We spoke recently with a retired prison guard who'd worked for many years in the Texas system.
He was worked up about the cell phone epidemic, and he said there was a simple solution -- start charging the TDCJ employees who smuggle in contraband.
"They don't charge them. It's much easier to just let them resign," he says. "If some of these people saw their colleagues getting charged and convicted, and not being able to work as a guard or even going to jail, they'd think twice about doing it."
So does TDCJ really make a habit of not charging employees with smuggling?
Chris Stalling, deputy director of the state's Office of Inspector General, which would investigate such things, provides these numbers for TDCJ employees who have had contraband cases opened on them:
2003 = 59
2004 = 89
2005 = 82
2006 = 122
2007 = 114
2008 = 114 (as on 12/08/2008)
The catch is, those are not necessarily incidents where the employees were charged with a crime. The OIG hands the info it collects over to the local DA for the relevant prison, and it's up the the DA to decide whether to prosecute.
So how is the current investigation into Death Row cell phones going, anyhow?
OIG Director John Moriarty tells Hair Balls "it's a nightmare."
"We've got a lot of investigations going on, a lot of cases open," he says. "But it's a massive paper chase -- you have subpoenas, and the records of when things were bought and where."
Still, he says he's confident they're making progress.
As to whether it's TDCJ employees doing all the smuggling, he says "it's everyone -- any way you can imagine someone getting something in, that's how it's done."
-- Richard Connelly
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.