in Houston, Texas
You've read the story about cellphones getting into the hands of Texas prisoners -- now see the spreadsheet showing how many cellphones are smuggled into Texas prisons
Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011, 03:40PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles

A lot of folks gasped a couple of years ago when it was reported that inmates on Texas' death row had access to cellphones.

But it turns out that the facility housing death row inmates isn't near the top of the pack in the number of incidents in which Texas prison guards were accused of bringing in, or allowing in, cellphones or cellphone components in recent years, records show.

Polunsky Unit near Livingston, where death row inmates are housed, is actually in about 20th place on that list, tied with Wallace Unit in West Texas, according to state prison records procured by WOAI-TV in San Antonio and analyzed by Texas Watchdog.
Read our main story by clicking here.

At the top of the list is Neal Unit, a lower-security facility in Amarillo, with 46 such incidents between 2006 and mid-2010, records show.

Second in line is a tie between Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, one of the state's largest prisons, and McConnell Unit outside Beeville. You can see the complete list in the embedded spreadshset below.

To compile the rankings, we looked at incidents in which prison personnel were accused of bringing in one or more cellphones, parts or accessories, including entire phones, batteries, chargers, SIM cards, and Bluetooth devices, all of which are banned inside the prison confines by prison rules. (In most of the cases, the item in question was a complete cellphone; there were only a couple of cases involving SIM cards and a few Bluetooth devices, though there were a fair number of people bringing in chargers or phones with chargers.

We also included instances in which prison personnel were reported to have allowed another prison employee or a visitor -- willingly or unknowingly -- to enter the prison confines with a cellphone or any of the components or accessories we mentioned earlier.

We did include instances in which prison personnel were caught with phones or components in watchtowers, gatehouses and guard facilities on the perimeters of the prison gates -- we figured those are relevant to the discussion, because they involve prison workers with phones inside the prison confines -- but we excluded instances in which employees were reported to have had or been caught using phones in state vehicles while patrolling outside the prison. That's also a no-no by prison rules, but we left them out of these numbers just because we wanted to focus on phones and phone parts actually being found in or on the prison grounds.

We also excluded instances in which employees were written up for failing to lock their car doors in the prison parking lot while they had a personal cellphone inside the car.

Before I hit y’all with the spreadsheet, I’d like to add that I know there are a number of Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees who have something to say about our story and the numbers here. I’d love to hear from y’all, whether you hated the story or loved it. If you’re a TDCJ employee or former employee and you want to talk, drop me a note at or call me at 281-656-1681.

Jennifer Peebles is deputy editor at Texas Watchdog in Houston. Contact her at 281-656-1681 or Follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.


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Photo of 'No prison bars as strong as my will' by flickr user assbach, used via a Creative Commons license.

david Swartz
Thursday, 07/21/2011 - 05:37PM

Having served 8 yrs in TDCJ, from 1987 to 1995, I know it is IMPOSSIBLE to stop the flow of contraband into these institutions. There are many professional Correctional officers in TDCJ, but as in any prison, there are some bad apples. When a new inmate arrives, he is tested out, mentally, and physically, to see if he is scared in any way. If he is, he will be used, extorted, made an errand boy, sex slave, maid, smuggler..etc This is called "riding" If he is strong he will eventually be allowed to do his time, and may not have to ride.

It is no different with guards. They get sized up, harassed, intimidated, and have all sorts of boo game put at them to break down their defenses. If they are strong, they will eventually be respected, and allowed to do their job. If they are weak, overly friendly, nervous, then they will be used, and will be "riding" with the inmates. A lot of the time, it is fear, not money, which feeds corruption. TDC bosses used to be something to fear..they were big, bad, cowboys who would jump off the horse and beat the crap out of a smart assed inmate. They were ALL like that. They have been replaced over the years by weaker, naive, frightened guards...mostly females who cannot physically control an inmate. Thank the idea of workplace equality for this one..

There is no fear anymore by inmates, and they do what they want. Thank William Wayne Justice, the bleeding heart, criminal loving liberals, and the media for this decline. During the so called "brutal era" of TDC, there were usually 3 or 4 inmate killings per year..then the courts ordered integration in prisons, banished the building tenders, and stopped officially sanctioned corporal punishment, "the bat"..prisoners were not worked so hard anymore, and well meaning, but gullible, naive hordes of lawyers descended on TDC like flies..the result of all this prison reform??? Countless homicides, rapes, assaults, disrespect, coppuption..etc the way, I got out in 1995 and never broke the law again...the lobs ruined our prisons!

Saturday, 02/04/2012 - 01:56AM

Being a 20+ year TDC correctional employee/administrator i fully agree with you David. Those years were brutal, but the level of respect between the grey and white was what made it work. I have seen people killed, raped, and worse. I remember an old convict on a red brick farm back in 1990 that damn near killed another inmate for masturbating on a female nurse from the dayroom. That didn't fly back then. There was an inmate code of honor believe it or not. We didn't ask, and ya'll didn't tell for the most part. These days it has gone to crap. Newboot inmates and Officers. Keeps tension in the mix from day one. Employees today are the new generation. The Xbox kids, the gen x'ers.. mix them with a younger population and it's a recipe for disaster. At least the way it was back in the day you didn't want to make a return trip. Glad to see you made it out..

us navy retired
Friday, 03/02/2012 - 04:17PM

Hey guys, it is not just the prison system that has gone to heck in a hand basket... the military is in the same boat with ya all.... kinder, gentler Navy. But that started with Zumwalt.... This whole country has gone to the 10% bleeding hearts.

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