A Smartphone Is a Prisoner's Best Friend

A recent prison strike orchestrated by an inmate with a cell phone has touched off a debate about how to stop them from getting in. Prisoners can post pictures on Facebook and arrange drug deals. Even Charles Manson had one!

The Times today has a story that examines the many ways prisoners can obtain cell phones on the inside — "the modern-day file inside a cake." The source for the story was "Mike," an inmate at Georgia's Smith State Prison, who said, simply, "Almost everybody has a phone." And most of those are smartphones, which makes it easy for inmates to have cigars and seafood delivered to them, and to keep in touch with the outside. But how do they get them in (besides the really old-fashioned way)?

In South Carolina, where most prisons are rural and staff members have to pass through X-ray machines and metal detectors, smugglers resort to an old-fashioned method - tossing phones over fences.

They stuff smartphones into footballs or launch them from a device called a potato cannon or spud gun, which shoots a projectile through a pipe. Packages are sometimes camouflaged with a coating of grass, which makes them hard for guards to detect. The drops are coordinated through texts or calls between inmates and people outside, said Jon Ozmint, director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, which confiscates as many as 2,000 cellphones a year.

Even if officers intercept 75 percent of the packages, Mr. Ozmint said, that is still a lot of contraband getting in.

Indeed, there is a lot of contraband still getting in. But noting, even phone-sniffing dogs, are fool-proof. And jamming phone signals violates the Communications Act of 1934. The best option so far has been used in Mississippi, where a "managed access" system around prisons requires any text or call coming in to be approved. Or, the prison system could just throw in the towel and get into the smartphone app game: "People outside of prison become addicted to their phones... Can you imagine if you had nothing but time on your hands?" the publisher of iPhone Life magazine told the paper. Oh, the moneymaking opportunities! They could even help defray the mounting costs of our ridiculously overcrowded prisons. Think about it, prison overlords.

[NYT; Image via AP]