Inmates at Prison Found to Have Cellphones

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2007

So much for clanking out coded messages on the prison bars. Some Virginia inmates apparently have found a more modern means of communication.

A surprise search this month at the medium-security Lawrenceville Correctional Center in southern Virginia found that inmates had about a half-dozen cellphones, a Department of Corrections official said.

The Dec. 7 discovery followed the release of an independent study in September that found problems with drugs and other contraband and with staff turnover at Lawrenceville, the state's only privately run prison, which has about 1,500 inmates.

The study, conducted by MGT of America for the Corrections Department, said that the facility was well-run overall and that it was difficult to compare Lawrenceville with the 40 or so state-run prisons in Virginia.

Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, said the search this month was conducted by state officials and prison staff members, employed by the Geo Group of Boca Raton, Fla.

Traylor declined to comment on the details of the search or to say whether disciplinary action followed.

"We're not going to discuss any security matters," he said. "We do conduct scheduled and unscheduled shakedowns and lockdowns at all facilities throughout the state. . . . Inmates that are caught concealing contraband are subject to disciplinary procedures, which could include criminal prosecution and transfer to a higher-security prison facility."

Members of the Virginia State Crime Commission, visiting the prison Sept. 11, were briefed on the MGT report and told by Geo Group officials that security would be heightened.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who leads the commission, said such discoveries regrettably are common.

"I've been a lawyer for 20 years, and the one thing that never ceases to amaze me is how smart criminals are," Albo said. "They will find a way to get drugs in, to get cellphones in. . . . It's not a good thing to have cellphones there. . . . It's just the nature of a prison."

A spokesman for the Geo Group referred questions to the Corrections Department.

The cellphone discovery was first reported yesterday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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