March 12, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---An investigation is underway after prisoners at the Richmond County Correctional Institution were found with cell phones and marijuana. Officials say the purpose of the phones might have been to plan an escape. But the question is, how did they get them?
News 12's Jonathan Martin uncovered the story.
Prison officials say this is not typical. They've had problems here and there, but never like this.
Daily work detail is as much freedom as these state prisoners are allowed to get.
"When I begin to find five and six cell phones during my inspection, it's a concern," Warden Robert Leverett said.
The city is investigating. Commissioners have questions because inmates are supposed to be monitored at all times by an officer and searched each time they re-enter the building.
"There is a hole in the system," said Commissioner Marion Williams. "We need to find out where that hole is and plug it up."
The issue of drugs came up last week after one of the prisoners passed out. After random drug tests, it was revealed he and several other prisoners had been using marijuana.
"It's very serious to me, Jonathan, very serious," Leverett said.
Leverett says first he has to find out who's giving the drugs and cell phones to inmates.
He's ruling out no one, including his own officers and Augusta employees in Recreation and Public Works who often work near the crews.
News 12 saw video of an inmate working within arm's reach of a public works employee, even though the warden says prisoners are not supposed to be working anywhere near other people.
"Possibly someone turned their head on, someone gave an inmate a cell phone, or an inmate picked it up," Leverett said.
While prisoners who've broken the rules are being punished, Leverett is placing the guards on a higher alert so nothing else slips through the cracks.
He says this is a big concern because cell phones have been used before to plan an escape. He says the last time that happened was about five years ago.
Prisoners who are caught with banned items in the jail get 14 days of isolation, and they have 180 more days, or about six more months, before they are eligible for parole.
After isolation, they are allowed to go back on work crew.