UNION COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – An Upstate jail is putting cell phones into the hands of its inmates. 

The Union County jail is in its first month with this new initiative.

“People don’t understand… Saying ‘What are you doing giving inmates phones in the facility?'” said Union County Sheriff David Taylor. “They [inmates] purchase the phones for a $100.”

Sheriff Taylor says his office no longer runs the jail but has been worked to bring this CellMate Mobile service to its inmates through a company called Lattice Incorporated.

He says inmates buy the phones in the commissary and relatives can add minutes for the inmates to use from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

“For them to make phone calls. They’re able to text from these phones,” Sheriff Taylor said. “They don’t have any access to the outside world other than what we allow them to have.”

He says the devices do come with restrictions, like the inability to contact alleged victims.  

“They can’t access Facebook, SnapChat, none of that stuff they can use. They can’t get on the internet – period,” said Sheriff Taylor. “But we’re still able to monitor. We can view their text messages. We can listen to their phone calls.” 

So why these new phones? The sheriff says idle inmates can mean trouble.  

“This allows them to do something individually instead of in a group inside the facility,” Sheriff Taylor said. “If inmates start giving up problems then this is the item that we take away from them and this is a very important item.”

The Sheriff said the jail does not have a contraband cell phone problem and they hope these phones will further prohibit the issue facing state prisons. 

“This adds another method of safety to our facility because it takes away the mischief of the inmates sitting back there 24 hours a day with nothing to do,” said Sheriff Taylor. “Fighting. Different things.. Confrontation with corrections officers.”

It’s time he says can be spent with games, music, or reading that’s been downloaded from access points in the jail. 

“They can download the GED program,” he said. “You have to provide recreation, you have to provide legal counsel, you have to provide access to law books so this is a feature with the cell mate phone that would allow us to do that.” 

He said the phones come at no cost to Union County tax payers and the county receives a percentage of the money from the sale of the phones and the purchased minutes. 

He said it’s all part of what he says are improvements like the new video visitation system, which expands visitation from Saturdays and Sundays. 

He said video visitation also allows them to schedule visits.