By Carlton Purvis
Every time someone smuggles a cell phone into a prison, another prisoner loses a ping pong ball. Well, not literally, but when a prisoner uses a cell phone illegally, it’s not only a safety issue, but it cuts into profits from the telephone system used to provide prisoner amenities.
In the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), 74 percent of revenue for prisoner’s amenities comes from the telephone system, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. The report is a public version of a prior report that was deemed law enforcement sensitive because it contained information about how cell phones were smuggled into prisons.
The Cell Phone Contraband Act of 2010 made it illegal to have cell phones in federal prisons. But despite the law, cell phone jammers, and technology to detect phones, cell phone use in prison is still growing.
In 2010, the BOP confiscated 3,684 cell phones from its institutions. Thirty-two percent of them were found in low, medium, or high security areas. The remainder was found in minimum security prison camps. In more secure facilities, the numbers had doubled from 2009.
The numbers show that there are obviously some problems keeping cell phones out. Corrections officials attribute the rise to the availability of small, low cost cell phones and the result of stricter searches.
Officials want prisoners to have contact with the outside world. It helps inmates maintain family and community ties. It also helps them reintegrate back into society when the time comes. What officials don’t want is for prisoners to do it illegally.
Using the prison telephone system, prisoners are usually limited to 15 minute phone calls. They pay six cents per minute for local phone calls and 23 cents for long distance phone calls. They can also call collect.