Not too long ago the state Department of Corrections routinely discovered hundreds of cell phones that had been smuggled into different prisons every year.

But that was then and this is now.

“Since 2010, a number of steps have been taken to correct the problem and cell phone smuggling has been dramatically cut. In 2016, there were a total of 14 that were found throughout the year and in the first three months of 2017 there was only one,” said Gary Lanigan, commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

He said four different steps have been taken to stop cell phones from getting into corrections facilities.

“We hardened all of our entry points, we enhanced our searches, we referred all cases of contraband cell phones to the prosecutor, and we enhanced the inmates' ability to communicate with their family and loved ones,” he said.

According to the commissioner, no one is allowed to bring a cell phone into a corrections facility, not even him. Phones are considered contraband and anyone caught with one could be charged with a third-degree crime.

“When everyone comes into a facility they do go through scanners and they are searched, all the property is searched, all the mail that comes into our facility is scanned,” he said.

“In addition we do have specially trained canines, which will hit on cell phones, we do have other detection equipment including cameras, and we have specialized search teams that do both random and targeted searches of the facility."

Even with all of these steps being taken, however, prisoners are still trying to get their hands on cell phones.

“They will try to convince a loved one to bring it through on a visit. They will try to identify a corrupt staff member to introduce it as contraband,” said Lanigan, even hide it in "disturbing parts of their body."

"It’s just disappointing what people will try to do.”

Seven years ago, the cost of a 15-minute call in a jail was $15, but “today all calls are 4 cents a minute — so there’s no legitimate reason for an inmate to have to use a cell phone to make a phone call.”

He said there has been a very strong effort in this regard because cell phones behind bars, in the hands inmates, are every bit as dangerous as a weapon.

“They can continue to coordinate illegal activity out in the streets, sale of drugs, gang activity, intimidation of witnesses. They can coordinate escape activity,” he said.

“Cell phones are still an issue of concern but we’ve come a very long way.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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