Former corrections officer sentenced for smuggling drugs, cell p - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Former corrections officer sentenced for smuggling drugs, cell phone into DC jail

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Jonathan Womble (Courtroom sketch by William J. Hennessy Jr.) Jonathan Womble (Courtroom sketch by William J. Hennessy Jr.)

A former corrections officer has been sentenced to three years in prison for smuggling drugs and a cell phone into the D.C. jail.

It is a crime the judge in the case called "inexcusable.”

Jonathan Womble pleaded guilty in the case and had been locked up since his plea.

Smuggled cell phones have become a major problem at jails and prisons nationwide. In just the last three years, 138 of them have been found inside the D.C. jail. -- used by inmates to intimidate witnesses and to continue their criminal enterprises.

Just before sending Womble off to prison, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton told the former corrections officer his crime was "reprehensible and one of the most serious anyone could commit.”

In addition to smuggling heroin and marijuana into the jail, Womble admitted taking a cell phone and charger into the complex in exchange for cash -- an ongoing problem that has kept the FBI quite busy.

In just the last two years, four corrections officers have been prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for smuggling contraband.

And last July, D.C. police and the FBI went looking for a phone in the jail that had been used "thousands of times.”

Toll records told them so after an inmate’s voice was captured on an FBI wiretap.

"The people who have the cell phones, the inmates, they can still make contact with the outside world, which means they can put a hit on somebody,” said Dr. Tod Burke, Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University. “They can still make contacts, they can still do their dealings, whether it be drugs or whatever criminal activity, with the cell phone. They can do whatever they were doing on the outside on the inside.”

Dr. Burke has done extensive research on the problem and has published articles about the subject.

He says the use of cell phones by inmates causes problems inside the prison walls as well.

"Phones are recorded in jails and prisons strictly for security reasons,” said Dr. Burke. “They have a right to know what's going on inside their own facility, and as a prisoner, you have given up certain privacy rights. When a person has a cell phone, they can go around that whole system. They circumvent that whole system so that way it can't be recorded.”

Inmates are also using the phones to make trades or earn cash by allowing fellow inmates to make calls.

Corrections officials are now looking into technology being used in Baltimore called "managed access." Once installed, it would allow calls to be made from authorized numbers, but capture and drop all calls from numbers the system does not recognize.

Related Story:

FBI confiscates smuggled cell phone used by inmate in DC jail

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