A surprise shakedown this month at Virginia’s only private prison turned up a half-dozen cell phones, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. An independent study released in September said the Lawrenceville prison had a problem with cell phones, drugs, other contraband, and high staff turnover, but the study noted it was difficult to compare the scope of problems there with those in state-run prisons.
Members of the Virginia State Crime Commission were assured by officials with the Geo Group Inc. of Boca Raton, Fl., that steps were being taken to improve security there. Geo runs the 1,500-inmate, medium-security prison under a five-year, $95 million contract. More than 40 other correctional facilities in the state are run by the Virginia Department of Corrections. The Times-Dispatch reported that last year one in five cell phones confiscated in all state prisons were seized at Lawrenceville and that a highly disproportionate number of inmates were caught with drugs there. The study found that in 2006, Lawrenceville inmates tested positive for drugs more than 19 percent of the time, four times the highest rate in six nearby state-run prisons and more than 20 times higher than at the state’s Brunswick Correctional Center next door. The corrections department now has several dogs trained to detect cell phones.