Contraband Behind Bars

Contraband Behind Bars

There are many different pieces of contraband that go into prison.

But the question is, how do these items get behind bars?

In September, Channel 7 received this video that was believed to have come from inside the Cummins Unit.

It shows inmates flipping beds and trashing the barracks inside.

But the footage you're seeing was shot on a cell phone, which are not allowed in prisons, they're considered contraband.

So how did a phone like this get behind bars?

"If you've ever been to a prison, most of them are fields and it's a lot of grounds out there that the prison sits on," a former inmate at the Delta Regional Unit in Dermott and the Tucker Unit said.

This former inmate asked that his face not be shown in order to remain anonymous.

In total, he says he spent a combined 10 years in prison for using and dealing drugs, and while in prison, bringing in contraband.

"Basically, a drug addict that was dealing drugs," the former inmate said. "I was a knucklehead, I was smuggling cigarettes and things like that, marijuana and things like that and I have disciplinary records to prove it."

He says inmates would find all sorts of ways to bring stuff in, like smuggling through visitation or by getting help from those in work release programs outside of prison.

"These inmates will have someone drop these things somewhere near their work area where they can go pick them up in a ditch somewhere," he said.

And there are also more creative ways prisoners bring these materials in.

"We would sow pockets and things in our boxer shorts to transport contraband, a lot of inmates have no problem ‘keestering’ things, if you know what that is, or using their rear end to bring things into a prison," the former inmate said.

And finding contraband isn't happening just a handful of times.

Back in September, we asked the Department of Correction to provide a count of contraband related items that were found in all the units within the last six months.

From March to September of this year, the 18 units in the ADC found over 1,500 contraband items that were either being brought in, or already found inside.

"It's a demonstration of a problem we have, and frankly, it's an institutional problem," State Representative Bob Ballinger said.

Rep. Ballinger is a part of the judiciary committee and a subcommittee that works with the Department of Correction.

We showed him the list the ADC gave us, detailing the different items like over 190 times drugs had been confiscated from East Arkansas Regional Unit, or that 175 cell phones had been found in all the units.

"It seems like there's a break in the system, things that are not supposed to be coming in are coming in," Rep. Ballinger said.

When it came to cell phones, the biggest amount came from the Cummins Unit, where that video we first showed you came from.

Within that six-month period, they had 64 phones inside, while 14 phones were unsuccessfully brought in.

"They're not miraculously appearing,” said. Rep. Ballinger, “they're being brought it probably by employees so that's about the only access you have from the outside."

"I don't really think a guard is going to bring you a cell phone,” the former inmate said. “I’m not going to blame that on any of the people who supervise you in the prison but most cell phones are going to be brought in by people who are outside of the fence line, inmates who work outside of the fence line."

We reached out to the ADC for an on-camera interview, but they would only respond to questions over email.

When we asked spokesperson Solomon Graves said, “contraband is introduced through a variety of sources, ranging from on an individual's person, to drops, to soaked paper sent through the mail.”

He tells Channel 7 that since November of last year, 15 correctional officers have been fired for bringing in contraband.

He goes on to say, "The department will fully investigate and appropriately respond, including advocating for criminal prosecution, to any attempts to introduce, manufacture, possess and/or convey contraband; regardless of the source."

"If this is something that we can't get a hold of then we're not doing our job so we need to grab ahold of this issue and we need to be able to try and get that fixed," Rep. Ballinger said.

Graves said contraband is a problem anywhere.

He said, "reducing the presence of contraband is essential to providing a safe and secure environment for inmates, employees, visitors, and the general public."

"Something's always going to get through, as long as you have inmates that work outside the fence line, and officers that are coming in and out of the prisons every day, there's always going to be contraband," said the former inmate.

In an effort to curb the use of cell phones in prison, back in July, ADC director Wendy Kelley sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking they find a way jam signal inside the prison wall.

Since July, there has been no update on any further developments.

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