COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The state Department of Corrections is investigating as an inmate at a South Carolina prison continues to use a cell phone and social media to post videos and even go live on Facebook flashing a knife despite being reprimanded twice for both.
Jose Ariel Rivera is sitting in Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville serving a 10-year sentence for a 2014 burglary conviction in Newberry County and a couple of other charges in Laurens County.
But the 31-year-old Rivera appears to still have time to update his social media pages, even going on Facebook Live on Aug. 4 with a fellow inmate brandishing a knife in a 3 1/2-minute video.
"Check it out," Rivera said. "You see this [expletive]? This how we do it in here. All day long."
Rivera walks up and down the halls of the facility seemingly without consequence. There do not appear to be any corrections officers near him.
The inmate also appears to be communicating with several of his Facebook friends -- one of whom he refers to as his "baby momma."
"Baby momma is tripping," Rivera said. "But she watching, though. And she loving me, though. She can talk all that [expletive] she want, but [expletive] real in here. They love me in here. You hear me? Big knives and all."
Rivera then holds up a knife for the camera while continuing to declare his love for the woman. The inmate then continues to walk through the facility, even pausing to show off the prison's water fountain.
A second video posted straight to his Facebook account appears to target someone who has been communicating with Rivera's "baby momma." Rivera repeatedly threatens the man as he holds a knife.
Rivera had been reprimanded in March for a social networking violation. He lost telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges for 6 months as a result. He was reprimanded again in April for cell phone possession and lost television privileges for a year on top of losing canteen, telephone, and visitation privileges for 6 more months.
The videos come as Corrections Department officials continue to lobby the federal government to allow them to jam cell phone signals in state prisons.
Earlier this year, an inmate at Lieber Correctional Institution was able to escape thanks largely in part due to a contraband cell phone. A former corrections officer is also joining efforts to jam cell phones in state prisons after he was nearly killed when an inmate put out a hit on him through a cell phone.
"It is senseless to me that the federal government continues to prohibit state agencies and state corrections officials from blocking cell phones," SLED Director Mark Keel said at the time. "Unfortunately, as long as cell phones continue to be utilized by inmates in prisons, we're going to have things like this, we're going to have very well-planned escapes as this was, are going to be able to continue. And so we just encourage our federal officials to help us and help our citizens and keep our state safe by banning these cell phones and allowing us to block them in our state prisons."
We spoke with state Sen. Brad Hutto, who sits on the Senate panel tasked with investigating issues within the Department of Corrections, and also showed him the videos.
"The fact that [inmates] are able to get on social media off a cell phone inside of a prison, is ridiculous," Hutto said. "That should not happen."
Hutto said that at the end of the day, troubles inside correctional facilities boil down to state money and staffing.
"The fact that we don't have more control over what goes on inside the walls of the correctional institutions is concerning but, it's a staffing issue. It's a budgetary issue," Hutto said.
"Most of these folks have victims that are associated with their crimes, and the victim should not be subjected to seeing anymore of the shenanigans that's going on with these Facebook posts and Twitter or whatever they're using to get these messages out."
Corrections Department spokeswoman Sommer Sharpe also released a statement after these videos were brought to their attention.
"We've been very vocal about what an issue contraband cell phones are, not only in our prisons, but in corrections departments across the country. This video is another example of the unfettered access to the outside world that cell phones give our inmates," Sharpe said. "This why the FCC should allow prisons across the country to block cell phones."
SCDC officials continue to combat the issue, even setting up a page on their website for citizens to report cell phone and social media usage inside state prisons.