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Criminal penalties for smuggling contraband take effect

One of the many state laws which took effect September 1, 2003, makes it a criminal offense to provide an inmate of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with a cell phone, tobacco or money.

Providing such items of contraband to offenders has long been a violation of agency policy and has been punishable by administrative sanctions which could include termination of visitation privileges or employment. The new law provides for criminal punishment as a third degree felony: a fine not to exceed $10,000 and imprisonment for up to ten years.

While the law permits criminal prosecution of those smuggling these contraband items, the real intent is to deter individuals from ever committing such acts, according to John Moriarty, TDCJ Inspector General.

"Trafficking and trading, and the potential for extortion and undue influence they create, are serious threats to the security of correctional institutions," said Inspector Moriarity, "and of course cell phones and currency can be useful implements in an escape attempt."

"Keeping such dangerous contraband out of our institutions is a top priority, and I hope the criminal penalties now associated with such acts would cause anyone to think very carefully before committing such a crime."

Moriarty added that prior to September 1, 2003, it was already a criminal offense to provide inmates with deadly weapons, illegal drugs, or alcohol; those prohibitions remain in effect.

Although the new state law does provide criminal penalties for smuggling currency to offenders, families and friends may still provide their loved ones with funds by making deposits to an inmate's trust fund account. The procedures for making deposits to an inmate trust fund account are spelled out in the publication entitled General Information Guide for Families of Offenders, which is available on the TDCJ website.

Whether or not criminal penalties apply, providing an offender with any item of contraband-something an offender is not allowed to possess, or even an allowable item but delivered through an illicit manner - is a serious violation of agency policy and will at the very least subject the violator to administrative sanctions.