INDIANAPOLIS - State prison officials said they are seeing a wide variety of tactics to smuggle cellphones into correctional facilities, including stuffing phones inside their hair and paying employees to sneak them in on supply trucks.
Days after federal prosecutors announced 13 people being sentenced to federal prison for using cellphones to coordinate drug trafficking, the Call 6 Investigators found convicts, visitors and staff now resorting to some brazen tactics to smuggle phones into state prisons.
The maximum security Pendleton Correctional Facility reports as many as 10 cellphones may have arrived in a truck shipment of dry goods within the past month. The truck pulled through the back gate of the prison as usual, but then search teams located a plastic bag that had been torn open in between pallets.
Evidence of cellphones remained behind in the bag, but the actual phones had already been picked up before search teams discovered it.
Prison Superintendent Dushan Zatecky said some housing units were search and a few offenders were strip searched after leaving the area of the delivery but no phones were found.
He called the constant search for cellphones, “like a never ending battle.”
Inserted into Body Cavity
An X-ray revealed how one corrections officer manages to walk right through the front door of the Pendleton prison in December 2011. A metal detector indicated something was hidden in the groin area for 59-year-old corrections officer Wanda Strickler, a 10-year veteran employee.
She was taken to a medical facility after that initial search and the X-ray showed a cell phone inserted into a body cavity. Strickler was convicted and sent to prison for using that method to smuggle phones to inmates.
Hidden in Hair Do
One visitor was caught with a cellphone tucked into her hair while passing through metal detectors on the way into prison.
Signs are posted at prison entrances warning people they can now face felony charges for smuggling phones or other contraband into prison.
Tossed Over Wall
Prison workers say several different facilities are noticing phones being tossed over the walls.
Those workers said the phones are often landing in the recreation yard area, indicating the person on the outside knew exactly what spot in the prison yard would involve the least amount of attention from corrections officers.
At the Pendleton prison, an adjoining golf course allows people to approach within a few feet of the perimeter wall.
Undercover officers told the Call 6 Investigators they spent hours posing as golfers to see if they could catch people tossing things over the wall. Their undercover effort was launched in response to several phones being tossed over the wall.
Perimeter picket guards are intended to keep prisoners in, as opposed to watching people on the outside, prison workers said.
High-intensity lights have been installed, aiming toward the neighboring golf course, in hopes that picket guards will be able to spot anyone approaching with phones in the middle of the night.
Smuggled by Guards
Several corrections officers and other employees have been caught carrying phones into prisons recently.
Richard Rice, a 47-year-old corrections officer at the New Castle prison, was caught with a phone and a charger in January.
Others have been caught after suspicions were raised or tips were received, and prison investigators said the employees who are caught would usually bring numerous phones into a prison.
Indiana Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison said “Yes, phones are still making it in, but we’re taking immense efforts to try to stop it.”