Creativity not encouraged

Huntsville prison inmates tend to be quite creative when turning everyday objects into weapons or other devices according to sources in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.Many of the contraband confiscated by correctional officers are on display in the Beto Criminal Justice Center, including firearms, shanks made from various everyday items like screwdrivers and rulers and devices like radios that have been altered to have secret compartments. Other items include homemade dice and playing cards as well as an alcohol still.Criminal Justice professor Marcus Kenter, a former TDCJ officer, said that discovering contraband is frequent at prisons in Huntsville.”Whenever they do a shake down at the prison, they usually find something,” Kenter said. “It’s a normal procedure to do shakedowns on a regular basis.”TDCJ Major Dan Ferguson said there are two types of contraband that are seized by officers – dangerous contraband, which includes weapons, drugs or alcohol; and nuisance contraband, which is deemed not hazardous to the facility.”Contraband is anything that is not issued to the prisoner, has been altered in some way or can’t be bought in the commissary,” Ferguson said.Ferguson, a former captain at Skyview and Hodges Units in Rusk, said most contraband is found during cell searches, known as “shake downs,” but items are also occasionally found in common areas like courtyards and rooms.”Mostly what we find is nuisance contraband,” Ferguson said. “Altered radio, altered fans. Those are two of the main things that are found.”Possession of a nuisance item is considered a level two infraction, and is punishable by taking away personal time and loss of other privileges.Weapons contraband is a serious charge, however, a level one offense that is written up as possession of a weapon and will lead to a formal hearing.”They’re very creative in making weapons,” Ferguson said. “In what they use to make them and where they hide them.””People ask how they get them in,” he added. “Well, they’re very creative on that, too.”Ferguson said that weapons might be used for anything from self-defense to intimidation to attacks, depending on the individual inmate. Whatever the reason, though, he said they exist for a reason. “They usually serve a purpose,” he said.Ferguson said inmates who are given a hearing for possession of weapons or other dangerous contraband have the right to face their accuser and present evidence on their behalf.Inmates who have a nuisance items confiscated have the option to send them back to their relatives within 20 days at their own expense, give the item to the state of Texas or have it destroyed.Regular items recovered during searches include peanut butter jars that are used as coffee mugs, and various medicines such as Tylenol and antacids, which Ferguson said could be considered very valuable by inmates.Ferguson said the strangest item he had uncovered was a pair of dice made out of toilet paper.”They roll like regular dice,” Ferguson said. “I don’t know how they did it.”Other items include picture frames made out of aluminum foil, belts made from braided paper with hand carved designs in the belt buckle, and dominos.

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