• 9 investigation uncovers prisoners using Facebook Live while locked up

    By: Paul Boyd


    A Channel 9 investigation has uncovered dozens of inmates throughout South Carolina prisons actively using cell phones behind bars.

    [RELATED: Convicted felon contacts Channel 9 from inside prison using contraband cellphone]

    Many prisoners are posting Facebook Live videos and using other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat in real-time as well.

    All of this activity is strictly prohibited by state law.

    Our investigation even discovered convicted murderers using Facebook Live within high-security correctional institutions.

    [PHOTOS: Prisoners using social media, Facebook Live while locked up]

    Other inmates we found were incarcerated on charges ranging from armed robbery to burglary.

    The videos also revealed rampant drug use behind prison walls. Many of the inmates proudly announce on camera that they are high on drugs or drunk from prison-made alcohol.

    Several inmates show off large knives to the camera along with other makeshift weapons, plus piles of cash and contraband food items.

    Two inmates fight in one Facebook photo, surrounded by more than 60 prisoners -- with no correctional officers in sight.

    The most stunning security lapse we discovered was when one prisoner walked freely around the prison for 40 minutes while recording a Facebook Live video. Once again, there were no guards in the prison dorms at the time.

    Channel 9 took the results of our investigation to Bryan Stirling, executive director of South Carolina's Department of Corrections.

    "It is outrageous. It makes my blood boil,” he said. “We're spending a ton of tax dollar money and resources to try and stop this."

    The executive director blames low staffing levels for the unbelievable activity we found. He said they don't have enough officers to increase patrols or sweep prison cells more often.

    Stirling admitted that despite current efforts, contraband cell phones are readily available to his inmates. He said bags of cell phones are secretly thrown over prison walls or dropped in by drones.

    Inmates pay upwards of $500 for each phone behind bars.

    "They are willing to pay a lot of money to get the cell phones so that they can have unfettered access to the outside world," said Stirling.

    South Carolina's Department of Corrections told Channel 9 there will be an investigation into our findings.

    Contraband cell phones are not just a problem in South Carolina.

    [LINK: Cell phones confiscated in SC since 2008]

    "This problem exists in every prison system across the country," said Stirling.

    Cell phones have also been used by inmates to intimidate witnesses, organize criminal activities and even order people killed.

    Prison officials said the best way to beat this problem is to block cell phone signals from getting into correctional facilities.

    The technology exists but the "Communications Act" -- written 83 years ago -- is preventing prisons from taking action, and Congress failed to pass an amendment to the law in 2009 which would have allowed correctional facilities to jam unauthorized wireless devices.

    [READ MORE: Safe Prisons Act of 2009]

    "Our hands are tied by the federal government," Stirling said.

    The executive director has lobbied Congress to change the law and even testified before the Federal Communications Commission demanding change.

    The FCC is helping to develop new technology to “capture" cell phone calls inside prisons and early tests have shown promise.

    [DOCUMENT: FCC on illegal cell phone use in prisons]

    The head of South Carolina's correctional system said blocking cell phone signals would also help stop other contraband, like drugs, from getting inside prisons.

    Channel 9 learned that South Carolina is about to spend $7.5 million to build 50-foot "golf course netting" around many of its prisons in an effort to stop much of the contraband from being thrown over fences.

    Officials said the approach has worked well for other prison systems.

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