Knives and drugs, cell phones, smokeless tobacco, McDonald's hamburgers. Those are among the many prohibited items smuggled in by Texas prison guards and correctional employees who have rarely faced harsh punishment when caught, says the Houston Chronicle. Nearly 300 employees, many lowly paid correctional officers, were reprimanded for possessing prohibited items at 20 prison units with the most pervasive contraband problem in the last five years. Of the 263 employees disciplined solely for contraband, about three-fourths were given probation. Thirty-five were fired; 26received no punishment at all. One of the 263 was criminally prosecuted for the contraband, but served no prison time.
Contraband trafficking gained national attention last fall when a Texas death row inmate used a smuggled cell phone to threaten a state legislator. The phone was used by fellow death row inmates to place 3,000 other calls. John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general, called contraband “the biggest security problem the prisons face.” Until recently, guards found introducing contraband into the system were more likely to be handed minimal penalties rather than be fired, and the punishment varied widely. In 47 cases in which an employee attempted to deliver contraband to an offender, only seven cases resulted in dismissals.