Nightly porno TV shows for inmates prompt action by county leaders

Published On: Feb 29 2012 09:09:25 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 29 2012 10:42:44 PM CST

Feb. 29, 2012: Nightly pornographic TV viewings for inmates prompts action by county leaders. Local 2 Investigates' Stephen Dean reports.

LIBERTY, Texas -

A Liberty County Judge said he was "furious" after Local 2 Investigates reported finding cable TV pornography being displayed for inmates at his county jail for months, sometimes nightly for hours before lights out.

"What bothers me is that it went on for so long," said Judge Craig McNair.

Internal e-mails and nightly security check documents show inmates have been watching pornographic movies since late last year and one corrections officer told Local 2 Investigates, "It's going to build until something happens."

The corrections officer said he was afraid that Liberty County Jail managers were failing to respond quickly enough to the nightly pornography shows and he was afraid it could lead to added violence between inmates.  

"That's got to be in their mind. They're watching this constantly and you have no way of releasing your frustrations," said the jailer. "They can take full advantage of anybody."

Liberty County Sheriff's Office Captain Rex Evans said the inmates were able to "somehow manipulate the system and were actually watching, at their own leisure, pornographic material."

One recent inmate told Local 2 Investigates there would be "a lot of fights" because of the nightly porn viewing. He said some guards didn't care and allowed it to be watched.

Another recent inmate, who also said he viewed the pornographic movies behind bars, said inmates would gather around and watch it for hours each night.  He said it "made the showers hell" as inmates would act out from viewing the pornography.

Inmates said they would disconnect the cable and bypass the set-top control box, connecting the cable wire directly into the back of the TV set to watch the movies.

Internal jail e-mails obtained by Local 2 Investigates show Liberty County Sheriff's Office leaders mentioning the "inappropriate programs" being viewed by inmates back in January. 

Jailers continued mentioning the porno shows in their nightly "hall logs" long after those e-mails.

On February 3rd, a jailer wrote an entry on the nightly hall log of security issues: "4 Dorm watching porno channel again."

Then on February 6th, a jailer wrote: "One of the TV's had porn on it. Told them to change the channel."

"That's just unacceptable in an incarcerated environment," Captain Evans said.

Maryanne Denner, a professor of criminal justice in Houston who spent 17 years in management for the Texas Department of Corrections said all porn does is "aggravate that tension" inmates already have.

"Why would you allow offenders that, some are sex offenders, you're allowing them to watch this porn?  Are they in treatment?  What if they're in treatment?  Is this helping them?" she said.

She said her experience tells her that public masturbation can result, leading to more clashes between inmates. 

"This will be the predator against the prey.  They're going to find somebody....Is there going to be more forced jail rape?" she asked.

But she also said pornography can push other inmates toward attacking their fellow convicts.

"They don't care. They're acting out, they've gotten aroused," she said.

She faulted jail managers for not making it a higher priority when the pornography was first discovered on the jailhouse televisions.  

"That's not management," she said.

Evans said a review is under way to see if jailers and managers reacted quickly enough, but he blamed the delay on the jail's cable television provider.

"It was very frustrating for us.  We knew we had a problem.  To get somebody out here to review and identify the problem and correct the problem was a lengthy process that, in our opinion, took too long," Evans said.

The jail's warden, Tim New, told Local 2 Investigates that he contacted the cable TV provider when it came to his attention, but the cable company responded that it was impossible for inmates to be viewing the porn.

"Well they damn sure were," New said.

He said after weeks of delays, the cable company finally sent engineers to the jail and confirmed that the channels which carry soft-core pornography many nights were, indeed, being viewed inside the jail.

New said he was called by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in Austin, which regulates county jails.  

"They didn't condone it," New said.

County Judge McNair said he also received a call from Jail Standards investigators. He also said the cable company, at first, assured him it wasn't possible that it could be happening.

McNair said he threatened the cable company that all cable service would be terminated at the jail, and that's when engineers were sent to fix the problem.

"Handled it right then," McNair said.

The judge who said he was "furious," said it raises even more of a concern because several suspects in a highly publicized gang-rape of a young girl in Cleveland are now locked up in that jail. 

"People in that Cleveland rape and we're letting them watch porn?" he said.

Warden New insisted rape suspects were not mixed in with the general jail population that had access to the porn. New also said any other violent offenders were likely locked away from the other inmates in their own cells and also unable to see the nightly porn shows.

"The problem is fixed, the problem is resolved," Sheriff's Captain Evans said. "The cable company is working with us and they've resolved the problem. Any future problems that we may experience, they have certainly guaranteed us that there will be a much more immediate response."

The private company that runs the Liberty County Jail, Community Education Centers (CEC) provided a statement through its spokesman, Christopher Greeder in New Jersey, saying, "The cable provider corrected its programming error after repeated requests from the warden."

Jail leaders said inmate trust fund money paid the monthly cable bill for the jail, rather than tax dollars. Jail leaders told the county judge that the cable TV and a sports channel were needed to keep inmates calm and occupied.

Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards said no action would be taken against the Liberty County Jail because it did not violate any state regulations, but of the porn he said, "Nothing good can come of it."

Along with added violence, Herklotz said pornography could result in the county being exposed to legal liability if something does happen.

"It's mind boggling that would happen," he said.

 

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