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Cell Phones in Prison?

The Huffington Post hosted a discussion about inmates having cell phones in prison. One inmate stated that most inmates would use the cell phones for contact with family members and not for criminal purposes. Although many inmates would use cell phones for family contacts, there is no doubt that a number of the inmates would use cell phones for criminal activity. As a former inmate, I see only serious security problems for the prison. It would be more beneficial to concentrate on the major problem of predatory phone rates as discussed in previous articles on Prisonpath.

See the following Huffington Post article:

Family members of criminals say that when their relatives are sentenced to prison, the entire family serves time. HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont Hill hosted a discussion to explore what resources can help these families deal with their burdens.

For Jeff Brooks, lack of communication during his 16-year prison sentence negatively affected his relationship with his son.

“There are no cell phones in California state prison that are allowed,” Brooks said. “There’s thousands and thousands of guys who have cell phones just simply to keep contact with their families. And they constantly get caught and they get written up. They get more time.”

Some argue that cell phones give prisoners a chance to conduct crime outside, but Brooks disagrees.

“The idea that the department of corrections would want you to believe is that all these guys are all using it for criminality. When the fact of the matter is, all people are trying to do is stay connected with their families.”

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28 Responses to Cell Phones in Prison?

  1. Anne February 20, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    I can’t help but agree with you. Even if a given inmate is only using a cell phone to call home, the odds of it getting into the hands of someone who will use it for criminal purposes are very high. Many security measures turn out to be excessive, but not this one.

    Additional Comments:

    James• The article mentions cell phones contributing to further criminal activity. However it fails to mention a very specific type of criminal activity, the intimidation and threatening of victims and/or witnesses. Any form of inmate communication that cannot be properly monitored and controlled should be strictly prohibited. A balance between offender rights and privileges and public protection has to be maintained. And the pendulum should always swing toward protecting the public.

    Bernadette • Sadly a few indeed may be calling just family..but not the rest so this one I will say NO NO NO

    Bradley • I agree with both comments. The issue of witness intimidation would be affected by the use of cell phones. As it now stands, cell phones are smuggled into prisons.

    Maxwell • For too many times (and sometimes for several weeks, even months) our Kairos program has been cancelled because of Statewide lock-downs. These lock-downs usually occurred after coordinated attacks between gangs that took place at the same time in various facilities. They had the ability to coordinate because they had illegal cell phones. The improvement of access to a regulated phone system is the answer to the problem of communication with family members and not unregulated, unsupervised access to cell phones. I would suggest that people who think cell phones would not be used for criminal purposes have an unrealistic view of the incarcerated.

    Nicola–I couldn’t agree more with all your comments – however the issue of cell phones in prisons appears to be a global phenomenon, and all too often they are being used to NOT call their families and friends as mentioned above. For this reason we are working closely with prison services around the world to devise technology which will detect, re-active block any calls, text messages etc. to try and ensure that the public remains safe(r) as well as the prison officers who are tasked with looking after these individuals. We are aware that there are number of technologies out there which provide a ‘blanket coverage’ of the issue by jamming the signals however this is simply putting a bandaid over the issue and not resolving the matter. Only by locating phones, removing them and keeping the areas ‘clean’ will hopefully in time encourage inmates that it is a waste of their time trying to communicate in unauthorised ways with the outside world and refocus their energies on more productive things.

    • Tony Young February 20, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      I agree with the above statements. I served 25 years in a California prison and there is just nothing good that would come from it. What next, Facsimile (FAX) machines?

  2. Saul February 20, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Over here in the UK, seizures of illegal mobile phones dropped considerably when landline phones were installed in all cells, which would appear to support the argument that most prisoners just want to be able to call home.

    Additional Comment:

    Mandy-I think if parental control was used on the cell phone that would be great, they only have certain phone numbers they call if the violate them in any way phone taken away for a period of no more than 6 months, no internet access calls only

    • Tony Young February 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      Give me a cell phone in prison and I will find a way to make money with it, tell my victim or the family member what I think of them, get information on staff I can use against them, order hits on the outside, let it be known where a certain inmate is housed make nasty calls to people i don’t know just to pass the time and I may even order pizza! Prison is a place to provide correction for the inmate and safety to the community. When you have relationship problems with your kid because of what YOU did and where it landed you, maybe, just maybe you will make the connection: crime bad – family good.

    • Tony Young February 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

      it makes sense that seizures of illegal mobile phones drop considerably when land line phones were installed in all cells, why would one break the rules to get and have an illegal phone when one is right there on the wall for you to use? Your line of thought does not appear to support the argument that most prisoners just want to be able to call home. Most prisoners are “able” to call home, most prisoners do not want others to hear what they have to say.

      Additional Comments:

      stephen • Not a good place to have a cell phone = prison. They have phones there you can call your peeps with but a cell phone? yeah right, I see nothing but porn and drug deals being used on them in there. No wonder they are outlawed …come on-don’t insult our intelligence! Lets have some realistic topics. Might as well ask for prostitutes to be brought into prison too.

      Martine– sounds like a rather good idea. In France prison staff spend a lot of time looking for, investigating and then punishing the entree/use/trafficking of cell phones. Indeed some would use them for criminal purposes (to threaten victims of witnesses, to keep an eye on their business in the outside world, to prepare an escape plan…). But the usual reasons for using cell phones are : 1) it means the person who sent -illegally – the phone is paying for the calls rather than the inmate; 2) it can be used when inmates are at their worst point in the day – ie after the cell doors are closing for the night; 3) it’s more intimate, as opposed to having other tough guys listening to you – and taking the piss – when you want to tell your girlffriend that you love her; 3) it’s simply brilliant not to have anybody listening; 4) you can send photos and videos; 5) you can call for hours; 6) your familly might be at work and your kids at school when you’re trying to reach them during the day, and you’re more likely to reach them in the evening. No wonder there’s a trafic of cell phones!! it’s in my local prison that i saw the smallest cell phones ever: they look like kiddies’ plastic fake ones and for this reason, there are easier to smuggle in. Since our remand/small sentences prisons are often situated in the middle of our cities, cell phones arrive “by air”: people from the outside just throw little packages whilst making out they’re just out for a promenade around the block :-)) people’s imagination in moments of dire straights is amazing.

  3. PrisonPath February 22, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    James • I’m curious about the cost(s) of such programs and how they are funded. My concerns are not based on cynicism, but entirely on institutional security. Additionally, how will these programs be monitored, and will it require additional staffing. Also, offenders with specialized skills will almost certainly find a way to exploit these measures. I applaud the effort toward reintegration, however the road leading to it, is paved with very good intentions.

    Benny • James, I must disagree with you. It is perfectly securable, it will be monitored and we are actualy saving staff. To discuss this in detail we should have another way of contact… and you should see it work …
    As practically the whole world is in crisis we as well needed to prove the ROI till the last eurocent, but we did and we could as well prove a gain in money in the long run.

    James• It sounds great (although I’m no I.T. guy), but my background has shown me, much like a footballer, when an offender sees daylight, they will go for the hole! But I admit, this program sounds promising and I wish your agency much success with it

  4. PrisonPath February 22, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Nicola • I couldn’t agree more with all your comments – however the issue of cell phones in prisons appears to be a global phenomenon, and all too often they are being used to NOT call their families and friends as mentioned above. For this reason we are working closely with prison services around the world to devise technology which will detect, re-active block any calls, text messages etc. to try and ensure that the public remains safe(r) as well as the prison officers who are tasked with looking after these individuals. We are aware that there are number of technologies out there which provide a ‘blanket coverage’ of the issue by jamming the signals however this is simply putting a bandaid over the issue and not resolving the matter. Only by locating phones, removing them and keeping the areas ‘clean’ will hopefully in time encourage inmates that it is a waste of their time trying to communicate in unauthorised ways with the outside world and refocus their energies on more productive things.

    Benny • Can I add that in general most people are reluctant to see phones in cells. But today there are a lot of ways to monitor, block, allow certain numbers, not allowing any other, and so forth… so mostly the fear is purely psychological, as is with the use of internet for inmates. In Europe the only punishment an inmate should get is the deprivation of his freedom and nothing else.
    In order to resocialize and reintegrate him/her in the society they will one day return it is so important to give the inmate as much opportunities as possible, in a secure way off course.
    To that end we of the prison services in Belgium are starting a project called PrisonCloud which will create an IT infrastructure for inmates in cell and other locations within the prison environment, where the inmate will be offered different services, f.ex. webshop, e-learning, telephone and televisit, job search, agenda, reading of their juridical file, and so on… but always in a controlled way.
    We believe it will not only be a big benefit for the inmate itself, but will have an enormous return on investment for us. A win-win situation.

  5. PrisonPath February 24, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    By Steve–It’s no secret, all prison phone calls are recorded, so any criminal activity on the phones is likely to be intercepted either by prison staff or police intel teams. What this does mean is the demand by prisoners for mobile phones to maintain family contact is vastly reduced and so reduce the risk of access to mobiles being used by a minority for criminal activity

  6. PrisonPath February 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    By Sandra • I don’t feel that inmates need a cell phone in jail. Many of them will use it for criminal activity if they have a chance to. If jail changed people, many of the inmates would not return to jail and some of them in jail still commit criminal acts. Many of them are in jail, prison, and houses of corrections for hurting or killing family members. If these people are so worried about seeing and talking to families, they should have thought about that before committing crimes that got them incarcerated. Inmates already have TVs, food in their cells, radios, get degrees for free, have jobs and get paid, etc. I’m beginning to think you get you have more being there.

    By Bradley • It is a valid point that cell phones will be used by some inmates for criminal activity. Personally, if the land lines that were in the prisons were made more available and at reasonable charges, this would be sufficient for inmate’s needs. Keep in mind that the prison authorities monitor the telephones in the prison for any criminal activity. I do disagree as a former inmate that prison is filled with great free options for inmates. Prisons are dangerous, bad medical care, and in terms of jobs–pay is usually $.80–$1.10 a day.

  7. PrisonPath February 26, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    By Annys–Bradley I agree with your comments, as an ex-offender myself prisoners should not be allowed phones whilst serving a sentence, apart from those that have worked hard and have earned the right to gain Employment. This as we know enhances the chances of a successful re-integration back into our communities. As far as prison Education is concerned, I learns to count on my fingers when I was two.

  8. PrisonPath February 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    By Frans–It is possible to provide cellphones for inmates and staff. First good reason is that it is a professional obligation to support contact with the outside world as much as possible. Second reason is that you can use these cellphones for contact between staff and inmates, to communicate about things like the daily programs (access to education, exercise, care and shop, for example) and you can even use it for security: you can spot where somebody is. In most countries, like mine, the law says that the contacts with the outside world have to take place in a “controlled way”. It is possible, as a prison, to be your own provider and put an “umbrella” over the prison to control your telecommunication. In Holland we are far away from that reality. Not because of Technology, but because of the fact that our repressive climate does not allow benefits for inmates or their families. We even cannot make it possible to let the children of inmates email their incarcerated mother or father. Our former liberal country gets beaten by the US, Russia and England on that matter…….

  9. PrisonPath March 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    By David–“What the Department of Corrections wants you to believe…”? I’m sorry, but the individual in that article is still being manipulative and using nonsense numbers and phrases to try to make his point. “Thousands and thousands” of prisoners most likely to have contraband cell phones? If that’s the case a LOT of correctional officers are not doing their jobs.

    This person makes the very valid point that a prisoner’s family also “does time.” Very true. However, they are just another group of victims that the offender has made through their poor choices and bad decision-making process. For this offender to state that “most” prisoners would utilize cell phones simply to keep in contact with friends and family and not use them for purposes of criminality is almost laughable.

    You give up certain rights when you are sentenced to a felony. The payphones are monitored, as they should be. That’s done not to listen in on “Merry Christmas, honey” or “I miss you.” It’s done because oftentimes offenders will try to make hits, or run drug deals or other criminal acts outside the prison.

    Sprint and Verizon and AT&T will all still be there when they release.

  10. PrisonPath March 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    By Kristin–Since when do inmates become experts on their own rehabilitation?

    Benjamin Franklin once said that the most cruel thing one man can do to another is make him comfortable in his poverty. Our efforts to combat recidivism should bear that in mind, while at the same time showing inmates that more comfortable circumstances are an attainable goal. As Mr. Buckner said above, better things should be earned.

    At my facility, inmates can make unmonitored calls to their lawyers on land line phones in housing units and the Legal Resource Center. All other calls are monitored. That is as it should be.

    As an officer working a single officer post, the last thing I need is the added responsibility of answering phone calls from inmates. What better way to compromise an officer’s effectiveness than to distract him with a phone call?

  11. PrisonPath March 5, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    robert• I can imagine prisoners calling the newspaper who love to publish anything to increase sales. It is hard enough to monitor a few phones let alone one per prisoner. Give them programs etc if they had family support on the out side they most likely would not be in prison. There is not a day that I have worked in the prison where we do not hear prisoners threatening or insulting family, girlfriends and friends to bring money in for them. People who are not on the front line do not understand what its like . It seems these ideas are made to look good on C.V’s rather than to benefit anyone. Ideas based on what . If you want to increase moral provide better food, movies more funds for prisoner who are studying and achieve higher levels of education.

  12. PrisonPath March 6, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    Well said Robert.
    By Bernadette

  13. PrisonPath March 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    By Frans–I like Roberts remarks funding education, healthy food and a good daily program. His remarks about “people who are not in the frontline” make clear how sensitive the matter is. Keeping the balance between creating a secure environment and giving inmates the chance to effectively prepare their return to society is incredibly difficult . As a prison director and former guard and super-intendant I know very well that this matter is directly connected with the security and well-being of the prison-staff.
    In practice, in the Dutch situation I have positive experiences with using cell-phones for certain categories of prisoners. I also see that this technology could help us to do our work in the future.
    I realize that’s far away from the reality in de US. I visited one of your prisons in 2012 and was impressed by the lack of hope and trust and the hardness of the relationship between staff and inmates. Colleagues told me that the suicide rate amongst prison staff in the state of Massachusetts is the highest of all professional groups over there. They explained that this was partly caused by PTSD and a culture of not talking about your personal problems. And also: “People see police officers in the streets protecting them, and everybody loves fireman. They think that the problems with delinquents are solved when you lock them up. Well, they are not!” The US has the highest prison rate in the world and spends more money on prisons then on their whole system of higher education. Is there somebody out there, working in the US prison-system who has an idea how to better the situation of staff and inmates? Considering that it has to be done without more money and the fact that prison reform seems to be a no-go-area for politicians?

  14. PrisonPath March 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    By Kristin–I think that the US should get rid of the seniority system in corrections, and base promotion and pay on performance. The seniority system guarantees that really talented people go elsewhere. It is most prevalent in the US in education and law enforcement. What those fields have in common is that they are far too expensive and they don’t work.

  15. PrisonPath March 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    frans• Thank you, Bradley. I say a prison is a self-contained, institutional environment, where prison staff and inmates suffer from the same tendencies. They often do not communicate with each other. They speak in the presence of one another about one another as though neither can hear what the other is saying. They stop perceiving each other as human beings—human beings with families, children and specific, personal characteristics. The staff often treat the inmates in the same manner they feel treated by their boss; in other words, the culture of the prison is top-down. Prison is highly hierarchical, and as it is at the highest level, so it will be at the lowest. How the director or warden treats his or her subordinates is how those subordinates will treat theirs. When there is an abuse of power in a hierarchical culture, that abuse of power trickles down all the way to the lowest power member. In prison, this often results in inmate-to-inmate abuse. Prison is a classic example of the survival of the fittest, but in prison, the weak cannot escape. Instead, the weak are bullied, beaten, raped, and at times, murdered. The existence of corruption and unauthorized violence by staff strengthens this mechanism. Staff and inmates tend to create their own set of rules and regulations, which the warden often does not know about. All these tendencies together create a very unsafe environment.

    I call on everybody to add contributions in this group and to suggest strategies to circumvent these destructive tendencies within the prisons.

    Incarcerated individuals are people too; they are our fellow human beings. The same goes for the staf: you have the right to work in an environment in which you can keep your empathie, openness, integrity and positivism. That does not mean that anybody could avoid being confronted with violence and other negative aspects of the job. And one needs to be very alert all the time on security and be aware of the fact that prison-staf has to stay in charge. That ‘s why I think it is necessary to find ways to make a prison a more healthy place to work in.
    Prisoners are not a different breed of human; they do not derive from another planet. They are individuals who once were our neighbors. They are our brothers; they are children of our friends and friends of our children. They are different from us in that they made severely bad choices that brought severe consequences.

  16. PrisonPath March 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    robert• How about we define what sort of prisons we are talking about. As death row, institutions for criminally insane, sexual predators, prisoner with sadistic tendencies are not the same as someone who is in for fines let’s being realistic. I have encountered prisoner who would hurt, kill or abuse at any opportunity . Prisoners that have abused tortured and killed their own children.
    On the other hand a prisoner who was in the wrong place at the wrong time ,traffic accidents etc. It is not the same .
    Let’s say in the right conditions where prisoner are at a level of reinsertion into the community , maybe they could benefit having a mobile but at the end of the day it’s money that will determine whether they get them or not. How many fantastic ideas are not put in use as governments are saving money and prisons is the one place the public will not object .

  17. PrisonPath March 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Jame • For all those posting on this discussion, please initiate a google search on Rayful Edmond, and intently read about his case. Once you’ve done that, consider what he could have done with a cell phone. Some of us (within this discussion) are approaching the matter in the spirit of altruism, without knowing the full danger of unmonitored inmate communication. I’m fully in favor of enhanced efforts geared toward treatment and reintegration. However, we must remember, the mission of corrections is and always will be, the protection of the public.

  18. PrisonPath March 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    frans • An inmate can only have controlled communication with the outside world. That means that we check letters and have the possibility to listen to recorded phone calls or even be present when somebody calls. We can separate inmates and their visitors physically by glass.
    The level of security is based on the risk profile of an inmate. As I said before: even the most restricted inmates can communicate within their network in many ways, without us knowing. Remember Steve McQueen in the classic movie Papillon: even when he was in a dark whole in the ground, totally isolated on Devilsisland, Dustin Hofman managed to smuggle food to him!
    I think you give (communication-) facilities to inmates, based on their risc-profile. I saw the film American Gangster (very nice!) and do not think I would give Rayful much space to move in. But protection of the public means also that you give inmates as much possibility to connect with their family as possible, as long as it is not contra-indicated. Deprivation and isolation damages people and makes reintegration more difficult. And less secure for the public…..

  19. PrisonPath March 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    By James–Point taken.

  20. PrisonPath March 9, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    By John–I thought “debtors prison” went out in the 1700’s under the Kings law in Europe. I am a landlord and sometimes it would be nice to have a completely unfair advantage over a tenant but the inhumanity, inequitable and unconstitutionality of this kind of law is outrageous and I am shocked that it has gone on for so long.

  21. PrisonPath March 10, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    By Frans–It is doable and we do it every day. If a prison cannot separate groups of inmates and differentiate in levels of ” trust” and security it has a big problem.

  22. PrisonPath March 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    By Sheik–Bradley , that’s why we have specific persons/inmates assign as orderlies or trustees ….

  23. PrisonPath March 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    By Frans–I agree with James when I look at the situation over here. One of the most fascinating aspects of our work is, that you learn all the time and have to find new balances giving and taking space to inmates. You cannot trick a stonerock, but you can fool people as long as they are made out of flesh and blood. But without giving a 100 percent guaranty that nothing will happen in the future. I can say that my very professional staff is capable to differentiate in levels of trust and avoid severe violence. And they also keep the inmates inside! Also the very dangerous ones and the ones who do a lifetime sentence. Witch only ends when you die, in our country.

  24. PrisonPath March 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    By Michael–In the UK taking a cell/mobile phone into a prison is a criminal offense. Prisoners could use a phone to control a gang, taunt or intimidate witnesses, plan escapes or arrange other serious crimes.


  1. Cell Phones in Prison--Comments Consensus? - PrisonPath prison visitor information & inmate locator- PrisonPath - February 26, 2013

    […] Consensus? Published February 26, 2013 at 4:48 pm Since the posting of our article “Cell Phones in Prison” on February 19, there have been comments in favor of limited cell phone use for inmates in prison […]

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