COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For the South Carolina Department of Corrections, the fight against contraband inside South Carolina prisons is a constant effort.
Their mission was simple: to search for and seize contraband from South Carolina’s most violent criminals housed inside the maximum security prison. It’s an operation officials expected to last several days.
The mood inside the Wateree cell block, home to 250 inmates heightened when the team arrived.
The cells were locked down as members of the RRT unit went cell by cell, shackling inmates, stripping them down to shirt & shorts, and then combed every inch of their living areas. The team members were dressed in full tactical gear and looked for any crevice or hiding spot where contraband might be hidden.
The inmates were led to a mobile cellular & metal detector. A special chair was wheeled in to detect metal hidden in body cavities. The inmates laid their faces on the chair’s platform to make sure no metal was hidden in their mouth.
Within minutes, it is apparent some of these criminals, though incarcerated, haven't given up on crime. Officers found drugs, cash, cell phones and crude weapons inside the walls and inside the bunks. SCDC officers also rounded up close to 1800 illegal pills in just a few hours.
Inside a window well of one cell, officers uncovered several bags of tobacco, shanks and 110 grams of crystal meth. The evidence was bagged and preserved, with the inmates responsible facing further disciplinary action.
In another cell- a seemingly harmless bag of t-shirts concealed a cell phone inside. In all SCDC officers found 19 cell phones during the first day of the raid.
While examining a shower stall, the tactical team found an opening in the ceiling. Inside, officers found a crude 21-inch bayonet and other shanks along with cell phone chargers & electronic devices.
Officials tell us they are aware inmates will always find creative ways to bring in contraband, and cell phones are the main tool they use to procure illegal items and carry out drug transactions.
Director Bryan Stirling says eradicating contraband, especially cell phones “is a matter of life and death” simply because inmates are able to conduct criminal activity behind bars. Stirling is among the high profile voices calling for cell signals to be jammed at state prisons, a move that would need federal approval.
Corrections officials realize many of the items hidden in one spot today, will likely move from one cell to the next tomorrow. Which is why they conduct raids wiping the cells clean, top to bottom.
South Carolina prisons have taken other measures to eradicate contraband. Body scanners, drones, higher netting and clearing wooded areas around prisons are just some of the ways Corrections officials say they are combatting the problem. Officials say a search at Lee Correctional last month also yielded impressive results. Stirling says his agency will also crack down on any guards complicit in the transfer and trade of contraband within prison walls.
When banned items are found, inmates are angered by the confiscation of their weapons, phones, and drugs: all of which, officials say, translate to currency and clout behind bars.
After one such confiscation, one inmate pounded the window of his cell door with his fists, shattering the glass, while others who resisted orders were hustled away.
Corrections officials say they’re finding fewer phones than years prior, and they credit newly enforced preventative measures for the reduction.
But in seeing the sheer amount of contraband they uncovered in one day, officials know there’s always more to be done. Still, raids like this show the SCDC is combatting the problem, one cell at a time.
Stay with WIS News 10 and wistv.com for a complete tally of what was uncovered in the raid at Broad River Correctional Institution.