Inmates with cell phones a problem in state prisons

A prison riot at Lee Correctional Institution

in Bishopville ended safely this week

, though a guard was held hostage.

State corrections department officials say contraband cell phones played a key role in the riot, with inmates using the devices to make demands of prison officials.

Though contraband phones


not a major issue at the Horry County jail, one Grand Strand attorney says state prisons have a problem with the phones.

At J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway, Horry County inmates can mingle and chat at lunch time, but it's unlikely they'll ever get to talk with anyone on the outside using a smuggled cell phone.

When an inmate is booked-in at the jail, all
personal property is confiscated and bagged, and the individual has to sit on an X-ray machine that detects objects that may be hidden in body cavities.

"I think we've only had one issue that I'm aware of that an inmate's actually tried to get a cell phone in a cell block, but we caught that prior to him coming in, because the officers are required to search the inmates," said Lt. Duane Patrick of the Horry County sheriff's office. Patrick heads security operations at the jail.

At state prisons like the Bishopville facility, friends on the outside can throw packages over the fence where guards can't see them and inmates can pick them up.

But at the county jail, Patrick said an indoor recreation area, with 18-foot high walls and wire mesh over the windows, is the closest most inmates get to the outdoors.

"Ninety percent of our inmates that are housed in the tower, Randy Gerald Tower, are actually inside a closed area and they don't have any access to the outside yards whatsoever," Patrick said.

A few inmates on the cleaning crew can go outdoors he said, but they're accompanied by guards.

So cell phones inside the county jail are unlikely, but Myrtle Beach attorney Greg McCollum said he knows from personal experience cell phones are a problem at state prisons, because he's received calls from inmates inside prison walls.

"I do know of instances in the past where individuals who have been in the state prison system apparently had contacted me on what I would call contraband cell phones and I think that is an issue," McCollum said.

But McCollum said in 20 years, he's never known of anyone who had a mobile phone inside the Horry County jail.

State prison officials say they seize about 2,500 cell phones each year from the state's 27 prisons, where inmates can use them to plan crimes and harass victims.

Corrections department officials say one way inmates get their hands on the smuggled phones is that prison employees bring them in.

Since 2005, more than 200 state prison officers have been disciplined for contraband violations.