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"They are physically incarcerated, but virtually they are out there among us":SC inmates broadcast live on Facebook

Someone in the community noticed the inmates streaming and notified the authorities.

BISHOPVILLE, S.C. — Several South Carolina inmates have been charged for broadcasting live on Facebook Tuesday.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections say the inmates were all over at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, a maximum security prison. Corrections officers say the phones were confiscated, and charges are being filed.

The agency has a security system installed that's supposed to block cell service in the prison, but that apparently didn't stop the inmates. "We are investigating why the managed access system that blocks cell service in the prison allowed the signal to broadcast," the agency said.

Director Bryan Stirling explained that the current system allows some phones to work, but blocks others. However, he is still pushing for a jamming system that will block all phone calls from the correctional institutions.

"Jamming shuts everything off, no phone would work and that 's what we've been asking for," says Stirling. "The managed access system, when the industry chooses to change their signal, then the phones all of a sudden start working. That's an issue and that's something we've been concerned with and working with the industry on that. The best thing they can do is notify us in advance."

"I don't know if that's what happened today or not," says Stirling. "I don't know if there's a malfunction with the system. We are investigating and working with the company."

RELATED: Security changes have been made at SC prisons since deadly riot

The agency says people in the community let them know the streaming was taking place. Anyone who sees an inmate on social media should send a link or screenshot to socialmediatips@doc.sc.gov or go to the Corrections Department's tip website.

Last year, this same prison was the scene of a deadly riot that left seven inmates dead. 

Prisoners using cell phones behind bars is nothing new in the state, and has been a major concern for the SC prisons systems. Correctional Director Bryan Stirling had repeatedly asked the FCC and Congress to pass measures to allow more cell phone blocking technology. 

"They go to prison and they are physically incarcerated, but virtually they are out there among us," says Stirling.

Overall, though, the number of confiscated cell phones has been dropping. The SCDC says they found 7,240 cell phones and accessories in 2016. In 2017, they found 6,318, and in 2018, the department says they found 4,695. 

As of April 15, the SCDC said they found 884 cell phones this year.