Cell Phones In Prison Cells Plague Prisons Across the State of Texas

By Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

It's not just orange jumpsuits, chairs, and beds. 

Jail cells across the State have been filling up with contraband.      

Everything from tobacco to drugs, and the lastest problem, cell phones. 

On Tuesday, all prisons across the state of Texas are on lock-down after a death-row inmate made threatening calls to a Senator.

For the past month, inmates on death row near Austin have been passing around a cell phone and making 2800 calls. 

It all started when a prison guard accepted a bribe from the inmate's mother who has been footing the bill. 

Officials say contraband is a problem all over Texas, so we took a look at our local jails to find out how they stand up to the rest of the state.

"The real challenge is to get the prison systems to be serious about contraband," Texas Senator John Whitmire, said. "We have known for some time tobacco, narcotics, and cell phones are a real problem."

When State Senator Whitmire picked up the phone, it was death row inmate Richard Tabler on the other end, threatening the lives of his two daughters.

"Me and the general public should not have to experience what I had to go through," Sen. Whitmire said.

Officials say a guard allegedly accepted a bribe from Tabler's mother to deliver the phone, and on Monday morning, authorities put her behind bars.

"That is unacceptable," Gov. Rick Perry, said. "And the highest degree of unacceptable activity, and that's the reason we directed a lockdown."

With all state prisons on lockdown, we decided to find out what types of contraband problems face our local jails.

"We've had an occasion to turn up a cell phone or two in the jail," Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson, said. "Sometimes it's a situation where somebody didn't search them good enough."

Back in February of 2006, two Ector County guards were found taking cell phones, tobacco and drugs into the jail.

"We have changed our policy up after the issue years ago," Donaldson said. "Detention officers aren't allowed to carry their personal cell phones into the jail."

Sheriff Donaldson says each time they leave the jail for a work program or court date they're searched before they come back in.

"If your people follow the rules and don't break the rules, then a phone's not going to get in here. Not going to happen," he said. 

This investigation isn't the first.

The State Inspector General says they're currently investigating about 700 incidents where inmates have taken phones into Texas prisons. 

There's no word yet on when the lockdown will be over.