More than 250 contraband cellphones were found in Nebraska prisons in 2018, Inspector General Doug Koebernick said during a legislative hearing Wednesday.

That’s an increase from about 79 in 2015.

Legislative Bill 233 aims to stop inmates from coordinating illegal activity using cellphones and other communication devices in prisons, said State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, who introduced the bill.

Visitors and employees would not be allowed to bring cellphones into prisons, though the details of who would be exempt from the restriction are still being worked out, Wayne said.

Confiscated cellphones would be turned over to the Nebraska State Patrol for investigation.

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In 2017, a food service worker in the Omaha Correctional Center was arrested in connection with the selling of phones to inmates.

Inmates might buy cellphones from other inmates or even staff for up to $2,000, said James Davis, a deputy ombudsman.

Phones can be trafficked, for example, through laundry from Cornhusker State Industries, a division of Corrections that employs inmates, Davis said.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes said they are “making good headway” on the issue.

“The biggest bulk source we’ve identified is they bundle them and throw them over our perimeter fences,” Frakes said.

The Judiciary Committee took no action on the bill after the hearing.

Also Wednesday, under two bills heard simultaneously, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services would transfer all correctional investigations to the Nebraska State Patrol. Wayne and Sen. Anna Wishart introduced the bills, LB 94 and LB 438, respectively.

Wayne said an institution should never investigate itself, and that there should be more investigators, especially with law enforcement training. The president of the Nebraska State Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Maguire, testified in favor.

The head of both Corrections and the State Patrol testified against the bills.

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