Lawmakers have questions after I-Team exposes party behind bars - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

TN lawmakers have questions after I-Team exposes 'party behind bars'

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A Tennessee legislative hearing Monday tackled an issue first uncovered by the Channel 4 I-Team: photos, videos and text messages showed Tennessee inmates using social media to communicate with criminals in other prisons and showed how they're living it up while they're locked up.

"I was really shocked by what I saw," said state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. "My biggest concern was what I saw on television - just a flagrant violation of the law."

Lawmakers wanted to know how it is possible Tennessee inmates were able to have such a good time in prison.

"In one instance, they actually set a shirt on fire. I mean, your people, how do they not catch that?" Yager asked the head of the Tennessee Department of Correction.

"We don't say that it didn't happen or it couldn't happen," said TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield.

Schofield and his top staff were called to the subcommittee to answer questions about what the Channel 4 I-Team has been uncovering since May 2013.

"There were cell phones, drugs, money, unapproved foods. Some of them were even posting on Facebook from inside the prison. How does this happen? How could this happen?" Yager asked.

"With the advance of cell phones, it has become more of an issue in recent years. They have access to the internet," said TDOC Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker, who is in charge of security in state prisons.

Schofield downplayed everything the Channel 4 I-Team has shown, calling our stories a little dramatic.

"Some of that, depending on what footage you're watching, is not taken at TDOC facilities," Schofield said.

He may be talking about the video we originally reported was taken inside a county facility but was posted on Facebook while the inmate was in a Tennessee prison cell.

Schofield also challenges the Channel 4 I-Team's findings of how many inmates were on Facebook, but after we brought our discoveries to the state, 70 inmates were disciplined.

Parker added that in the last four months in 2013, five staff members were arrested for bringing in contraband.

It's unclear if that includes former correctional Officer Kevin Simmons, whom the Channel 4 I-Team exposed allegedly planning to slip contraband in the most secure prison in the state.

The Department of Correction first dismissed our findings and later called in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which then set up a sting to catch Simmons.

He is now charged with felony official misconduct following the I-Team's initial investigation.

"We're getting punched in the eye for everything we don't do just right. But what you don't see is every day when we supervise those 20,000 offenders and things go right," Schofield said.

Yager said he is satisfied the Department is Correction is serious about what the Channel 4 I-Team exposed but that he will continue to monitor the situation.

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

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