Cell Phones in Prison a Growing Concern

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Published 19 Feb 2011
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Cell phone usage is so wid...
You're watching multisource U.S. news analysis from Newsy
Cell phone usage is so widespread today you can reach pretty much anyone, anywhere at anytime -- even from prison.

“In California’s prisons authorities keep finding more contraband phones. 10,000 last year. Murder cult leader Charles Manson got his second. Another 1,100 last month alone. Some tossed over the prison wall and some hidden where, well, only a body scan could find it." (KNSD)

But after suspicion inmates are organizing crimes with smuggled cell phones - state officials are seeking solutions.

A New York Times article published in January likens smartphones in jail to: “the modern-day file inside a cake.”

President Obama signed a law in August making it illegal to possess, use or smuggle cell phones into federal prisons, but the law says nothing about state prisons.

“So now not only do they want to try to amp up how people are punished in terms of smuggling them, they also want to try to see what they can do to the prisoners when they are in possession of the cell phones.”  

According to the LA Times, the most common source of smuggled phones are prison employees -- largely because they do not have to pass through metal detectors when they enter work.

But the Times’ Jack Dolan reports -- the prison guards union could make reform difficult -- and expensive.

“... [Union officials] cite a work requirement that corrections officers be paid for ‘walk time’ — the minutes it takes them to get from the front gate to their posts behind prison walls. Putting metal detectors along the route … could double the walk time, adding several million dollars to officers' collective pay each year, according to a 2008 Senate analysis.”

According to California Capitol Network -- a California state senator is proposing a $5,000 per device fine for people caught smuggling phones into prison. Yet another solution could be “managed access” -- already in place in Mississippi state prisons. Mississippi Public Broadcasting explains.

“The managed access where a call is basically intercepted, is compared to an approved list… if it’s approved it goes on. If it’s not on the approved list it just doesn’t let the call go through...” 

The new technology blocked 200,000 calls after just one month of use in Mississippi. As a result, prisoners are returning to using legal landline phones, which increased prison revenue by 16 percent.
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