Cracking down on contraband inside Mid-South facilities

Cracking down on contraband inside Mid-South facilities

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Tennessee Department of Corrections officials are working with the Department of Justice to detect and prevent illegal contraband inside Mid-South lock ups.

But what the WMC Action News 5 Investigators uncovered happening inside some regional facilities, simply flies in the face of officers vowing to crack down on contraband.

These prisoners are not bashful about the illegal devices and contraband they're using to broadcast from behind bars of a Tennessee Department of Correction Facility.

The video is just one of many at the center of a TDOC investigation, and one prisoner seen in multiple videos posted to Facebook is from right here in Memphis.

Kortavious Carwell is serving time in the Northwest Correctional Complex for attempted robbery. In a nearly 20-minute video, he shows off not one, but two cell phones.

These posts appeared just a month after WMC Action News 5 launched our own investigation into unrelated social media posts by another prisoner at the same facility.

"These phones are not used by someone who wants to call their mother and father to stay in communications," said Chief Interdiction Officer Lee Dotson.

Contraband behind bars is a problem Dotson is paid to tackle.

"Just let your imagination run wild," Dotson said.

According to records obtained by the WMC Action News 5 investigators, TDOC officials confiscated 2,400 cell phones last year. Half of those phones were recovered from known gang members.

This year, cell block sweeps have netted 950 cell phones.

Photos show books, Bibles, and shoes used to conceal contraband inside one of Mississippi's prisons.

During an unannounced shakedown at Bolivar County Regional, officers found 54 bundles of tobacco, 27 sets of headphones, countless weapons, and drugs, but again cell phones were the major haul here.

It was a similar story at the Alcorn County Regional Correctional Facility.

An early morning shakedown last week uncovered shoes, shanks, and more than 100 cellphones and cellphone chargers hidden in the ceiling and plugged into light fixtures.

"They're used to intimidate witnesses, victims, correctional staff members," Dotson said.

Cracking down on contraband is one thing. Stopping the signal sent from phones like these is another.

Prison leaders said current legal technologies designed to prevent contraband cellphone use are expensive and not 100 percent effective.

A letter from the Association of State Correctional Administrators asked the FCC to reconsider their stance on cell phone jamming technology.

The letter reads "We look forward to working with you and Congress to find solutions to eliminate cellphone signals in prisons and address this dire public safety threat."

The Association cites a case in Mississippi where inmates "orchestrated murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, money laundering, drug distribution and firearms trafficking all via illegal cell phones."

Another case in Tennessee involved inmate George Hyatte, who used a smuggled cell phone to coordinate the murder of a prison guard.

"The whole issue with contraband is a public safety issue," Dotson said.

Correctional officers said inmates and their accomplices on the outside will continue to find ways to beat methods of detection and prevention as long as there is a market for cellphones and a means to make calls from behind bars.

While TDOC punishes inmates caught with contraband...they're also working with local law enforcement on the outside to go after people who help smuggle in those items.

The social media accounts of the inmates featured in those live Facebook videos have been shut down, at least the ones investigators know about.

According to data collected by Securus Technologies - a provider of civil and criminal justice technology solutions for public safety, investigation, corrections, and monitoring - within the past year, almost 1.7 million illegal communication attempts were made from just eight correctional facilities around the country.

One facility reported more than 107,000 contraband phone call attempts in just a two-month time period.

Each of those calls was tracked and stopped following Securus Wireless Containment Solution activation.

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