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?