The high price of of prison cell phones

The high price of of prison cell phones
(Source: Georgia Department of Corrections)
(Source: Georgia Department of Corrections)

WALB - There is a growing problem inside Georgia's prison system – illegal contraband continues to be smuggled in.

On the inside, convicted criminals are carrying out crimes using cell phones. And there are major efforts underway to crackdown on the issue.

The war on contraband has spread outside of prison walls.

"We try to keep someone out 12 hours a night," said Calhoun County Chief Deputy David Moseley.

Working the front lines of combating contraband going inside Calhoun State Prison is a constant battle.

"We've got them coming from all over the state. Not long ago we had some from Tennessee coming in here. All trying to get the stuff in to make that easy money," said Moseley.

In 2013, four people were arrested using a drone to smuggle tobacco into Calhoun State.

"The inmates would stick their hands outside vents and grab it and he would fly it back to reload," said Moseley.

Since 2010, the Georgia Department of Corrections has made nearly 1,100 contraband arrest.

More than 200 of those are the ones paid to keep it out

Just this year, 5 corrections officers at Calhoun State have been arrested for attempting to smuggle contraband inside the prison.

"At least once a month we get a call out there where they have a dirty officer trying to get something in: methamphetamine, cell phones, tobacco," said Moseley.

Statewide, it's cell phones that are the big ticket items.

More than 7,600 phones were seized last year alone.

They're smuggled inside Bibles, shoes, and in some cases, hidden inside people.

"A smart phone would go for over a $1,000. These guys on the outside are making good money trying to get it on the inside," said Moseley.

And on the inside, phones are used to carry out criminal enterprises.

In January, 15 current and former corrections officer along with 19 current and former inmates at Autry State Prison in Mitchell were charged in a massive fraud and money laundering scheme carried out from inside the prison by use of illegal cell phones.

At Valdosta State Prison, convicted killer Donald Hinley was charged with using smuggled cell phones to run a drug trafficking operation from his cell. He's also accused of instructing an inmate at Telfair State Prison to murder a fellow inmate.

While crackdowns are working, the fight to keep them out will only get more difficult

"We've cracked down so hard on it and it's harder for the inmates to get. Now you have more and more trying to get it because it's paying more," said Moseley.

Now, it appears only federal intervention to block cell phone communication is the answer to solving the problem.

The GDC Commissioner went before the FCC last year asking for federal restrictions to be lifted so cell phone service could be jammed at prisons, but for now they say it poses a risk of hindering emergency contact between prison staff.

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