Though certainly there are cases out there of prisoners using phones to commit crimes, and Wired runs through the most frequently cited examples, most cell phone use, of course, is to stay in touch with family and friends not to "order hits" or commit new offenses. Still the issue certainly constitutes a security threat, most immediately because it contributes to guard corruption, a point the story emphasizes:
the easiest—and probably most common—way mobiles are moving into prisons is in the pockets of guards and other prison staff. "There's no question that corrupt officers are involved," says Texas inspector general [John] Moriarty. The risk is small, the payoff big. Correctional staff coming to work are typically searched only lightly, if at all, and a phone can fetch a couple thousand dollars. One California officer told investigators he made more than $100,000 in a single year selling phones.Deep into the article after listing several stories of crimes related to illegal cell phones, the tone changes when Beiser begins to talk about solutions:
There's no question that prisoners are using cell phones to foment all kinds of mayhem. But investigations have established that most calls placed on contraband mobiles are harmless—just saying hi to family and friends. Whatever their crimes, most convicts have parents, children, and others they're desperate to stay in touch with. Letters are slow, and personal visits often involve expensive, time-sucking travel. Some prisons have public phones for making collect calls, but access is limited, conversations are often monitored, and phone companies often charge much higher rates than on the outside.Texas prison officials quoted in the story agreed part of the solution must be expanding legal communication between inmates and their families:
the most compelling reason to let inmates ... talk to their families isn't that it's nice for them or even their mothers. It's that it could reduce crime and save the public a bundle by cutting recidivism. Most of the more than 2 million men and women behind bars in the US will eventually be released, and decades of research show that those who maintain family ties are much less likely to land back in jail. Every parolee who stays straight saves taxpayers an average of more than $22,000 a year.Wired's story was followed up by pieces in Time magazine and on CNN referencing Texas' cell phone smuggling woes.
Even tough-on-crime Texas has embraced that logic. The state has long refused to allow phones of any sort for inmates in its prisons, but this year officials are installing landlines. "Once they're in place, we expect a decrease in the problem," Moriarty says.
The best solution here, unfortunately, must come from the federal level: A 1934 law bans state and local governments from jamming broadcast signals and would have to be altered by Congress, according to officials at the FCC.
See related Grits coverage:
- Senate committee examines reasons for contraband smuggling
- FCC has no authority to approve cell phone jammers
- Chasing illegal cell phone use in TDCJ
- Cell phone trafficking in Texas prisons
- Guards and contraband smuggling in prisons and jails
- Texas prison guards smuggle cell phones to inmates
- Even death row not immune to contraband smuggling
- Has TDCJ learned the right lessons from death-row cell-phone scandal?
- Few prison guards fired, prosecuted for contraband smuggling
- New rules for TDCJ phone service approved