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Home > Uncategorized > Dial M for Murderer: Mobile Phones in Prisons

Dial M for Murderer: Mobile Phones in Prisons

December 21st, 2010

An article appeared early this month that Charles Manson, the infamous murderer, was found with mobile phone in his cell, which he used to make calls to and send text messages to people in California, New Jersey, Florida and British Columbia (Choney, 2010 and Dolan, 2010). The same article noted another murder had been maintaining a Facebook® profile via a concealed BlackBerry® (Choney, 2010 and Friedman, 2010)

Mobile phones were never meant for use by prisoners (They were called “cell” phones because of the cellular technology, not because they were designed for use by individuals in cells). The mobile phone problem in prisons is growing at an alarming rate. More and more of these devices are being found inside our prisons. Unfortunately, the devices are not being used just to connect with love ones and to avoid exorbitant collect calls. They are being used in extortion schemes; tax evasion plots; drug deals; credit card fraud; prison riots, and escapes (Justicefellowship.org). In South Carolina a mobile phone was used to order a hit against a prison guard (Kinnard, 2010).

The federal response has been to pass a law that makes it a crime to smuggle a mobile phone into a federal facility (Frieden, 2010) Impressive uh? States without such laws, like California need to follow suit. Such laws make sense but do they stop the smuggling of anything into prison? We still have inmates smuggling drugs in. It is too bad we can’t do something to make the item smuggled, in this case a mobile device, worthless.

Wait, there is something. There is actually technology that could be used jam the devices communication. Unfortunately, an antiquated law specifically, The Communications Act of 1934, as amended and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibit the use of such devices, even in a correctional setting. At the time this law was passed and no doubt when FCC rules, were adopted no one thought there would be devices so small they could be smuggled into a prison setting and be used undetected. In 2005, the FCC reiterated its position on these devices (FCC, 2005)

Construction materials may hold an option that block signals but do not jam them, and therefore fly under the legal restrictions. However, that is going to costly and not a perfect solution. There is federal bill, Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009, introduced on January 15, 2009, that would provide the legal mechanics for state prisons to start using these jamming devices (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2009). Many state corrections departments support this. Prisoner advocacy groups like the Justice Fellowship support it. However, it being held up. The cause? Washington gridlock, maybe. However, it is just as likely that greed is to blame. You see there is money to be made off the prisoners if you can come up with a system where inmates have to pay to use controlled “cell” phones.

So if is truly money that is the hold up, how much is the cost of a prison guards life anyway? What about if Manson had convinced a new bunch of crazies to go do his evil bidding via “cell” phone and killed innocent citizens? What are their lives worth? Lets take the phones out of the cells and get this law passed. Until then at least I have designed to adopt the British term for such devices, mobile phones. The idea of “cell” phones just doesn’t set well will me.

References

Choney, Suzanne, (2010) “Charles Manson had Cell Phone under Prison Mattress” Retrieved December 21, 2010, from http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/12/03/5574585-charles-manson-had-cell-phone-under-prison-mattress

Dolan, Jack, (2010) “Charles Manson had a cellphone? California prisons fight inmate cellphone proliferation” Retrieved December 21, 2010 from http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-prison-cellphones-20101203,0,2436484,full.story

Federal Communications Commission (June 27, 2005) “Sale or Use of Transmitters Designed to Prevent, Jam or Interfere with Cell Phone Communications is Prohibited in the United States” retrieved from http://www.fcc.gov/eb/Public_Notices/DA-05-1776A1.html

Frieden, Terry, (2010) “President Obama Signs into Law Ban on Cell Phones in Federal Prisons” Retrieved December 21, 2010, from http://articles.cnn.com/2010-08-10/us/obama.prison.phone.ban_1_cell-phones-phones-and-wireless-devices-prison-gangs?_s=PM:US

Friedman, Emily, (2010) “Convicted Murderer Justin Walker Used a Blackberry to Talk to Friends on Facebook While in Prison” Retrieved December 21, 2010 from http://abcnews.go.com/US/convicted-murderer-updates-facebook-page-prison-cell/story?id=12286265

Justice Fellowship (2010) “The Case for Cell Phone Jamming in Prisons”, Retrieved on December 21, 2010 from http://www.justicefellowship.org/key-issues/issues-in-criminal-justice-reform/inmate-telephones/pf-commentary-inmate-telephones/12696-the-case-for-cell-phone-jamming-in-prisons

Kinnard, Mag, “Attack on SC Prison Guard Renews Phone-Jam Debate”, Retrieved on December 21, 2010, from http://www.usatoday.com/tech/wireless/2010-09-13-prison-cellphone-jam_N.htm

National Conference of State Legislatures (2009) H.R. 560, Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009, Retrieved December 21, 2010, from http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=16176

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