9 Investigates: Correctional officers giving inmates cellphones

By: Daralene Jones

Updated:

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - New details in an ongoing 9 Investigates’ report reveals correctional officers are part of the reason inmates have illegal cellphones.

 

It's a public safety issue that the Brevard County state attorney believes allowed a convicted rapist to harass his victim from prison.

 

Investigative reporter Daralene Jones talked to a former inmate who claims he saw correctional officers smuggling in cellphones, and selling them to inmates.

 

“It's a way for the officers to basically add to what they're making per hour,” Christopher Bryant said.

 

Bryant served three years in state prison for a sex crime. He is among several former prisoners and an employee who reached out to 9 Investigates after a series of reports about convicted Brevard County rapist Christopher Wood.

 

Brevard County prosecutors have been trying to sound the alarm for nearly a year about him allegedly using an illegal cellphone to harass his victim from prison.

 

9 Investigates: Prisoner accused of terrorizing rape victim

 

Brevard prosecutors fought for nearly a year to get him moved, even writing a letter to Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones in February, requesting Wood be moved to another institution where he had no connections, or placed in confinement.

 

It wasn't until last week, when Jones reached Wood on a cellphone, that the Department of Corrections placed him in confinement.

 

He has since been relocated to Martin Correctional Institution, 300 miles away from Jefferson Institution, where he was being held.

 

9 Investigates reviewed lengthy investigative reports backing the other inmates’ claims that a worker was part of the problem.

 

9 Investigates: Records show increase in confiscation of cellphones in Florida prison

 

One officer was allegedly caught smuggling in flip phones at Jefferson, using a false bottom in her boots.

 

An inmate said he received more than 40 phones from the correctional officer, providing her with over $20,000 from sales of the phones and other contraband.

 

Another report said that the going rate for a cellphone in prison is $400 for a flat screen phone and $250 for a flip-style phone, estimating another correctional office delivered 15 telephones a week, making $20,000 during his brief time with the agency.

 

9 Investigates first reported earlier this month that DOC has confiscated nearly 40,000 cellphones and accessories since 2014, increasing each year since then. In the last few weeks, the DOC secretary requested an additional $2 million to help fight contraband, to include enhanced X-ray machines that can view bod cavities.

 

 

State Sen. Dennis Baxley of Lady Lake wants technology capable of scrambling cellphone signals because adding metal detectors hasn't been enough. And he has the power to make it happen as vice-chair of the criminal justice committee.

 

“They're so small and portable. The secretary has worked really hard to change the culture to change this dynamic, but a huge turnover in personnel makes it difficult to stay on top of it,” Baxley said.

 

He went on to say that the department should consider some new technology that can scramble signals in a prison environment.  

 

The Brevard County State Attorney’s office released the following statement in response to Wood’s transfer to Martin Correctional Institution: “I am happy to see that according to the public records, DOC has finally moved Mr. Wood out of Jefferson CI and to another location.  This, along with secure confinement, was the action that the Office of the State Attorney has been requesting for close to a year now after repeatedly presenting both the warden at Jefferson CI and Julie Jones, the Secretary for the DOC with documented proof of his use of a mobile device in prison dating back to 2016.  It is disappointing, however, that it took Channel 9 shining a light on his activities in prison in order to get the administration to take action.  Hopefully this will curtail his ability to contact the outside world, including the survivor, without being properly monitored by DOC.”

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