On Tuesday, February 27, 2018, Gov. McMaster signed an executive order aimed at preventing contraband from entering the state's prison systems — a problem the governor classified as a state emergency.
The executive order will allow South Carolina State Guardsmen to help patrol the perimeters of the state’s prisons, watching for people trying to smuggle in contraband including cell phones.
The State Guard has more than 1,000 volunteers, but only 60 of them with previous law enforcement experience will volunteer to patrol the prisons. "This will be a new set of eyes, an alert system, but it will be manned, so to speak, by professionals who have been in emergency situations before," said McMaster.
This isn't the first attempt by state leaders to stop the flow of cell phones into prisons where they can be used to orchestrate crimes outside the prison walls. South Carolina prisons director Bryan Stirling has pushed the federal government to block cell phone signals at prisons. The department is also in the process of installing 40-foot-high netting around medium and high-security prisons to prevent people from throwing material over the barbed-wire fences.
Last month, Stirling announced he has been working with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, paying Lott’s deputies to patrol woods near a maximum-security prison in Columbia, arresting people for trying to smuggle in contraband.
Richland Sheriff Leon Lott says that effort has helped, but he pointed out that his deputies don't work for free. "Unfortunately, we can't do it for free. Director Stirling has had to pay our deputies," Lott said. "Now with the state guard, they're going to replace our deputies we have here, but they are going to replace them by being free. It helps out the state. It helps out all of us."
Those efforts have had some success, but he said the state's prisons still needs help controlling the cell phones and contraband illegally flowing into the prisons. In the past two years, more than 13,500 cell phones and phone accessories have been confiscated by the Department of Corrections.