TUPELO – Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson knows there is no way to keep all contraband out of the jail, but he works hard to keep it to a minimum.
Six state prisons, including the state penitentiary at Parchman, canceled visitation last weekend after shakedowns uncovered drugs, homemade weapons, cellphones and chargers.
The Lee County-Tupelo Adult Jail has seen its share of contraband over the years – shanks, cellphones, drugs and even guns.
To limit that, people are searched when they are booked into the jail. Packages and letters are searched. A glass wall separates visitors from inmates. Employees cannot have cellphones in certain areas. Work center prisoners are searched each day when they leave and return at night. And there are random searches at both the jail and the juvenile detention center.
“Even with all the restrictions, things get through,” said Johnson. “We’ve had prisoners make shanks out of light bulbs, base molding and even the wire earpiece from glasses.”
People today can’t live without their smartphones and prisoners are no different.
“We had a guy in jail that was posting to Facebook,” said Johnson. “So we knew he had to have a phone hidden somewhere. When we dialed the number, his pillow rang.”
Over the years, Johnson has seen some creative attempts to get stuff into the jail. Someone carves out the pages of a Bible to hide a pistol. An electric shaver was hollowed out and filled with crack cocaine. There was even a scheme where a visitor dropped drugs in the garbage can of a lobby bathroom at a certain time for a trusty to pick up while cleaning.
It takes a lot of diligence to keep contraband out of jails. But it is necessary for the safety of the prisoners and the safety of the detention officers.
“We get sued a lot for searches, we do everything from a simple pat-down to strip-search to a cavity search, depending on the situation,” said Johnson. “Some folks think that is going too far.
“But back in 1998, we had a juvenile detained at the mall for shoplifting, a misdemeanor. But he had a gun in his boot and shot and killed a jailer.”
Steven Farris pleaded guilty to capital murder in 1999 and was sentenced to life without parole for the death of Casey Harmon.