Outlawed Smart Phones Thriving in U.S.Prisons by Kim Soverson and Robbie Brown

Posted: January 13, 2011 in News and politics

 

 

ATLANTA | A counterfeiter at a Georgia state prison ticks off the remaining days of his three-year sentence on his Facebook page. He has 91 digital “friends.” Like many of his fellow inmates, he plays the online games FarmVille and Street Wars.

He does it all on a Samsung smart phone, which he says he bought from a guard. And he used the same phone to help organize a short nonviolent strike among inmates at several Georgia prisons last month.

Although officials have long battled illegal cell phones, smart phones have changed the game. With Internet access, a prisoner can call up phone directories, maps and photographs for criminal purposes, corrections officials and prison security experts say. Gang violence and drug trafficking, they say, are increasingly being orchestrated online, allowing inmates to keep up criminal behavior even as they serve time.

In 2009, gang members in a Maryland prison were caught using their smart phones to approve targets for robberies and even to order seafood and cigars.

Even closely watched prisoners are sneaking phones in. Last month, California prison guards found a flip phone under Charles Manson’s mattress.

Cell phones are prohibited in all state and federal prisons in the United States, often even for top corrections officials.

Still, they get in. By the thousands. In the first four months of 2010, Federal Bureau of Prisons workers confiscated 1,188 cell phones, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, who sponsored the federal measure. In California last year, officers discovered nearly 9,000 phones.

Payments for cell phones range from $300 to $1,000, depending on the type of phone and the service plan. Monthly fees are generally paid by inmates’ relatives. Phones are smuggled in by guards, visitors and inmates convicted of misdemeanors with lower security restrictions.

The solution may be a new system introduced in Mississippi. It is being tested in several other states and has the cell-phone industry’s support. Called managed access, the system establishes a network around a prison that detects every call and text. Callers using cell phones that are not on an approved list receive a message saying the device is illegal and will no longer function.

This story appeared in print on page A3

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