Days after a Texas prison trusty snuck into a Walmart to buy cigarettes, contraband-sniffing dogs outside a prison unit pinpointed a cache of tobacco, 19 cell phones, and 18 phone chargers hidden behind a prison food barn. Both cases came on the heels of the discovery of 200 packages of forbidden tobacco and 4 gallons of booze stashed outside the fences of another prison, says the Houston Chronicle. To Texas Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate’s criminal justice committee, the new contraband cases show that recent security improvements at state lockups haven’t made prisons secure enough.
Focusing on prison trusties – inmates whose nonviolent offenses, good behavior ,and parole eligibility have earned them the privilege of working outside prison walls – the Houston Democrat yesterday called for increased surveillance and searches. “Prisons ought to be the most secure sites in the state of Texas,” Whitmire said, “and that should apply to every type of facility, including those for trusties. People have attitude changes. They relapse.  There ought to be stiff measures to secure surrounding communities from trusties who go bad.” Most trusty camps lodge inmates in barless dormitories in unfenced compounds outside the prisons. During the day, the privileged inmates are permitted to drive trucks and tractors, tend livestock, and perform other jobs outside the prison. Prison records show that 44 contraband interceptions were investigated at three big Houston-area prisons in the past six months. Seventeen cases involved cell phones, 15 involved tobacco, and three involved marijuana.