Cell phone use behind bars continues despite DOC efforts - CBS46 News

Cell phone use behind bars continues despite DOC efforts

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Bryson Howard sworn in as commissioner of the Department of Corrections. Bryson Howard sworn in as commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

If you know where to look, Facebook can show you three well-muscled men, inmates in three Georgia prisons.

Each is serving life for murder.

Clearly, they have plenty of time on their hands. More on that later.

Prisoner cell phone use "mind boggling"

In August, CBS46 Investigates broke the story of rampant cell phone use behind bars. Soon after, federal agents arrested a dozen Georgians for gang activity behind bars.

Still, the cell phone Facebook updates continue.

A couple of years ago, while researching a book about the infamous case of Atlanta's "missing and murdered children," Vincent Hill got a phone call.

Hill, a private investigator and author, said the caller told him his name was Wayne.

“And I said ‘Wayne who?’” Hill said.

“‘Wayne Williams,’” the caller responded.

Williams, a convicted killer — one of the highest profile prisoners in Georgia — spoke to Hill for half an hour or so, from behind the walls of Hancock State Prison in Sparta.

Williams was also responsible for the deaths of at least 23 of the 29 Atlanta murders of 1979-1981, according to police.

Hill, a retired law enforcement officer himself, calls it, “mind boggling.”

“You guys have cellphones in prison? This must be the new prison. I don't know what this is,” Hill said.

Murderers update Facebook from behind bars

CBS46 was first to reveal months ago in an investigative series that's now being widely reported in other media.

Thousands of cellphones are making it past security and into the hands of prisoners — an outrage to those who work to convict them, like Cobb County district attorney Vic Reynolds.

“The responsibility lies primarily with the people who run that prison system,” Reynolds said.

At a September press conference announcing federal indictments against smuggling rings at two state prisons, CBS46 Investigates Reporter Sally Sears put the question bluntly to the man who runs that prison system asking him how embarrassing the problem was.

Homer Bryson, who took over as the Commissioner of Corrections in February, said he’s learning.

“Quite frankly, I'm still getting up to speed.  I'm in here eight months now, and learn something new every day,” Bryson said.

Bryson is new to corrections, with absolutely no prison experience. He’s served the last three decades as a game warden.

That day, Bryson shared a stage with federal agents boasting of the smuggling arrests at two state prisons.

That same day, CBS46 was tracking the online activity of 3 convicted murderers at three different prisons:

  • Jamaine Thrasher, at Wheeler State Prison
  • Sharod Boddie, at Dooly State Prison
  • Redell Patterson, at Dodge State Prison

Patterson updated his profile picture just last week.

Strides made, but work left to do yet

Reynolds said, frustrated, “I have an obligation to tell the Department of Corrections in strong terms, "You need to do something."

Bryson acknowledges the DoC has some room for improvement.

They’ve confiscated 7,600 cell phones last fiscal year and over 1,000 so far this fiscal year. Bryson's top investigator admits an equal number probably made it through.

“We don't know how many phones there are in prison, is an honest answer,” he said. “We have been working on this issue as an agency internally for a number of years now.”

From poachers to prisons

Bryson, having just taken the job earlier this year, has not worked on it nearly as long. He told Sally his heart is in the outdoors.

“I went to work for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a weekend radio operator when I was 15 years old, grew up on a farm in South Georgia, and really found my passion there.  I really loved it, wanted to be a conservation ranger,” Bryson said.

Bryson followed that passion. 

He helped Georgians fight poachers, illegal hunting. Last year his mind was on feral hogs. In an online state news magazine, he advocated linking hunters and farmers who would combat feral hogs together.

"Put that farmer with a problem with hunters in his area who can help him with hogs. Then, just let them figure it out," he said.

DNR leaders praise Bryson as a good manager. During his tenure he combined rangers and wardens into a single enforcement operation.

Still, that department is seven times smaller than the Department of Corrections, and Governor Nathan Deal chose Bryson for one of the toughest jobs in state government: Georgia locks up more inmates per capita than most states, and pays workers among the lowest of all the states.

We asked how there could be similarities between those who violate hunting rules and those who commit murder.

“Well, I've helped, as a conservation officer, lock people up for murder. We've worked drugs. We back up and assist a lot in other agencies,” He said.

Whether that contributed to the governor’s decision to pick him for the job, Bryson said, “That's a question he has to answer.”

Eric Carlton editor, photographer
CB Hackworth, producer
Jonathan Andrews, Digital producer

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