Texas prison officials, moving to address the headline-grabbing security breach caused by smuggled cell phones, have proposed spending nearly $66 million on high-tech gear to curb contraband, says the Austin American-Statesman. The plan is more than twice as costly as an earlier-announced plan to beef up security at Texas’ 112 state prisons and is larger than several past programs to build prisons. Smuggled cell phones have been an issue since October, when death row convict Richard Lee Tabler was busted for possessing a phone on which more than 2,800 calls had been made in one month – including calls to a state senator. “We have a responsibility to Texans to stop this,” said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Under the new proposal, high-tech screening equipment – much like the machines used at airports – would be installed at Texas’ 20 largest maximum-security prisons, along with networks of surveillance cameras to allow round-the-clock monitoring of cellblocks. Two mobile contraband screening units would allow for surprise sweeps. Immediate reaction from legislative leaders was supportive, although there was hesitation on a commitment with a state budget that’s already strained by the economic downturn – and with the agency seeking $176.5 million more just to pay its bills through the end of the current two-year budget cycle. The annual budget is about $2.9 billion, and officials are requesting more than $3 billion for 2010 and 2011. “The legislature has no choice but to approve this if we want a safe and secure prison system,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire.