with contraband coming in through packages, and packaging of delivery's. These contraband items may come in through delivery's to the mail room, maintenance, or the kitchen. The searches have to be very thorough in those areas.

    This misconception that all contraband comes in via crooked employee's is just not true. The contraband problem is much more broad, and requires vigilance and thorough searches in many more areas than just at the front gate. And, it may require a rethinking of how TDCJ handles it's trusty population.

  2. Good point Marty but i think the angle of that story was that we have come to expect it from inmates. But the fact that corrupt employees still have the same access to enter with contraband as they did before the millions spent on extra equipment is the issue. In perspective, its like manning the back gates with trusty inmates to search trusty inmates as they come in. where there is no resistance there is no line to be held.

  3. Its never gonna work as long as the fox is guarding the hen house ! I have worked the front gate ,have caught one of my Sgt.'s bring in contraband , and guess who got rail-roaded ..yup me ! Turned him in to the Lt. who is his buddy , and when nothing was done went to the Warden . Well it didnt take long before I was set up for some B/S . Thats how they take care of the problem , and I was the the problem !