A prisoner shows off his supply of snacks in a Facebook photo.
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -
The Tennessee Department of Correction launched investigations in 14 prisons and disciplined 70 inmates following a report by the Channel 4 I-Team that showed inmates using drugs and partying behind bars and showing it off on Facebook.
The Channel 4 I-Team found more than 100 inmates operating Facebook pages from behind bars - posting photos and videos of convicted criminals claiming to be using drugs, flashing large amounts of cash, partying, hoarding snacks and, in one case, setting a shirt on fire inside a prison cell.
The discovery of the Facebook pages raises real questions for correction officials, because inmates don't have Internet access and cell phones are prohibited.
The Channel 4 I-Team found many of the inmates who are enjoying Facebook, communicating with family and friends and sharing pictures are convicted murderers and rapists.
In one case Ivan Moreno - who strangled and murdered Bellevue grandmother Mary Sadler - was found on Facebook, showing pictures of himself playing a guitar inside a cell.
"My eyes started watering. I started shaking. I couldn't believe I could see him again," said Sadler's granddaughter, Michelle Elliot.
The Channel 4 I-Team also found convicted murderer Brandon White, who killed Ryan Wright, posting pictures of his phone and holding $200 cash.
"That's not punishment. That's not any kind of punishment. It's just like being out on the outside. It's still freedom for them," said Ryan's mother, Linda Wright. "We can never communicate again. And he (Brandon White) has access to be able to communicate with the outside world."
White is among the inmates the Channel 4 I-Team found also openly posting their phone numbers for people to call them.
The Channel 4 I-Team called White's number, and a man answered immediately. When chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley asked if it was Brandon on the line, the man hung up.
We repeatedly tried to call back, but it went to voicemail each time and all the other numbers were either disconnected or went to voicemail.
"A menace to society has use of social media, and that's just wrong," Linda Wright said.
The victims' families said when the criminals were sentenced to prison, they never imagined them posting photos of themselves to Facebook watching TV or burying themselves in junk food.
We showed all the pictures and videos to TDOC Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker, who is in charge of security in state prisons.
"Is this too extravagant for a guy to have who is behind bars?" Finley asked.
"Obviously, this inmate is trying to be flagrant and show off all this property. Obviously, it's an issue," Parker said.
Finley asked how all this can be happening while correctional officers are watching.
"It's not an issue of not enough correctional officers. It's an issue of a nationwide problem with cell phones and the struggle to stay on top of it," Parker said.
The Channel 4 I-Team found that in some cases, even the families and friends of the inmates were surprised to see the freedom the convicted criminals had through Facebook.
In one posting, someone wrote, "How are you locked up and on Facebook?"
"Every correctional facility struggles with contraband. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's the reality," Parker said.
"I think my first question would be, how is this happening?" Linda Wright asked.
It's obvious that someone is bringing the phones into the prisons, but the state's own records show that in a year's time, only one person - Jeanette Elliott - has been convicted of bringing a cell phone into a Tennessee prison.
As soon as the Channel 4 I-Team brought our findings to the state, they immediately launched investigations in 14 prisons across the state, finding 53 cell phones as well as drugs and a deadly weapon.
Seventy inmates now face disciplinary actions for having Facebook pages while imprisoned in Tennessee, but their Facebook pages have not been shut down.
The Channel 4 I-Team reached out to Facebook for comment, but they did not return our call or emails.
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