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Target Three Special Report: Contraband Inside Texoma Correctional Facilities
Last month, at the GEO prison in Lawton, the death of an inmate led to the discovery of a cell phone he had used to communicate with the outside world.
Obviously, a cell phone is forbidden in a jail cell but how does something like that make its way behind bars?
Just how often are prohibited items found inside correctional facilities and what can be done to find them?
Officials at the Wichita County Jail and James V. Allred prison say they find contraband inside their facilities on a regular basis.
Wichita County Sheriff David Duke says a whole gamut of prohibited items are found ranging from weapons to narcotics to some certain foods.
The Wichita County Sheriff's Office defines contraband as any item an inmate has in their possession that is not issued to them or is altered to be used in a way outside of its original purpose.
Inside the walls of the Wichita County Jail, Duke says inmates have a lot of time on their hands and while some of the items they have confiscated may seem harmless, others can be very dangerous.
Duke says, "It's a constant safety issue we got to watch for."
In addition, he says it is up to his deputies to find these items.
"The training that they have is paramount for the safety of not only themselves but the other inmates, all the inmates, at any given time," Duke says. "They are very watchful of what's going on in the jail. They see the contraband. They know when something is going on. They do recognize when something is missing."
For Sergeants Bill Carey and Victoria Kamp and Lieutenant Ian McMurtrie, the task of locating these types of items involves the continuous and methodical search of the jail.
For instance, McMurtrie say every item confiscated poses a threat.
"The most common thing we will find is tattoo equipment," McMurtrie exclaims. "Everything involving making tattoos involves a sharp instrument."
Furthermore, McMurtrie says, "They are going through the tank tattooing everyone and when they get done they'll hide the pick somewhere; an officer coming through looking for something and runs his finger on the pick, now he's got six to eight months of worry while the blood test come back to see if he's got anything and if he does what he has."
Even though some contraband like homemade dominoes don't pose an immediate threat, Carey says the danger is there.
Carey says, "If I gamble with you and I lose and I can't pay, now there's a problem and that problem is going to create a safety issue for both the inmates and the staff alike."
He says, "The crosses can be used as currency for bartering purposes and what happens a lot of times; we'll find a lot of our scuffles or disturbances are based on the fact that someone has purchased something they can't pay for."
Also, Kamp says all inmates face consequences regardless of what type of contraband is found.
"Our disciplinary process is designed for correction not punishment so when we do find something, we do have a system to where they can get up to 30 days in lock off and lost of privileges," Kamp says.
Contraband is also a problem at the state level.
Behind the chained linked fences and razor wire of the James V. Allred prison unit, Senior Warden Richard Wathen says it comes from a variety of sources.
Wathen says, "It does come from offenders who work outside the fence in different jobs and they come back into the facility. They may smuggle that in. Offender family members smuggle stuff in during visitation weekends when they come and have their visits. Unfortunately, staff smuggle things in."
However, he says the prison takes a systematic approach at trying to prevent contraband from entering the facility.
"We have our separate secure points where we search all those individuals to try to intercept that and keep that from coming inside the facility," Wathen says. "There's signs out there that are posted that warn the public that your person and your vehicle are subject to search."
Also, he says, "We perform daily searches of the facility, common areas and cell searches because we're required to perform so many of those cell searches a day."
Warden Wathen says while many things can be considered contraband as soon as they enter the facility, he says possible the most dangerous is a cell phone.
"Anytime you find a cell phone, that's a big deal. An offender with a cell phone suddenly has internet access. That offender has a way to communicate to the outside world. Has a way to look up information on you, me, other employees, other offenders which could potentially put all of us in jeopardy," Wathen exclaims.
When it comes to Allred, inmates also face consequences if caught with contraband.
Wathen says depending on what it is, the inmate's criminal history and how the contraband is being used; an inmate could face Free World charges filed against them by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Office of Inspector General and the Wichita County's District Attorney's Office.
But, Wathen says Allred is in the process of installing a new $3.2 million surveillance system.
He says the system's 942 cameras will help keep an eagle eye on the facility.
"We already know that people just being aware or thinking that they're being recorded has made an impact already," Wathen says.
While contraband may always remain an issue inside state and county jail facilities, authorities say their efforts will continue.
They wish inmates would use the time on their hands in a more positive manner.
Carey says, "Some of the stuff they create, some of things they've done, some of it is genius and their thought process and creativity is incredible. Unfortunately they use it for the wrong purpose."
He adds, "If they could just do half of what they can do in here on the street, they could probably be very successful in some type of job or career."