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Prisoner Cell-Phone Use Prompts Legislation
By news.heartland.org - Alyssa Carducci
Published: 03/07/2012

In an effort to thwart the use of cell phones in prisons, the Illinois Department of Corrections is requesting information from cell phone companies regarding equipment to detect and “jam” or prevent illegal cell phone calls within the prison grounds.

The Correctional Department says contraband cell phones pose dangers by potentially helping in escape attempts and by enabling prisoners to arrange for crimes against people outside the prison, but at this time they are only seeking information and do not have any set plans to install systems to detect the devices.

“While cell phones can pose a threat, the actual number of phones confiscated within Illinois DOC facilities is fairly low and therefore doesn’t constitute the department spending money on this type of system at this point in time,” said Stacey Solano, public information officer for the Illinois Dept. of Corrections.

Growing Problem?

Although the number of illegal cell phones actually collected in Illinois is low, the problem is increasing, the state’s numbers show. Five phones were collected in 2010, and 15 in 2011. The increase, however, was caused by staff members at one facility bringing their cell phones into the facility for personal use.

“They were not giving them to inmates, but … the department is vigilant in doing everything it can to keep cell phones and other contraband out of the facilities,” Solano said.

A report by the National Institute of Justice showed the number of phones confiscated in California is much higher than in Illinois. Correctional officers seized 1,331 cell phones there in the first six months of 2008. Corrections officials in other states have also reported finding hundreds of cell phones.

Escape Attempts

The report states cell phones are a widespread problem and contribute to escape attempts. It claims the problem gained national attention when a death row inmate used a cell phone to threaten a Texas senator.

A Nevada inmate planned a successful escape with the help of a cell phone provided by a dental assistant. The dental assistant was fired by prison officials. In New York, an inmate used a cell phone to plan an escape while on a medical transfer. Prison officials learned a phone that aided in the escape of an inmate in Tennessee had been hidden inside a jar. As a result, prison officials banned jars of peanut butter.

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