Prison Employees Feel Pressure Of Lockdown, Contraband Search

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(October 27, 2008) - All 111 state prison units remain on lockdown this week as a result of the discovery of contraband and especially cellular phones.

The crackdown started after convicted Central Texas killer Richard Tabler was caught with a cell phone on death row that had been used to place threatening calls to a state senator.

But prison employees are adversely affected by such rules and many are saying they're being singled out more so than are inmates.

Michelle Lyons, public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Institutional Division, told News 10 Monday the lockdowns would continue until each prison unit has been carefully searched.

Units went on lockdown on Monday, Oct. 20.

Lockdown status means inmates are confined to the living and common areas of the units. That allows security personnel to inspect the buildings.

Work details, classes and other activities are suspended, Lyons said.

But some employees of units in Gatesville say the lockdown condition makes work extremely unpleasant.

One woman, who asked that we not reveal her name, said employees are not allowed to bring food or drinks - even bottled water - onto the units until the lockdown is lifted.

Lyons said employees may leave their lunches in their cars and must leave the buildings to go into the parking lot to eat.

Ray Stewart, president of the American Federation of State, County and municipal Employees (AFSCME) wrote a letter to officials at TDCJ-ID last week asking that some of the regulations be relaxed in the interest of employees.

In part is letter read: "Officers are not always near water to get a drink, and we do not want the good CO's to suffer. Even with "unit water", officers rarely get a break to get the water. I understand the problems we now face on the units due to the recent contraband found, but as I first stated "I do not want the good officers to suffer because of a few bad apples".

Lyons said employees and anyone else who enters the units are subject to search.

Of the 111 units in the state, 22 are equipped with built-in metal detectors. The others have portable hand-held wands. In the event there is cause, those who enter may be patted down, Lyons said.

TDCJ-ID employs 38,000 persons, 28,000 of whom are security officers. The system houses 155,000 inmates.

The lockdown so far has netted 63 cellular phones, 56 phone chargers, 5 SIM cards and various other items such as homemade weapons, tobacco and cash.

Anyone caught with contraband could face a series of issues.

Employees could be immediately discharged and if the items found warrant charged with a felony.

It is, for instance, a felony to possess a cellular phone inside a prison unit.

An inmate could face disciplinary action depending upon the type of contraband found and, is applicable, could be charged with a felony.

Gov. Rick Perry ordered the lockdown and search just hours after Tabler as caught making a call from his illegal phone.

Authorities said Tabler also shared the device with at least nine of his fellow condemned prisoners.

Investigators determined some 2,800 calls were made from the phone from inside the Polunsky Unit near Livingston.

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