Illegal Contraband Reaching Prison Inmates

Lee County is home to the largest correctional facility in South Carolina.

Inmates are banned from everyday items unlike the rest of the world. But lately, because of the lopsided ratio between inmates and guards, many of them are still getting access to those items with the help from outsiders.

Pre-paid cell phones, tobacco, and alcohol have all been seized inside the facility walls. Sheriff Daniel Simon says it is easier than people may think.

"Someone from the inside, possibly an inmate has been contacting a resident."

According to authorities, those residents are hired to deliver items in marked packages. Most come at night from the back side of the prison which is heavily wooded. Most that have been arrested were wearing either black or camouflage and have thrown the packages over the fence.

Simon said inmates meet the people they call at designated spots around the jail. The Sheriff's Department has located many of those meeting areas. In return, senders get paid with prepaid gift cards they obtained from previous deliveries. Those caught say they were paid between $500-$800 a delivery.

Lee County is not the only area fighting contraband. Last week, two Saluda County Correctional Officers were fired after being caught taking food, drinks, drugs and other contraband to inmates; even having having intimate relationships with them.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, who's department has arrested several suspects making deliveries to Lee County, said it all starts with one phone getting behind the wall. That can lead to a sophisticated network. Unlike popular belief, convicts are not in their cells all day.

"Cell phones are the key to it. When an inmate is able to have a cell phone inside the prison, they are able to contact people outside of the prison. Money is transferred. Inmates are not just confined to a cell block. They are allowed to go out and work at the prison. Because of that, they have access to areas outside of the prison."

Since January 2011, there have been 40 arrests according to Lee County investigators. So far no weapons have been found, but Simon did find one disturbing item.

"We did intercept a handcuff key. That is alarming to me that they are getting handcuff keys in there."

The sheriff's department vows to keep their eyes open and work hand in hand with the Department of Corrections. Simon hopes the general public continues to give them tips of suspicious activity.

"They do not like what is going on; that somebody is furnishing contraband on the inside. Because what goes in may come back out one day."

They'll do everything they can to make sure the only thing passing through those walls are the convicts themselves.