Contraband a top threat to North Carolina prisons

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — State leaders say prisoners in North Carolina are getting their hands on too much contraband.


The steel doors, the armed guards, the barbed wire are all effective for keeping inmates inside a prison, but those things aren’t keeping everything out.

“{Contraband is} a constant security issue that we’re facing on a daily basis,” explained Kenneth Lassiter, Director of North Carolina Prisons, during a 2015 interview.

Cocaine, meth, tobacco, needles, prescription painkillers, and weapons have all been found in prisons all over the state.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety has now started posting pictures weekly of contraband that correctional officers find.

The online photo albums are titled “Not on My Watch.”

Contraband is smuggled in, thrown over fences, and hidden around the prison. Correctional officers have even found some packages full of contraband that people have covered in grass, hoping it will go unnoticed.

“The one way we hate to speak about, but it’s the truth, is sometimes they’re able to corrupt our staff,” Lassiter said, “They’re able to corrupt our visitors.”

Shanks and handmade weapons are used to hurt or even kill other inmates and prison guards

“Inmates are very smart. They can create contraband out of existing parts of our physical structure,” Lassiter explained.

But Lassiter says the number one threat is cell phones.


“Even with the current security measures we have in place, we still have cell phones coming in. One cell phone is too many cell phones so we have to find a way to stop it from happening,” Lassiter said.

The state has installed technology in some prisons, but not all, to detect cell phones.

CBS North Carolina pulled the numbers and found that in 2005 about 30 or so cell phones were confiscated in prisons across the state, but by 2012 that number jumped up to more than 800.

And inmates use them to commit crimes behind bars.

“It’s not just in prison but this is reaching out behind the bars, where they’re having (an) impact on the citizens of North Carolina,” Lassiter said.

CBS North Carolina first exposed this issue in 2015. You can see our original story here.

We interviewed Lassiter in 2015. Hoping to follow up on the story we asked for another interview in August 2017.

For more than a month we emailed and called the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, trying to get the latest numbers of how much contraband is being found.

We also asked for another interview to ask state officials what they’re doing to stop it. As of September 25, the state still has not provided CBS North Carolina with the contraband data, and hasn’t provided anyone for us to interview.

But the pictures the state posts prove contraband still an issue that’s happening in every prison across the state.

RELATED: Click here to view more photos from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety

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