Prisons head warns of phone smuggling 'epidemic'

ATLANTA (AP) -- Corrections commissioner Brian Owens sounded off about an "epidemic" in illegal cellphones smuggled into Georgia's prisons.

Owens told lawmakers Wednesday that prison officials confiscated more than 8,500 phones in state prisons over the last 18 months. He said 330 civilians and 63 staff members were charged with trying to smuggle contraband inside the prisons, and most involved cellphones.

He said inmates aren't trying to call their moms on Christmas or their wives on an anniversary. He said "it's about gangs, power and money."

The smugglers have gone to great lengths. He said prison officials in Phillips State Prison in Buford found a dead cat stuffed with eight phones that someone had tried to throw into the prison.

Smugglers face up to five years in prison if convicted.