Jail Cells: A WAFF 48 News Special Report

By Jeanie Powell - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A few weeks ago, nine death row inmates in Texas were found with cell phones on them. A Maryland inmate was accused of using this technology to hire a hit on a witness. But what about Alabama prisoners?

Jailers and prison guards are working to keep this type of contraband out of their facility.

Last year alone, the Department of Corrections confiscated 3123 cell phones and officials expect 2010 numbers to exceed that.

Cell phones are valuable to inmates, but it's dangerous territory for the guards and jailers who try to track where their calls are going.

Gwen Mosley is an institutional coordinator for the Alabama Department of Corrections, supervising 15 wardens in the state. She was the first female warden to oversee a major male facility.

The 34-year veteran has seen a lot working her way up through the ranks.

"Recently we had an inmate didn't have a cell phone in his body cavity, but he had a charger, and it had to be surgically removed," said Mosley.

Cell phones have taken over the number one spot for contraband in Alabama prisons.

John Cummins is warden at Kilby, a maximum-security correctional facility in Montgomery County. He said the origin of cell phone usage within prison walls is cost driven. ((

He said he believes it all started because of just how much it costs someone to make a phone call behind bars.

Some phone calls may appear more innocent, like a call home to mom. Others call for suspicion.

"Often times it's an ex-wife complaining that the ex-husband is calling, harassing," said Cummins. "Phones can help inmates orchestrate drug deals."

"Drugs are still contraband and they go hand in hand," said Mosley.

State-run facilities mainly rely on shakedowns to find phones, but sometimes metal detectors or canines are brought in.

"Very often, whoever's been handling the cell phones have been handling marijuana," said Cummins. "The dogs pick up on the marijuana scent."

Violence associated with this contraband is escalating.

"The inmates are more violent towards our officers and staff," said Mosley.

Work release also poses a problem when it comes to cell phones in jail. Inmates can easily plant a drop if they know where they're going to be.

"Sometimes what they'll do is they'll arrange to go to a hospital for a hospital visit and have a cell phone pre-dropped," said Madison County Jail Administrator Lt. Bill Hancock.

"Right now, our supervisors are permitted to bring their cell phones into the facility," said Hancock. "These are county issued cell phones and we're going to review our policy when we move to the new jail to see if we want to even eliminate those phones from the jail."

The Department of Corrections is working with its inmate telephone contractor to test new technology that would stop service within the facility.

Equipment around the fence jams reception, but only in that area.

Local and state agencies are looking at jamming technology. It's legislation that was introduced by a Texas state senator who received a death threat from a death row inmate via phone.

Operation of transmitters designed to jam or block wireless communications is a violation of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, so the fight to restrict access is ongoing.

The DOC recently changed its policy so that if you're a staff member and you're caught sneaking in a cell phone to an inmate, you can get dismissed on your first offense.

Only authorized personnel are allowed to bring cell phones into prisons.

In Madison County, an employee could face felony charges of promoting prison contraband if he or she lets a prisoner make a call. Madison County is also reviewing its policy to combat this growing problem.

©2010 WAFF. All rights reserved.