By Michael Graczyk
HOUSTON — Convicted polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs was moved Tuesday to his new permanent home, an East Texas prison, to begin serving his life sentence for sexually assaulting one of his child brides at a West Texas compound built and occupied by members of his Fundamentalist LDS Church.
Jeffs, 55, was taken from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Byrd Unit in Huntsville, where new inmates undergo physical and mental examinations, to the Powledge Unit outside Palestine, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas. He was taken to the Huntsville prison two weeks ago after a San Angelo jury decided he should spend life in prison for sexual assault. His victim was among 24 underage wives who prosecutors said Jeffs collected.
He also received the maximum 20-year punishment on a separate child sex conviction.
The punishment was the harshest possible. The head of the FLDS Church isn't eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old.
Prison agency spokesman Jason Clark said Jeffs will be in protective custody, which is among the most restrictive forms of imprisonment in Texas. He'll be alone in his cell daily, not be involved in any work programs and be out of the cell only for recreation alone and to shower.
Jeffs, now Texas inmate No. 01726705, is among only 85 inmates in the 156,000-prisoner Texas corrections system to be assigned protective custody, "the ultimate protection to offenders," Clark said. Protective custody inmates are normally isolated because of serious, direct or proven threats to their safety.
On weekends, Jeffs will be allowed to see visitors from a list of 10 people.
"He will have contact visits but not with anyone under the age of 17," Clark said. The age limit is a provision of his status as a convicted sex offender.
He'll also be allowed to make phone calls to those on his visitors' list who have registered with the Texas prison phone system provider. His calls, however, are limited to 15 minutes and he can't exceed 240 minutes a month. The calls are recorded.
Clark said Jeffs' protective custody status will be reviewed every six months by a classification committee.
The Powledge Unit opened in 1982 and has more than 1,100 inmates. It shares about 20,000 acres of land with four other Texas prisons.
Former church members have said Jeffs likely would continue to lead his Utah-based church from inside the Powledge Unit and that his followers likely still revere him as a prophet despite the considerable evidence presented at his trial showing that he apparently had sex with girls as young as 12.
During his trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.