If prison officials were surprised when a 19-year-old burglar sneaked out of a Texas prison trusty camp and went shopping at Walmart for cigarettes, they might have been equally shocked by how easily the minimum-security trusty got back in with his contraband, says the Austin American-Statesman. Undetected, prison investigators say. Both ways. Authorities increasingly suspect that much more may be slipping in through the 22 mostly unfenced trusty camps where low-risk offenders with good behavior are housed. Contraband such as cell phones, drugs, tobacco, and even weapons has continued to flow into state prisons despite an 18-month crackdown; some say the trusty camps might be one of the weak links in security.
On two recent days, an American-Statesman reporter driving a plain white pickup drove onto prison property, down prison roads, at five different lockups. Although highway signs warn, “Prison area: Do not pick up hitchhikers,” it’s not always easy to know where suburbia ends and prison property begins. On many roads, no signs warned against trespassing. No gates barred entry to back roads into some prisons and through adjacent fields, which in many cases are unfenced. No one stopped the truck or questioned the visitor. “This should be a huge wake-up call – one more indication our security is subpar,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of a committee that oversees state prisons. Rick Thaler of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said the trusty camps are secure, thanks to regular strip searches of the trustys, vehicle searches and other security measures. Roughly a third of trustys are convicted drug dealers who arguably are experts in moving contraband