Inmates In Possession Of Cell Phones May Now Face Felony Charges

Photo Credit: daveynin / CC

Published June 24, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Tennessee inmates in possession of a cell phone, or any telecommunications device while inside a penal institution, may be charged with a Class E Felony, effective July 1st, 2021.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

The legislation, originally presented by Senator Paul Rose (R-District 32) and Representative Brandon Ogles (R-District 61), was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee in April, and aims to increase public safety and security inside Tennessee prisons. 

While introducing a telecommunications device into a correctional facility was included in previous law, possession of a device by an inmate was not a criminal offense. This act amends current Tennessee Code. 

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Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said, “Contraband cellphones are a significant security threat, that makes possible the type of illegal activity that leads to criminal conspiracies between people inside our correctional environment and those on the outside. 

“Inmates use these cellphones to engage in drug operations, sex trafficking, and other organized criminal activities that cause devastating consequences for public safety, and empower these criminals to continue a life of crime, “ Parker stated. 

Inmates who are found to be in possession of a cell phone may be charged with a Class E Felony punishable by fine.  A fine of $3,000 will be imposed upon offenders who repeatedly violate this law. 

This legislation comes after one Tennessee inmate spent the last three years running an international crime ring from inside the prison. 

In late March, Humberto Morales, a man sentenced in 2016 to 48 years for convictions in an aggravated robbery charge in Williamson County, faced a new string of 13 charges related to his participation in a long-running international drug ring. The charges in the conspiracy include kidnapping, threats via electronic communication, money laundering, and firearms violations. 

According to investigators, Morales was the ringleader of a violent crime ring in Middle Tennessee. They say he orchestrated a number of violent acts, as well as instructed the flow of cash from drug sales between the area and Mexico. 

Prosecutors say the planning took place using contraband cell phones and encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp.  

The Tennessee Department of Correction’s Office of Investigations and Conduct (OIC), collects intelligence, intercepts and prosecutes visitors, volunteers, inmates, co-conspirators, and former employees who introduce or attempt to introduce contraband into TDOC facilities.   

Between July 2020 and March 2021, the OIC confiscated over 2,500 cell phones from TDOC facilities. 

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