State taking tough stand against prison employees caught with contraband

For some prison employees, it’s the lure of easy money that leads right to a jail cell they used to watch.In March, corrections officer Adam Vega, 21, was arrested in Karnes County. Vega is accused of plotting to smuggle more than an ounce of cocaine into the Connally Prison Unit in Kenedy.

Sneaking contraband into a prison is a felony. If convicted, Vega faces from five years to life in prison.

“The biggest measure to try to keep the contraband out is just someone’s own honesty and integrity,” said Oscar Mendoza, warden of the McConnell Unit at Beeville.

Unfortunately, in the past five years, 219 Texas prison employees were caught trying to sneak contraband to inmates. More than 31 employees have been arrested this year.

“Any investigation (that) is initiated on the inside and it takes us to the outside, then we’ll follow those leads and complete the investigation, no matter where it’s at,” said Lt. Terry Cobbs, of the Office of the Inspector General in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The OIG investigates every incident, employee, guard or inmate who tries to sneak in contraband, and with more than 143,000 thousand inmates in Texas prisons, the department will never run out of work.

Prisoners are constantly looking for ways to get their hands on banned items.

“Whatever you could think of that they possibly do, I promise you they’ve already done that,” Cobbs said.

In the past, drugs were hot commodities, and they still are. In 2008, drugs were confiscated 903 times at Texas prisons. So far this year, they have been confiscated 225 times.

When the TDCJ went tobacco-free in 1994, tobacco became the number one item. However, the fastest growing problem in prisons today is cell phones. Last year 561 cell phones were confiscated in Texas prisons.

Sometimes, inmates con their relatives or friends into unknowingly bringing contraband into the prisons. And sometimes it comes back to bite the inmate.

“There’s the mom who called the warden at one of the facilities and asked if her son could be moved to another location because his cellular reception was not very good where he was housed at,” Cobbs said.

But when it’s an employee, plotting with the inmates, there’s nothing funny about it.

“He (Vega) was put up in this jail right here,” said Karnes County Sheriff David Jalufka. “He made a $75,000 bond. So I mean he will come before the grand jury in a short time. He will be tried right there on the second floor just like the convicts we try that do anything out here at TDCJ.”


Drunk prison officer ‘let off, escorted home’

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has begun hearing allegations of corruption involving New South Wales police officers and random breath tests.

The police watchdog is looking at whether any police engaged in serious police misconduct or criminal activity at Moree, in the NSW north-west, and Orange, in the NSW central west.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, David Staehli SC, says the investigation is about two separate incidents that happened last year.

He has told the inquiry the allegations are serious.

“Whatever the findings or opinions, which are ultimately made in relation to these incidents, it’s anticipated that there will be shown to be amongst some officers a view of their obligations, which is inconsistent with their duties as enforcers of the law and at worst, plainly criminal.”

In the first incident, it is alleged corrective services officer David John Webb returned a reading of 0.09 when pulled up by police at Moree.

The officer who arrested him did not know he was a corrective services officer, who worked next door to Moree Police Station.

It is alleged when he got to the station for his second breath test, Mr Webb called his boss to discuss his predicament.

Later, a policeman breathed into the testing machine in his place, returning a reading of zero.

Mr Webb was then allowed to drive home with a police escort to make sure he did not crash.

In the second incident, a young man was allegedly allowed to get away with a reading of 0.02 because he was a policeman’s son.

Commissioner John Pritchard is presiding over the hearings, which are expected to take place over four days.