Issaquena inmate convicted for using cell phone

Published 11:28 pm Friday, March 16, 2012

He probably won’t be posting on Facebook again anytime soon.

The social networking site helped lead to the conviction of Jimmy Pruitt, 28, who was charged with having cell phone while incarcerated at Issaquena County Correctional Facility in Mayersville, the District Attorney’s Office said.

Sentencing for Pruitt, who is represented by Donald Raffertty of Gulfport and Rusty Jenkins of Natchez, is set for April 5.

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A Nokia phone was discovered in Pruitt’s pants April 14 in the correctional facility after a tip that he had been posting on Facebook, said Assistant District Attorney Tom Setser. Pruitt was then charged with possession.

“They don’t have access to computers, so the only way he could be posting was via cell phone,” Setser said.

Records show data transfers and calls to numerous numbers, including 15 calls from the phone to a number associated with one of Pruitt’s cellmates, Setser said. During Pruitt’s trial, the inmate who is accused of making the 15 calls asserted his fifth amendment right to not incriminate himself, Setser said.

No one other than Pruitt was charged, though investigators believe others used the phone.

“It’s the same thing as not charging someone we know is doing drugs for possession of drugs,” Setser said. “He had the phone. Who used it or owned it didn’t matter. Ownership is not possession.”

This is the first cell phone possession case in the Ninth Circuit that has gone to trial, said Assistant District Attorney Angela Carpenter who also prosecuted the case. However, several inmates have been indicted and later pleaded guilty, according to court records.

Cell phones and cell phone parts and chargers are banned in prisons and could be used to conduct criminal activity, Carpenter said.

“They could harass witnesses who might testify against them or order violence against witnesses who have already testified,” she said.

District Attorney Ricky Smith said cell phones have become a growing problem in jails across the country.

“I want the public to know that we are doing what we can to try to combat it,” he said.

In January, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps called cell phones one of the biggest contraband items in the state’s prison system. In February, the state increased penalties, virtually eliminating all privileges for those inmates.

Those caught won’t be allowed to make purchases from the commissary and won’t be allowed to use the prison phone.

“We realize we have a problem, and we are doing something about it,” Epps said. “This will send a strong message.”