Georgia Bill Would Make Smuggling Cell Phones, Cigarettes Into Youth Detention Centers a Felony

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Smuggling cellphones or cigarettes into a Georgia youth prison would become a felony under a bill approved without opposition Thursday by the Georgia Senate.

It's already a crime to provide weapons, drugs or alcoholic beverages to youths in the custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. Senate Bill 366, sponsored by Sen. Johnny Grant (R-Milledgeville), expands that ban to other items that have turned up in quantity recently as investigators made surprise visits to each of the state's 26 youth detention centers.

Authorities showed off a large box of confiscated cellphones next to tobacco products, handmade weapons and other contraband at the most recent meeting of the board of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. Also on display was what appeared to be a youth's handwritten business plan calculating the sums of money that could be made selling cigarettes and amphetamines to other offenders.

"Cellphones are a major threat to security," DJJ spokesman Jim Shuler said. In addition to their value as barter between offenders, cellphones can be used to help smuggle contraband into a youth detention center or to plan escapes, he said.

Under the bill, which still must pass the House of Representatives, violators could be sentenced to up to four years in prison upon conviction.

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