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.”


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