Mara Leveritt reports that a rising use of illicit cell phones in prisons has not bypassed Arkansas:
In 2010, the Arkansas Department of Correction confiscated 277 contraband cellphones inside the state’s prisons. Seventy-one percent of those phones, including two taken from guards, were found at the Varner Unit, which operates the system’s highest-security Supermax Unit.
The Times sought the cellphone information from ADC spokesman Dina Tyler in the aftermath of last month’s work stoppage by inmates in at least seven prisons in Georgia. Prisoners there claimed to have coordinated the days-long, nonviolent strike, in which they protested work and living conditions, by cellphones secreted throughout the system. Inmates reportedly had spent months building a a unified coalition using text messaging and word of mouth.
According to Tyler, it is a Class B felony for an Arkansas inmate to possess a cell phone, and for anyone, employee or otherwise, to furnish a cellphone to an inmate. It is a Class A felony if the inmate uses the device to escape or to further some other criminal activity.
President Barack Obama signed a law in August making possession of a phone or a wireless device in a federal prison a felony, punishable by up to a year of extra sentencing. Nevertheless, in the first four months of 2010, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reportedly confiscated 1,188 cellphones. And nearly 9,000 phones were confiscated in California’s state-run prisons during all of 2010.
While reporting the Arkansas figures, Tyler noted: “Cell phones are probably the biggest security threat we face. Inmates want cell phones so they can have conversations that aren't recorded...conversations that are out of our earshot. And that's not because they don't want us to hear about Aunt Betty's painful gout or Uncle Bill's tendency to drink too much.
“It's because they don't want us to hear what they are planning. Cases in point: our last three escapes were orchestrated with cell phones, including the 2009 escape from Cummins. Cell phones and inmates are a dangerous combination.”
Aside from Max: Punitively high rates to use prison telephones for communication with family and friends might also drive some inmates to alternative communication.