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Corrections official charged with smuggling contraband

Special to SEGAZINE

Commissioner Avery D. Niles of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice announced today that Evans County Sheriff’s Deputies have made the agency’s first arrest of a juvenile corrections cadet under provisions of the state’s new felony contraband law. The felony arrest in Claxton could now trigger criminal prosecution resulting in a four-year prison sentence upon conviction.

DJJ Internal Investigators took out the felony warrant today for 29-year-old Jonathan Wilkerson of Claxton for allegedly smuggling an illegal cellphone into the Claxton Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC). Investigators charged Wilkerson with concealing the illegal cellphone inside his clothing in order to smuggle it inside the facility.

The cell phone was found in the possession of a youth during a routine shakedown at the Claxton RYDC over the weekend. DJJ Commissioner Niles said the investigation subsequently established a connection between Cadet Wilkerson and the contraband phone. Wilkerson, who started in January, had been employed with the Department of Juvenile Justice less than three months and was not yet rated as a Juvenile Corrections Officer. Commissioner Niles said immediate steps were being taken for Wilkerson’s dismissal, effective the same day as his arrest.

“We are wasting no time recommending criminal prosecution wherever evidence is found and prosecution is warranted to remove officer misconduct from our ranks and to protect Georgia’s youth in detention,” said Commissioner Niles. He promised the agency will continue to fast-track administrative and criminal corrective measures wherever they’re needed.

From 2010 to 2012, DJJ Investigators estimate they have seized more than three hundred illegal cellphones inside Georgia’s juvenile detention facilities.

The Georgia Department of Corrections confiscated approximately six-thousand contraband cellphones from inside adult prison fences during 2010 alone. Georgia DOC 2012 data showed 508 visitors and 92 staff members were arrested attempting to smuggle contraband inside Georgia’s adult prisons.

“We all treat this as a very serious security breach,” said DJJ Commissioner Niles. “What functions as harmless every-day communications equipment on the outside, becomes a potentially dangerous device for conducting criminal enterprises and violent crimes inside a juvenile detention facility.”

Cell phones are prohibited in all state and federal detention facilities in the United States because they are viewed as a major threat to security.

“Once they’re smuggled inside facilities, these phones have been used for planning escapes, coordinating riots, arranging drug deals, and for barter and gambling. We don’t want to see any of that happen here,” said Commissioner Niles. The FBI reports illegal cellphones behind the fence can also be used for threatening witnesses and committing murders on the outside.

Because of this heightened threat to the safety and security of all Georgia corrections centers lawmakers passed special legislation in July 2012 making it a felony to smuggle contraband like cellphones past juvenile detention facility guard lines. The Governor signed SB-366 into law which also makes it a felony to smuggle guns, knives, ammunition, explosive devices, alcohol, and drugs and marijuana into juvenile facilities.

Department of Juvenile Justice Investigators say they have no additional evidence at this time to indicate former cadet Wilkerson may have smuggled other contraband into the state facility where he worked during his brief employment with DJJ. Commissioner Niles said a total shakedown of the Claxton RYDC facility was conducted during the weekend and other unannounced searches are being conducted at all DJJ facilities on an irregular schedule to continue to catch youth with contraband off guard.

Commissioner Niles, who endorses transparency when DJJ must take strong measures like today’s arrest said, “Regardless of employee rank or position, violators will continue to face serious consequences at DJJ for wrong-doing. I gave clear warning when I was appointed Commissioner, there is no room for corrupt or criminal behavior here,” said Niles.

The Commissioner’s core message since his November 2012 appointment by Governor Nathan Deal has emphasized that the critical duties of the Department of Juvenile Justice are to uphold and enforce policy, ethics, and safety and security measures at Georgia’s juvenile justice facilities so both DJJ detainees and staff can function in safe and secure learning environment.

The Commissioner predicted more criminal misconduct violations will come to light – and more will be prosecuted — as his investigators continue to receive cooperation from DJJ’s professional Corrections Staff who are working as “One Team” with “One Mission” to help bring an end to any corruption within the agency. The investigation continues.

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