Weeks after legislative hearing, TN inmates continue to harass - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Weeks after legislative hearing, TN inmates continue to harass, post online

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Following a legislative hearing where state lawmakers called in the heads of the Tennessee Department of Correction to answer for an issue first uncovered by the Channel 4 I-Team, inmates continue to post online and harass innocent people using contraband.

In the legislative hearing, TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield said his department is on top of the problem of inmates posting on Facebook.

"And even when you talk about Facebook, we have a team of folks that are constantly looking at Facebook," Schofield said.

After that hearing, the Channel 4 I-Team found more inmates with active Facebook pages, including video of inmates that appear to be wearing TDOC uniforms.

The inmates in the video show off what they're smoking as another holds a baggie of some substance. One of the inmates makes a reference to weighing illegal drugs, holding the substance in his hand and saying, "It's my scale."

The inmates do not attempt to hide how they're recording it, openly showing off a smartphone.

Since May 2013, the Channel 4 I-Team has been exposing the freedom of Tennessee inmates to post their parties behind bars, alleged drug use and criminal acts - like setting a shirt on fire in a cell - on social media.

We've also been documenting how innocent people are harassed by inmates using contraband cell phones.

Middle Tennessee resident Saundra Forrest started getting text messages from an unknown number saying his name was Anthony. When she texted back, saying that he had the wrong number, the person started texting pictures to Forrest of an inmate in a TDOC uniform posing in his cell and rolling something with a substance in a plastic bag.

Then, the person started calling.

"Two days later, he called my phone. That's when I labeled his number 'prison of Tennessee' so I wouldn't answer it," Forrest said. "I hope he stops calling. I don't like it."

When the Channel 4 I-Team called that phone number, a man answered and we asked to speak with Anthony.

Then, another man got on the phone, and we asked if they were calling from a prison.

"No, no, this ain't no prison number," said the man.

When we pointed out that this was the number that had called and texted pictures of an inmate, the man hung up.

Middle Tennessee resident Angie Smith knows all too well what it's like to get repeated cell phone calls from a Tennessee prison.

When Smith became the legal guardian of a young girl whose father is in a Tennessee prison, she at first encouraged him to call from the prison phone.

"We felt obligated to keep the lines of communication open," Smith said.

Then the calls started coming from cell phones as the father started making demands to bring the girl to the prison for visitation.

"I didn't like the fact that he said he was friends with killers," Smith said.

Smith said the father then called more than 400 times. She showed the Channel 4 I-Team her phone logs and brought the situation to her local sheriff and the prison where the inmate is housed.

"They [the prison] said there was nothing that they could do. [The prison said], 'They're hard to ferret out.' They move from cell to cell," Smith said. "Not only is it scary, it's draining emotionally."

Smith also wrote a letter to Schofield that read in part, "With the seemingly endless harassment and no help from the system, we wondered what will happen if he [the inmate] is released?"

Smith said she never heard back from the state.

TDOC spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said there's no record of the commissioner receiving Smith's letter. Carter said they are working to confirm all of the findings from the Channel 4 I-Team and identify the inmates.

Carter said in an email, "Cell phones are a problem not just in Tennessee but across the country. We deploy a number of tools to interdict, detect and confiscate cell phones and other contraband."

For Smith, when the inmate got out on parole, she said she had no choice but to take action.

"And I'm not going to lie, when he got out, we took security measures around here," Smith said.

Not long after the inmate was released on parole, he was picked up for a violation and is now back in prison.

TDOC confirmed Wednesday the video is from a Tennessee prison, and many of the inmates seen in the recorded have been disciplined.

As for the man in the photos texted to the wrong number, the state confirms he is a Tennessee inmate. But officials are still trying to figure out if he's the person who actually sent the texts.

And TDOC announced it is launching a 24-hour toll-free hotline for the public to report incidents in the prison system.

"We believe the public is a great partner to help us increase public safety and we value their input. Information reported to this line will be kept confidential to the extent possible," Carter said in a statement.

The number for that hotline is 1-844-TDC-FIND.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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