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Texas prisons lock down statewide, impacting over 122,000 inmates

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(The Center Square) – The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is implementing an immediate lockdown of all correctional facilities within its system in Texas.

TDCJ oversees 87 state-operated prisons and jails, of which 60 are prisons. The lockdown impacts over 122,000 inmates.

As of the end of fiscal 2022, there were 122,132 inmates incarcerated in TDCJ facilities, including 116,851 prison inmates, 2,571 state jail inmates, and 2,710 substance abuse felony punishment facility inmates, according to the latest TDCJ annual review. This also includes one CID operated stand-alone intermediate sanction facility.

TDCJ said it was “implementing an immediate lockdown and comprehensive search of all correctional facilities within TDCJ” in order to take “swift and immediate action to address a rise in dangerous contraband and drug-related inmate homicides.”

Over the past five years, “the volume of illegal narcotics entering the system has substantially increased,” it said. “This directly impacts the safety of staff and inmates.”

This year, the number of inmate-on-inmate homicides increased, the majority of which were “tied back to illegal drugs.”

“To combat this contraband challenge,” TDCJ announced immediate measures it was taking “to detect and prevent the entry of dangerous contraband into its facilities.”

The measures include implementing a digital mail program, increasing K-9 searches and the use of other technology, among other measures. Every TDCJ facility is limiting inmate movement and contact with those outside the prison, it said. Inmates and staff are also undergoing “intensified searches to intercept and confiscate contraband.”

TDCJ began its rollout of a digital mail program this week. Over the last few years, there’s been a significant increase of drugs coming into facilities through paper mail that’s been soaked in K2 or methamphetamines. One way to stop this is to move to a digital mail program whereby mail, including photos, will be scanned into a system and uploaded onto an inmate’s secure tablet, TDCJ said. Exceptions include legal mail, certified mail, media mail, books, magazines, packages, and other subscriptions from verified or publishers, TDCJ said.

TDCJ is also increasing detection of contraband “and outside funding related to contraband,” deploying specialized search teams and narcotic dogs, subjecting staff to enhanced search procedures, and implementing comprehensive searches of everyone entering TDCJ facilities at all locations.

All visitations have been cancelled until further notice. Inmates will have access to its phone system and tablets.

Once the comprehensive searches are complete, normal operations will resume, TDCJ said.

The announcement came two months after TDCJ executive director Bryan Collier said the agency received “an unprecedented amount of funding” from the 88th Legislature, which would enable it to achieve new milestones.

Record funding includes two separate 5% base pay increases, or $3,000 minimum pay increases, for all state employees. Pay increases for Correctional Officer 1 and Parole Officer 1 positions equates to just under a 15% pay increase over a two-year period, he said. These pay increases went into effect in July.

The increased funding also allowed TDCJ to begin building its own training facility in the Huntsville area, to receive additional protective gear, security and surveillance equipment for its facilities, new body cameras for officers working at maximum security facilities, among other new equipment and support for infrastructure projects.

The lockdown also comes one year after a previous lockdown was ordered after an inmate with ties to Mexican drug cartels escaped on a TDCJ prison transport bus last May. The largest concentrated manhunt in state history went on for nine days and came up empty. The escapee was eventually killed last June in a police shootout outside of San Antonio after he murdered a Texas family and stole their vehicle.

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