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Cell phones growing concern in state prisons

Posted February 14, 2011
Updated February 15, 2011

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— Smart phones are being smuggled into prisons at an alarming rate, giving inmates access to the outside world, including the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Ricky Anderson, deputy director of prisons, says the state's 70 prisons do not allow computer or Internet access inside prison facilities, but inmates have found a way to go online using smart phones that are smuggled inside.

It's an issue prisons are dealing with nationwide.

“Cell phones inside of a prison are definitely a challenge,” Anderson says. “As technology advances, of course, it presents more of a problem for us.”

Over the past five years, the number of cell phones and smart phones confiscated in state prisons has steadily increased. In 2005, 33 devices were confiscated. By 2010, the number had risen to 634.

Anderson says the DOC has been working hard to combat the problem

“We have explored technology to fight technology,” Anderson says, “which would be jamming devices and those sort of things. However, we have to work with the Federal Communications Commission.”

The FCC prohibits “cell jamming,” which effectively disables phones by blocking communications and preventing mobile phones from receiving signals. The concern is that they can interfere with law enforcement and emergency communications.

“It’s been a slow go,” Anderson says. ”We’ve also explored canines.”

The state has two specially trained dogs to help correctional officers detect cell phones in prisons, and the state has applied for a grant with the Governor’s Crime Commission to purchase and train six more.

But Anderson says prison officials have had the most success at preventing cell phone smuggling by performing thorough searches at prison entrances.

“When we get those reports, we of course investigate and try to recover the cell phone,” Anderson says.

Attorney General Roy Cooper says the growing number of cell phones being confiscated in state prisons is a concern.

“This is a public safety issue when a prisoner has access to these multimedia devices and (is) able to send threatening messages – maybe to witnesses in a trial – send inappropriate messages to children, organize gangs or try to direct drug deals,” Cooper says.

“These devices give them the clear opportunity to do that,” he adds. “With possession to these devices, they can cause a lot of harm behind bars, and it’s something we all have to work together to stop.”

Currently, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina to give an inmate a cell phone or other wireless communications device.

DOC spokesman Keith Acree says prisoners caught with a cell phone are subject to a Class A infraction, the most serious level. Punishments can range from up to 60 days in solitary confinement or three to six months of lost privileges.

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 16, 2011

    give me no quarter

    1- Personal observation/experience (aka Anecdotal Evidence) is a logical fallacy and is not sufficient for proof. (e.g. “There ARE aliens. They took me to their ship!” or just ask some golo’ers here about all of their judgements based solely on skin color) Do you have a science-based study to back up you assertion?

    2- Your judgments about what you think male/female roles should be in prison cast suspicion on your gender observations.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 16, 2011

    @hfweather, I googled my stats before I posted? You?

    Incarceration rates by gender: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/gender.html (Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2001, Tables 5 and 10. (Peter Wagner, 2003) )

    2,000,000 U.S. prisoners

    1,800,000 males (90%)

    200,000 females (10%)

  • kjackson47 Feb 16, 2011

    More people going to prison should b a more concern than cell phones

  • RWS Feb 15, 2011

    The DOC has too many clueless people in charge and employees that really don't care.

  • saltyplace Feb 15, 2011

    The technology exists to combat this problem.. that's not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that this isn't a concern to the powers-that-be at DOC. Maybe it will be now that it's in the news. How much of a concern would it be to have a medium custody prison unable to make outgoing calls? Should it take 6+ weeks and an article in the N&O to get the phone system operational again?

    Technology is available to locate transmitting cell phones with handheld detectors. Installed detection systems can track an operating cell phone, even following the phone if it moves. The dogs really work.

    After you recover the phone, it can be forensically examined to recover texts, pictures, and numbers called/dialed. The powers-that-be got rid of much of that forensics capability last year. Evidently it's not important to them.

    That place won't stand an outside examination.. Why is a politically created position that reports to the director, paid *more* than the director?

  • bjm011366 Feb 15, 2011

    shut off their cell phones and cable TV and they'll be an uprising...

  • rargos Feb 15, 2011

    "How about MANDATORY full body scans for ALL VISITORS....INCLUDING CHILDREN?"

    Actually, those millimeter wave scan machines (the "virtual strip search") the TSA is using at airports won't detect cell phones hidden in body cavities. A standard WTMD (walk through metal detector) might find a phone hidden in this manner.

    Are you going to start doing body cavity searches too?

    Increase the penalties : like revoking any chance at parole if you're caught with a cell phone.

    And it's not inmates posting on Facebook/Twitter that's the issue : it's inmates intimidating witnesses, running their "business" behind bars, planning escapes, etc.

  • rargos Feb 15, 2011

    "Why is this an issue. he state only needs to install "cell blockers" an electrical device that blocks all cell signals for a 200 yard radius. See, problem solved."

    It's amazing the number of people here who don't understand that (a) jamming is illegal anywhere in the country and (b) you can't set up some arbitrary jamming radius for signals.

    I work in this field, and even if jamming were legal, it would not be easy to block all signals on prison grounds without causing major disruption to nearby legitimate wireless services.

  • rargos Feb 15, 2011

    "gee,here is an idea,why dont we put in a simple device that blocks cell signale in a prison,duhhohhh"

    Because the jamming signals will also extend beyond the prison walls ... duhhhh. Not to mention that ALL jamming is illegal, in prisons or elsewhere

  • catchfinally Feb 15, 2011

    Simple Fix: You are in Prison, you have few rights. Illegal contraband comes into a prison? All mail and packages received for the next 30 days go into the garbage. All visitation and phone calls suspended for the next 30 days. Across the board, everyone and no exceptions. The inmates will self police in no time! Its a joke the way these criminals get treated like they're at a health spa. Let them go to any other country like South Korea where you never see the sun, share a cell with 40 guys and get 1 bowl of cold puke a day.

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