- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s prisons agency is exploring a new way to catch jailbirds who tweet using banned cellphones.

On Monday, Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told The Associated Press that the agency had set up a link on its Web page where people can report inmate activity on social media networks.

Inmates are prohibited from having cellphones while inside prison, as well as profiles on social media networks. But in the past, agency officials have said that some offenders use contraband phones to set up online presences on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Now, from the Corrections Department’s home page, people can access a form where they can report what inmate they saw on which social media site. They can also include a link to the specific profile and can submit the information anonymously if they wish.

Within hours of the link becoming active, people began using it to submit tips, according to the agency. That information, Stirling said, will help Corrections agents put a stop to the activity and, ultimately, make the public at large safer.

“Access to cellphones and social media platforms allows inmates an opportunity to engage in criminal enterprises or make contact with victims,” Stirling said. “This new portal will help our agency better protect the community.”

Corrections officials have long said that the use of banned cellphones behind bars is a security threat to both agency officers and the public. In 2010, then-Corrections Capt. Robert Johnson was shot six times at his Sumter home in a hit police said was orchestrated by an inmate using a cellphone smuggled into prison.

Johnson survived and has since retired from the agency.

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Online: https://public.doc.state.sc.us/social-media-tips/

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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