Cell phones have proliferated (illegally) inside prisons for several years. But now Monday’s NY Times has a particularly thorough article on a newer lock-up phenom—namely the advent of smartphones behind bars.
Here are some clips:
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.
“The smartphone is the most lethal weapon you can get inside a prison,” said Terry L. Bittner, director of security products with the ITT Corporation, one of a handful of companies that create cellphone-detection systems for prisons. “The smartphone is the equivalent of the old Swiss Army knife. You can do a lot of other things with it.”
The Georgia prison strike, for instance, was about things prisoners often complain about: They are not paid for their labor. Visitation rules are too strict. Meals are bad.
But the technology they used to voice their concerns was new.
The recent rise in smartphones raises larger issues for prisoners and their advocates, who say the phones are not necessarily used for criminal purposes. In some prisons, a traditional phone call is prohibitive, costing $1 per minute in many states. And cellphones can help some offenders stay better connected with their families.
Mike, the Georgia inmate who was part of the recent [Georgia prison] strike, said he used his to stay in touch with his son.
“When he gets off the school bus, I’m on the phone and I talk to him,” he said in an interview on his contraband cellphone. “When he goes to bed, I’m on the phone and I talk to him.”
Some groups are encouraging prisons to embrace new technology while managing risks. Inmates are more likely to successfully re-enter society if they maintain relationships with friends and families, said David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It shows that even if they are closed institutions, prisons are still part of the larger society,” Mr. Fathi said. “They can’t be forever walled off from technological changes.”
NOTE: As someone who has long gotten regular collect calls from correctional institutions in the course of my work, I have been able to watch the unfolding of the contraband phone—and smartphone—phenomenon, thus have seen close up that there are genuine social benefits along with the obvious liabilities that concern prison administrators.
AND SPEAKING OF PRISON: ARNOLD MAKES USE OF EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY ON LAST DAY IN OFFICE
Governor Schwarzenegger has pardoned some people and reduced the sentences of others, including Sara Kruzen, who at 16 killed her former pimp (and for whom various human rights groups have long advocated), and 22-year-old Esteban Nunez, son of former Assembly Speaker and GFOA (Good Friend of Arnold), Fabian Nunez.
In the case of Esteban Nunez (whom you can read about here and here) while I am glad that the governor shortened one young man’s sentence, I cannot help but wish that some of the other young men who will be languishing much longer behind bars for far, far lessor offenses, had access to similarly well-connected champions.
photo from Switched.com