Lawmakers want to know why prison inmates are taking so many selfies from behind bars.
"I was really shocked by what I saw," said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, describing recent news stories about prison contraband. "There were cell phones, drugs, money... Some of them were being posted on Facebook from inside prison. How could this happen?"
The question was put to Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield Monday afternoon at a state senate subcommittee meeting. Lawmakers, having seen pictures of grinning prison inmates on Facebook, wanted to know how bad the problem is and how to tackle it.
While prisons have always had to worry about shivs, cigarettes and even drugs being smuggled into prison, cell phones have proven particularly difficult for prisons over the last decade. Last July, for example, correction officials had to arrest one of their own, a corporal they say smuggled drugs, tobacco and 40 cell phones into West Tennessee State Penitentiary.
"By no means do we profess to say that we run a perfect system or that you won't find contraband in there," Schofield said.
Tony Parker, Schofield's assistant commissioner in charge of prison operations, said smugglers have been wrapping cell phones up in bundles and simply tossing them over prison walls. Inevitably, some slip through, leading to some unusual status updates and self-portraits.
"They take photos, post pictures of the contraband inside," Parker said.
Schofield said he has a team of investigators who will scour Facebook for pictures posted from prison by targeting names, nicknames and even code words inmates are known to use. The department also has 11 cell phone sniffing dogs, with two more in training.
And they're looking into new technology called "signal trapping," which allows legitimate cell signals while intercepting the illegal ones.
"We're not slacking," Schofield said. "We're fighting this every day."