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'Cell' phones now a problem in Arkansas


'Cell' phones a problem in Arkansas

Mara Leveritt reports that the Arkansas Department of Correction confiscated 277 contraband cell phones in prison units in 2010, about a quarter of them in the Varner Unit, which operates the top security Supermax Unit. Leveritt sought the information following reports that Georgia inmates had coordinated a work stoppage with hidden cell phones.

It's a felony for an inmate to possess a cell phone and for someone to supply one to a prisoner. Spokeswoman Dina Tyler said: "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."Beebe's blackbirds

When thousands of blackbirds fell dead New Year's Eve over Beebe, it became an international sensation. It was a slow news time. And, well, it was weird.

Columbia Journalism Review rounded up the headline funny business the bird story generated and various angles on the story taken by media outlets. Mentioned prominently was KATV in Little Rock, which had a segment featuring calls to the Beebe police dispatcher that night. A sample exchange between the calm dispatcher Mary and a concerned citizen:

Caller: "I don't know if this is silly or not but..."

Dispatcher: "You've got birds everywhere?"

Caller: "Yes."Organizing prison guards

Prison guard unions have become powerful political players in other states — California particularly — but have not existed in Arkansas until recently. But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees started a chapter representing Arkansas prison guards about six months ago and it now has about 100 members, a tiny percentage of the workforce. But the union is already at work gathering information, somewhat to the bosses' discomfort.

For example, the union has learned that the state Correction Department doesn't automatically pay all overtime when incurred, instead doling out accumulated hours on an irregular basis, often quarterly. According to a recent accounting, guards systemwide were owed more than $10 million for holiday work hours and about $1.8 million for accrued overtime pay. Reportedly, some guards sometimes quit their jobs so they can be paid overtime accumulations, then apply for their old jobs again. The issue could become a subject for legislative discussions this year.

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