MDOC looking at putting sharpshooters back in guard towers as contraband smugglers get more creative
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Drugs, phones and even chicken wings stuffed in footballs and tossed over fences in latest smuggling attempt
From Staff Reports
Officials with the Mississippi Department of Corrections are developing plans to reinstate armed guards in watch towers at the state prison in Leakesville to crack down on attempts to introduce contraband over the security fences.
While not necessarily directly tied to the incident, the announcement of the security changes, comes on the heels of a failed attempt last week to introduce a variety of contraband into South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI) by throwing the items over peremeter fencing at the facility.
MDOC officials credited new technology for spoiling the “black-market Christmas” for some inmates. According to a news release from MDOC, smugglers threw more than 25 packages onto prison grounds at around 1:30 a.m. Dec. 7. The packages contained a wide assortment of illegal contraband, including 38 cellphones, four pounds of marijuana and seven pounds of barbequed chicken wings.
Other items siezed in the failed attempt included 20 pounds of tobacco and rolling papers, phone chargers and bluetooth earbuds, an assortment of cigars over-the-counter cold medications, 10 cans of smokeless tobacco, several packs of cigarettes and lighters, a scale and a head scarf.
Some of the illegal goods were stuffed into footballs that easily cleared the prison’s double 18-foot-high fences. However, sensing technology on the fences and peremiter of the prison were activated, alerting corrections officers who scrambled to the area and confiscated all the contraband. SMCI Superintendent Andrew Mills said Security Chief Michael McLendon spotted a slow-moving vehicle and activated a search by state and local law enforcement.
Several people have been charged in the incident thanks to one of the suspects having a court-ordered electronic ankle bracelet. Christopher Naje Wilson, who was out on bond on a murder charge, was wearing a bracelet that allowed law enforcement to track his movements from the Leakesville prison back to Richland outside Jackson. Stopping Wilson’s car, which he had allegedly stolen, Richland Police found another football, similar to the ones recovered at SMCI, in the car containing synthetic marijuana called “spice.”
“Electronic GPS surveillance technology let us clearly see every movement Wilson made to and from the prison and to within feet of SMCI’s perimeter fence,” MDOC Investigative Director John Hunt said. “We also found a receipt in the contraband from the store where some items had been purchased and by whom.”
Richland Police arrested Wilson, 18, along with Fredric James Roberson, 19, and Keshun Chambers, 18. MDOC officials said the trio admitted to the crime while in the Rankin County Jail and will be charged with drug possession, trafficking and introducing illegal contraband into a prison. Further tracking led CID investigators to also arrest Roberson’s 22-year-old sister Fredricka Roberson and Fredrikee Gooden, 21, on charges of introducing contraband into a prison. They were jailed in Greene County.
Any inmates found connected with the smuggling attempt will lose eligibility for early release and accumulated earned time.
“Our enhanced security measures are making us better at seizing contraband at all of our prisons any time of the day or night,” MDOC’s Deputy Commissioner of Institutions Jeworski Mallett said. “Clearly, we’re making a dent because smugglers on the outside are taking extreme risks to help some inmates carry on illegal activities.”
“We are also developing plans to re-open perimeter guard towers with marksmen armed with high-powered rifles. Everyone knows that trespassing on prison grounds is illegal day and night.”
MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain said gang leaders use contraband as a way to control other inmates and that efforts by MDOC officials we’re “choking off their operations they’ve used for decades to control prisons”.
“Now we’re installing and using the latest security systems, drones overhead, and cameras and scanners everywhere plus we’re recruiting and hiring the best and brightest criminal justice graduates,” Cain said. “Governor Reeves wants us to bring Mississippi Corrections into the 21st Century and we are.”
Staffing shortages have long plagued SMCI and other Mississippi prisons. Former leaders at SMCI have repeatedly said low pay and difficult working conditions have made recruiting new correctional officers difficult for them. While Cain and others say efforts are being made to change that scenario, state legislative leaders didn’t seem to be on board when they recently released their first budget recommendations for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Those recommendations from top state policymakers propose spending cuts for prisons, as well as universities, community colleges, prisons, mental health and child protection services next fiscal year.