Cell Phones in Jail Pose "Grave Danger" to Society

The recent series of posts over at Grits for Breakfast regarding phone sytems in jails started with a nod to NPR’s recent segment called “Inmates Smuggle In Cell Phones with Ease”.

In the comment section to that post, readers referred to a Brazoria County case where a Texas inmate was given a forty year stacked sentence for unauthorized possession of a cell phone in a correctional facility.

Since I am a Texas criminal defense lawyer, and therefore familiar with our system of over punishment for minor offenses, I assumed the story was, unfortunately, not just apocryphal. One quick google search later, I find the story archived in Brazoria County’s “The Facts”. Here are quotes from the prosecutor responsible for the case, and one of the prison officials involved:

While the offense might seem minor on the surface, authorities said the phone can present a grave danger in a prison.

“You can coordinate crime from the inside out,” Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne said. “It is a significant safety issue. You can actually engineer murder from the inside and say you were (in prison).”

Darrington authorities have seized about 75 cellular phones in the last year, Warden Arthur Velasquez said.

It could lead to murder? Well, how about this: $30,000 per year to incarcerate times 40 years times 75 inmates is $90,000,000.00. Yes, that’s right, ninety million dollars. And that’s just for one of Texas’ many prison facilities.

I imagine the truth is that this particular inmate probably got on someone’s bad side to actually be prosecuted for this; I’m sure it’s not actually a regularly prosecuted offense. Still, is this what we really want our tax dollars going towards?

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Shelly McPeak (Torres) - June 13, 2010 12:25 AM

If you think this is ridiculous, look up in THE FACTS in Lake Jackson, inmate Lisandro Torres and then look at the hell I am living. My husband died....look at website Texas Jail Project and read comment on right top "my sympathy for tim but too late for my husband..." Yes, I feel the people, jailers, med staff, etc should be prosecuted for murder/manslaughter, etc..etc...the woman that runs the website has seen emails between me and TJC, governors, lt governors, etc. and I am treading lightly for I got them, on every level, now waiting for FBI to get investigation started but I think they will be waiting on brazoria co a long enough for the statutes of limits to run out. This true situation will rip your heart out, he got the death penalty for being a diabetic

Shelly McPeak (Torres) - June 13, 2010 12:28 AM

If you think this is ridiculous, look up in THE FACTS in Lake Jackson, inmate Lisandro Torres and then look at the hell I am living. My husband died....look at website Texas Jail Project and read comment on right top "my sympathy for tim but too late for my husband..." Yes, I feel the people, jailers, med staff, etc should be prosecuted for murder/manslaughter, etc..etc...the woman that runs the website has seen emails between me and TJC, governors, lt governors, etc. and I am treading lightly for I got them, on every level, now waiting for FBI to get investigation started but I think they will be waiting on brazoria co a long enough for the statutes of limits to run out. This true situation will rip your heart out, he got the death penalty for being a diabetic, too bad for our 16 yr old son whom had to witness his father die slowly, 30 minutes twice a week

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