Department of corrections turns to K-9s to track down smuggled cellphones

The Indiana Department of Corrections has turned to its canine companions to deal with a high-tech problem behind bars.

The problem is the possession and use of cellphones by inmates.

The D.O.C. can erect fences, string razor wire and build prison cells, all to monitor the whereabouts and activities of inmates. But one inmate with a cellphone can unravel the entire plan.

"Unfortunately, we've had narcotics trafficking organizations run through some of our prisons. Sometimes an offender can order a hit against other people or they'll use it to conduct other criminal activity,” Department of Corrections spokesman Doug Garrison said.

The D.O.C. now uses dogs to combat the problem of illegal possession and use of cell phones inside the prisons. The dogs have been trained to sniff out the batteries and other electronic components and alert prison officials to their location.

"Oftentimes, the SIM card, the batteries and the phones are not kept in the same place. So if you find a battery, then you know you got a cellphone,” Garrison said. “But you may not find the cellphone. But the dogs detect all of that."

The D.O.C. runs 20 adult prisons statewide. And despite searches of visitors and employees alike, prison officials have confiscated more than 2,500 cell phones this year alone.

Trafficking with an inmate, including a cell phone, is a serious crime -- one that's punishable by up to eight years in prison. It's a crime that the D.O.C. will prosecute to the fullest every time.

"Despite our best efforts, in spite of searching people when they come inside, we know they're still getting in,” Garrison said. “So, that's why we have to go in the back end and find them once they're inside. Because we know they're getting in."

For now, the D.O.C. has cellphone-sniffing canines in only two prisons. But officials say their success in sniffing out contraband has made it apparent that the program is worth expanding to all D.O.C. facilities.

Just a few years ago, the Indiana legislature passed a law making possession of a cellphone by an inmate a Class C felony.

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