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"Porters passing notes is something we've dealt with with all inmates," Clark said.

"They have a lot of time on their hands so they try to come up with new and inventive ways to beat our security measures." Clark declined to say whether Shore and Swearingen had been housed near each other leading up to the plot, though Lowry said death row inmates are moved to different cells on a weekly basis for security.

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When prisoners are let out for recreation, they may be able to talk to other death row inmates in neighboring caged recreation areas.

"You're playing Russian roulette when you don't have enough security." Texas prisons have more inmates per officer than other large states like New York and California, he said, adding that death row in particular needs "a lot more officers." But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice begged to differ.

"Death row is appropriately staffed and all critical positions are filled," spokesman Jason Clark said Friday.

After a bizarre death row confession plot between 2 prisoners slated for execution, the correctional officers' union is calling for more staffing they say could have prevented the scheme that ultimately derailed the state's effort to put to death a Houston-area serial killer.

"This was definitely a security breakdown," said Lance Lowry, who heads the Texas Correctional Employees union based in Huntsville.