Cell Phones in Prisons

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Problems and Regulations Related To the Use of Cell Phones in Prisons

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Inmates in correctional institutions are becoming more and more prone to smuggling cell phones into their cells, as they are quite compact and easy to hide. Several institutions in many locations of the country have been noted for such activities. In one case, the inmate’s mother managed to send a cell phone to her inmate son through the mail. This was smuggled by a prison guard who owned a post office box and helped deliver the phone to the inmate for an amount of $400. Later, when there was a complaint from the inmate’s mother regarding the cell phone reception, authorities realized that the security of the prison had been compromised.

It has been observed by the Inspector General of the Criminal Justice Department in Texas, John Moriarty, that during the last three years, there have been about 600 cases of cell phone smuggling. The third largest correctional institute in the US in Florida retrieved 109 cell phones in one year. This figure was an increase of 25% to 30% in comparison to the year before. The Los Angeles Times reported in October 2009 that 4130 additional cell phones had been confiscated when compared to the figures of the three previous years combined.

The cell phones are used by inmates in the Sunshine State to smuggle cocaine and marijuana and using the prison squads who work the streets. When the authorities raided such prisons, they managed to retrieve several cell phones in the prisons, at the work camps and work sites, as well as in the vehicles used for transportation to the sites. X-ray scrutiny was not able to detect the smuggled cell phones, as they were cleverly hidden in typewriters.

Once, an inmate in a death row made a call from a cell phone to the state senator of Texas, John Whitmire. The Governor of Texas then ordered a search of the 112 state prisons, going through the possessions of over 156,000 prisoners. The search team managed to confiscate 128 phones along with SIM cards, batteries and call phone chargers. Texas jails alone accounted for more than 1000 cell phones confiscated in this manner during the year 2008.  The number in California prisons was 2809, 1861 in Mississippi prisons and  1623 in federal prisons.

It was also observed that the ever-growing sophistication and compact nature of cell phones led to an increased risk of security in jails. Cell phones started incorporating features, such as cameras, GPS navigation and easy access to the internet which was a major factor in enabling prisoners to create plots and break out of prisons as well as indulge in other nefarious activities, such as drug trafficking and threatening former victims. In addition, it was possible to deactivate the SIM card very easily and escape undetected.

Cell phone has also been seen to lead to increased drug smuggling. Texas authorities opted to install landlines in correctional facilities and made the use of mobile phones a criminal offence. It was also possible to use jammers to block signals from cell phones, but this was not always possible, as such an installation is not legal and the FCC could impose a fine for jamming the telephone lines. Certain spectrums purchased by commercial organizations may be blocked, and this interferes with their rights.

One alternative for detecting the use of cell phones in prisons is to make frequent checks in prisons, but this might also prove time consuming. Moreover, SIM cards are too small and can easily be hidden without being detected.

Yet, the police in Brazil have been successful in foiling a plot where the prisoners tried to smuggle cell phones into a high security prison with the help of a helicopter. This was a small helicopter of about 1 meter length, which had a basket holding nine cell phones in it. The phones were neatly packed in a disposable diaper. The police arrested four suspects who admitted that they had received $5000 in advance and were promised another $5000 upon successful completion of the mission. Another way that prisoners had smuggled cell phones into correctional facilities was by means of carrier pigeon. This was a plot that was discovered in a state correctional institution in Sao Paulo.

Ref: Police foil prison phone delivery, By Gary Duffy BBC News, Sao Paulo http://news.bbc.co.uk/

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Cell Phones in Prisons


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