Cell Phones in Correctional Facilities

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Problems and Regulations Regarding the Use of Cell Phones in Jails

The use of cell phones by inmates in jail poses a great risk to the security of the institution, as they are quite compact and can easily be smuggled in by inmates. Many jails have observed such illegal smuggling and use of cell phones in jails. There was an instance where a prisoner’s mother helped him smuggle a cell phone by sending it via a post office box that was in the custody of a prison guard. By paying an amount of $400, he smuggled it inside for the inmate to use. When the inmate’s mother made a complaint to the warden regarding the poor quality of sound reception on her cell phone, he became alert to the situation. It has been observed by John Moriarty, who is the Inspector General in the Criminal Justice Department of Texas that the number of such cases increased to 600 during the course of the past three years.

During one year alone, a correctional institute in Florida, which is the third largest in the state, was able to detect and retrieve about 109 cases of cell phone smuggling. This is an increase in the smuggling rate by almost 25 to 30% compared to the previous year. In  2009, the authorities were able to retrieve 4130 more cell phones than those retrieved in the past three years, according to the Los Angeles Times (Oct, 2009).

Cell phones have been used in correctional facilities in the Sunshine State for the purpose of smuggling crack cocaine and marijuana inside high-security jails with the aid of the jail squads employed on Florida roads. When the jails were raided, it was found that there were several cell phones in the jails,  work camps and  transport vehicles used to go to and from work sites. X-ray scrutiny was cleverly dodged by means of hiding the cell phones inside typewriters.

One prisoner in Texas, who was on death row, once made a cell phone call to the Texas state senator, John Whitmire. On that occasion, the Governor of Texas conducted a thorough search of the 112 state prisons, going through the possessions of 156,000 prisoners. They managed to retrieve 128 cell phones along with SIM cards, batteries and chargers. Texas prisons accounted for the retrieval of more than 1000 phones by 2008.

In the case of California prisons, the authorities reported that 2809 cell phones had been retrieved in the year 2008 and in the case of Mississippi jails, 1623 cell phones were found in the federal prisons. As the cellular phones had become more sophisticated and compact, the problem kept rising, as there were many advanced features, such as GPS navigation, internet connectivity, cameras and such sophisticated features that could pose a great security risk, leading to break outs from prison, drug smuggling, violence and attacks of former victims. Prisoners also took advantage of the fact that the SIM card could be deactivated in order to escape detection.

Cell phone use has been very strongly linked to the increase in drug smuggling. In order to curb this problem, the Texas authorities have chosen the installation of landlines and made the use of cell phones in jail a criminal offence. Of course, it is possible to jam the signals from cell phones, but strict rules are required for implementing this, as jammers are not legal and can impose fines. This is because the installation of jammers can cause problems to the spectrums that have been purchased by other commercial organizations and can interfere with their rights.

Thus, the only solution at present is to make frequent searches in prisons. However, this can be a rather cumbersome task and requires a lot of staff and time. Additionally, it is quite difficult to detect SIM cards, as they are very small. In Brazil, it was observed that a remote-controlled model helicopter was used for smuggling mobile phones into a prison. The helicopter was just one meter long and had a basket at the bottom in which cell phones were packed in a disposable diaper. The police caught four suspects, who confessed that they had received $5000 in advance and later $5000 upon completion of the job. Jail authorities also discovered another plot where carrier pigeons were used for smuggling cell phones over the prison walls.

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

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Cell Phones in Correctional Facilities


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