The Mississippi Department of Corrections is stepping up its efforts to keep illegal cell phones, drugs, and other contraband out of state prisons.
"We are in a new era where people will use any means to get contraband into prisons," Commissioner Christopher B. Epps said. "Therefore, we must think outside the box. Nothing good comes from contraband being in the hands of inmates."
Epps said he never thought he'd have to worry about cell phones, chargers and tobacco being thrown over security fences.
"But that is what we are dealing with today," he said.
So how do you stop items from being tossed over security perimeter fences, Epps said he decided to contract with a netting manufacturer to put a barrier around vulnerable spots at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.
New Jersey-based Tex-Nex Inc. installed a mile of 40-foot high netting last year at CMCF. The company recently completed a netting job at Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, and is expected to install netting at the three other private prisons (East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian, Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove and Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs), and four units (25, 26, 28 and 29) at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman (MSP).
Installing the netting is costing the agency $1.3 million. In addition to the netting, body scanners and monthly searches of entire prisons (state, private and regional) have been added to a growing list of preventive measures to ensure safety. Watches have also been banned.
Mississippi is the first state to use the Managed Access System to reduce illegal cell phone usage. Launched in August 2010 at Parchman, the system intercepts all incoming and outgoing cell phone signals and allows prison authorities to manage calls that are not allowed and those that are.
The system was installed at South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Greene County last year, and plans are under way to put it at CMCF in the coming months.
Since its initial installation, the system has blocked 5,917,125 unauthorized cell phone calls and texts.
"Keeping cell phones out of the hands of inmates is a never-ending battle," Epps said. "While we are doing all we can, there are some inmates who are getting on Facebook or who are sending out cell phone pictures. When we catch them with cell phones or any cell phone component, they are placed in a zero privilege unit where they lose six months of earned time."
MDOC started using 17 Rapiscan full body X-Ray scanners on Dec. 1 at the three state prisons and the four private prisons.
The netting, body scanners and increased searches are already paying off, Epps said. Other MDOC efforts to rid the prisons of cell phones and other contraband include:
"I will be dumbfounded if all these measures don't slow or drastically reduce cell phones and other contraband in our prisons," Epps said. "I lose a lot of sleep worrying about cell phones. We have proof that they have been used in escapes, to put hits out on people, and for other criminal activities. It's a bad situation with these cell phones."
Introduction of contraband into a correctional facility is punishable by three to 15 years in prison, a maximum $25,000 fine, or both. Conspiracy to introduce contraband carries up to a $5,000 fine, five years imprisonment, or both.
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