April 21, 2010
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Contact: Public Affairs Office
Okeechobee Correctional Institution Correctional Officer Walter McHargue III thought it was strange when an inmate on his work crew asked him, twice, if he could mow a particular area behind the prison warehouse.
So on April 14, Officer McHargue enlisted the help of Correctional Officer Joe Gaucin and they searched the area in question, which is about 100 yards from the main entrance road to the prison, and discovered 28 different cell phones with chargers in a Pilot store plastic shopping bag. The cell phones were wrapped in electrical tape to minimize damage when smuggled into prison, and sealed in Ziploc bags to shield them from the elements.
“Cell phones in prison pose a significant threat to prison security, because they are used by inmates to coordinate escape attempts, intimidate witnesses, introduce contraband like drugs and weapons into the prison and engage in numerous other illegal activities,” said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil.
These small, easily concealable devices often have internet connectivity and photo capability as well. As cell phone technology improves, and the phones themselves become smaller, they become more difficult for officers to find and easier for inmates to hide.
All inmates have telephone service readily available to them, but those calls are recorded and subject to being monitored by our Security staff, which inmates avoid by using illegal cell phones.
Department of Corrections staff is trained to perform daily inspections of items both inside and outside the prison grounds that may look innocent such as empty drink containers, fast food restaurant bags and other debris to ensure they don’t contain contraband.
In the Okeechobee CI case, these phones were intercepted because alert staff reacted to unusual inmate behavior and acted on that suspicion.
On October 1, 2008, it became a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, for individuals to smuggle cell phones or similar portable communications devices into Florida prisons.
In FY 2008-089, 1,018 cell phones were confiscated from Florida’s 101,000+ prison inmates, along with 297 chargers. Often, the cell phones are found by one of the Department’s eight drug detecting canine teams, who often find cell phones when they locate drugs, as inmates often hide them together. The Department’s Inspector General’s office also has two cell-phone sniffing dogs that have been instrumental in finding cell phones inside prisons statewide.