The Oklahoma Department of Corrections conducted the largest seizure of contraband in its history after raiding a warehouse filled with drugs, cell phones and drones.
The director spoke to News On 6 about the ongoing battle to keep smuggled goods out of state prisons.
“Identifying, you know, suspicious behavior. It also includes monitoring our phone systems. Our colleagues now use tablet technology, so we already have the ability to monitor phone systems and monitor electronic communications. Monitor our incoming mail and exits from the facility. We also use k9s that have been trained to Detecting drugs as well as detecting cell phones… doing forensics on our cell phones that we actually detect,” said Scott Crowe, ODOC Director. certain to be able to identify the people responsible for bringing contraband into our facilities.”
The DOC said its latest raid resulted in the recovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contraband, and it expects charges to be brought against several people in the case.
It includes 30 pounds of marijuana, 2.2 pounds of meth, 2,400 cannabis pills, food from cannabis, 35 pounds of tobacco, 31 cell phones, and two drones.
The Office of the Inspector General’s Criminal Prohibition Division retrieved all of this from a storage unit in northwest Oklahoma City earlier this month.
They also found cellphone chargers, lighters, and grapple hooks as well as $8,500 in counterfeit cash along with guns and ammunition.
“It’s a lot of money, big money. If you look at a cell phone, a forbidden cell phone going into a facility depending on supply and demand, the price of a $19 cell phone in jail can range from $700,” Crowe said.
It has become common for people to drop drugs and phones into prison yards with drones, but there are other ways as well.
“Smuggled drops that happen through drones. There are smuggled drops that happen through deliveries to our facilities. Of course, we have visits in our facilities and oftentimes we are very concerned about the visitors who enter our facilities because they are planting contraband on their bodies or in devices or objects that They bring it to our facilities. In certain cases, we have employees who have been convicted of bringing contraband to our facilities,” Crowe said. All of our facilities are equipped with X-ray technology and metal detectors. We have some portable devices that are referred to as deep tissue metal detectors in case people try to hide contraband in certain locations. We use devices called cellense towers that are really focused on identifying cell phones which is definitely one of our biggest sources of contraband because of what they facilitate or allow people to facilitate.”
Keeping contraband out of prisons has long been a problem, Crowe said, but it has only worsened over the past few years.
“Our best efforts are still many days behind because smuggling in prisons not only in Oklahoma but across the United States is big business. It is organized crime in many respects. Oftentimes it is linked to gang activity,” Crowe said. “People often think of prison, and they think of a closed facility and barbed wire hubs and all that stuff. And many of our facilities are like a campus, where they’re open.”
He told us that partnerships with other agencies is critical and tips from public assistance, in large part.
“It takes a focused effort across a variety of platforms,” Crowe said.
DOC also recently seized 2,500 fentanyl tablets this month that it said are fatal and often linked to overdose.
“It probably saved a lot of lives because the number of tablets we’ve been given, and usually that tablet is actually cut and may actually be used to create or produce other medicines,” Crowe said.
Crowe said the punishment meant nothing to those caught.
“The problem with that is that if you’re an individual who’s already serving 50 or 60 years, it’s not much of a deterrent because you realize you’re going to actually spend most of your life in prison,” Crowe said.
So far this year, the DOC said it has confiscated more than 4,000 mobile phones in or around prisons.
They said cell phones in prisons were used to run drug operations abroad and even direct assaults and murders.