Despite federal laws banning even prison officials from bringing phones inside, tens of thousands of inmates have smartphones.
If you needed more evidence that our prison system is a mess:
Technology is changing life inside prisons across the country at the same rapid-fire pace it is changing life outside. A smartphone hidden under a mattress is the modern-day file inside a cake.
“This kind of thing was bound to happen,” said Martin F. Horn, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The physical boundaries that we thought protected us no longer work.”
Although prison officials have long battled illegal cellphones, smartphones 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.
Cellphones are prohibited in all state and federal prisons in the United States, often even for top corrections officials. Punishment for a prisoner found with one varies. In some states, it is an infraction that affects parole or time off for good behavior. In others, it results in new criminal charges.
President Obama signed a law in August making possession of a phone or a wireless device in a federal prison a felony, punishable by up to a year of extra sentencing.
Still, they get in. By the thousands. In the first four months of 2010, Federal Bureau of Prisons workers confiscated 1,188 cellphones, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who sponsored the federal measure. In California last year, officers discovered nearly 9,000 phones.
Among those caught with phones under their mattress: Charles Manson.
Given that we seemingly can’t even prevent inmates from raping one another, it’s hardly shocking that phones are getting in. Especially since the guards are selling most of them.