Cell phones behind prison walls: How they impact people beyond the bars

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By: Alicia Turner | WCTV Eyewitness News
July 13, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- "We didn't know that the day would come where a murderer could shoot down our son in the street, and then come in here and ask for forgiveness."

That was a father’s emotional plea four years ago, as he sought justice for his son. Today, he says the fight continues, this time with a different agenda. His new focus is cell phones in prison.

With their barbed wire, concrete walls and armed guards, most people assume jails and prisons are secure. Still, many are asking why cell phones continue popping up. A box filled with cell phones confiscated from the Thomas County Prison is a sobering look at just how many inmates are being given a direct line to the outside.

"I became a little irate.”

Alfred Daise Sr. knows firsthand. His son, Alfred Jr., was shot dead in 2013. He was just 27.

"No father or parent can take the death of a child, hearing of the death of a child; especially under the circumstances where they were murdered. It's very heart wrenching, it's very gut wrenching,” Daise said.

The man responsible for the murder, 29-year-old Quanterius Dennis, will spend the rest of his life behind bars. That's why Alfred was shocked and outraged to find a picture of Quanterius, dressed in his prison blues, posted on Facebook. The caption below the post reads "#MancrushMonday, 100 years no tears."

We don’t know who took the picture, or what phone was used, but Alfred says it’s proof that cell phones in prison are prevalent.

“I was in disbelief. The tears just wouldn't stop flowing, when I heard about it the first time. He's now inside of prison, in his element, with a cell phone. How could this get so far out of control like it did?" Daise asked.

Cell phones are contraband. Just like drugs, they are illegal to have and illegal to use.

"Contraband has always been an issue in jails and prisons,” says Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith.

Sheriff Smith is responsible for the safety and security at the Franklin County Jail.

"It's not a new phenomenon," Sheriff Smith says. "It's not something that happened yesterday. It's something that you have to be very proactive about. You have to be diligent day in and day out.”

In June, his deputies uncovered a phone in an inmate’s cell. It was hidden inside a carved out book.

Since April 2016, Florida prison guards collected 7,000 cell phones and chargers. Inmates are supposed to use phones that are provided by the facility, allowing for timed, monitored calls. Cell phones allow unrecorded calls to the outside. That could lead to escapes, inside hits and even potential scams.

"It sounded fishy."

Leah Bryan showed us several messages sent from an unknown number. It was an inmate asking for $50. He told her that a mutual friend was incarcerated and needed money. The friend was real, the need for cash was not.

"It makes me upset knowing that someone can do such horrible crimes, and just go about their life just leisurely," Bryant says.

We wanted to know how this could happen. The Department of Corrections declined to talk on camera, instead releasing this statement:

"Contraband interdiction is a top priority for the Department. We have taken aggressive steps to combat all forms of contraband within our institutions. Per Florida Administrative Codes (33-208.002, 33-601.726, 33-602.204) searches of inmates, visitors and staff are performed daily. The Department has also recently acquired some new forms of technology to help combat the movement and introduction of contraband, one of the enhancements being used are x-ray machines at all of our staff and visitor entrance points.”

Alfred feels otherwise.

"They said they could have cared less, they have phones all the time coming in, so it’s no big deal,” Alfred says

Inmates who are caught with a cell phone face a third degree felony. That could tack on up to five more years of prison time. Alfred believes that’s nothing for the man serving two life sentences for killing his son. He wants the state to get tough.

"We have to fight as a society. We have to fight people like this, with everything we have," says Alfred.

That ensures that time in prison doesn’t lead to privilege-- a privilege Alfred Daise’s son will never have again.

We did reach out to Dennis’ family for comment, they declined.

The Florida Department of Corrections has a zero tolerance policy for cell phones, and said it’s continuing to work to keep them out of their facilities.

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