Meridian Star

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March 18, 2014

Epps: Prison contraband never-ending battle

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi corrections officials have added netting, body scanners and monthly prison searches to a growing list of steps to keep illegal cellphones, drugs, tobacco and other contraband out of prisoners' hands.

"We are in a new era where people will use any means to get contraband into prisons," Commissioner Christopher B. Epps said Monday in a news release.

"Therefore, we must think outside the box. Nothing good comes from contraband being in the hands of inmates."

Epps said New Jersey-based Tex-Nex Inc. installed a mile of 40-foot high netting last year at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.

He said 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 plus four units at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Epps said installation is costing $1.3 million.

Mississippi is the first state to use netting all the way around a correctional facility on such a large scale, said Tex-Net Inc.'s vice president Annette Scarperia. CMCF is the benchmark for anti-contraband netting, she said.

Mississippi also installed at Parchman in 2010 a system that intercepts all incoming and outgoing cellphone 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 Epps said plans are to put it at CMCF in the coming months.

Since its initial installation, the system has blocked 5.9 million unauthorized cellphone calls and texts, Epps said.

"Keeping cellphones 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 cellphone pictures. When we catch them with cellphones or any cellphone component, they are placed in a zero privilege unit where they lose six months of earned time."

Epps said MDOC started using 17 body scanners on Dec. 1 at the three state prisons and the four private prisons.

Introduction of contraband into a correctional facility is punishable by up to 15 years in prison while conspiracy to introduce contraband carries up to five years in prison.


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