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ScissorTales: Prisons battle contrabrand cellphones

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: March 23, 2013

TEXAS officials hope new technology will help in the constant fight against contraband cellphones, a battle Oklahoma and other states are also waging. Devices installed at prisons near Beaumont and Beeville are designed to block calls to and from unauthorized phones. They'll also divert text messages, emails and Internet login attempts made from phones that aren't supposed to get behind prison walls.

Justin Jones, head of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, has said contraband phones present major security concerns. They can be used to coordinate violence between gangs behind bars, but also to help run criminal activity on the outside. Cellphones also allow inmates to make threats to witnesses.

One of California's most notorious killers, Charles Manson, has been busted at least twice for having a cellphone. In Oklahoma in 2010, a man serving 30 years for his part in the murder of a Pawnee County sheriff used a cellphone to post pictures and comments to Facebook, causing further pain for the victim's family.

A state senator in Texas got threatening calls from a death row inmate five years ago. In South Carolina, a corrections worker in charge of keeping contraband out of the prison where he worked was shot in a scheme devised by inmates using smuggled phones.

Possessing contraband in Oklahoma prisons is a felony, but the phones keep coming. Texas plans to use a system similar to that installed in a California prison in November. It's been a success thus far.

One problem: The Texas experiment covers only about 5,000 prisoners. The system holds about 30 times that number.

Signs of doubt

Anti-fracking activists have claimed that drilling using hydraulic fracturing methods creates negative environmental impacts. The University of Tennessee has offered to put that theory to the test in the most personal way possible: University officials want state permission to allow fracking on school property and will use the revenue generated to study its environmental impacts. Naturally, anti-drilling activists are opposed, claiming the proposal creates a conflict of interest. School officials would indeed benefit financially from drilling, but if fracking causes water and air pollution as critics claim, school officials would also live with those consequences. One would think the school's employees would therefore be more likely to acknowledge problems should their own drinking water become polluted. Typically, researchers making such claims don't actually live in affected areas. That anti-fracking activists are opposed to this proposal suggests they aren't as confident of their pollution claims as their propaganda would suggest.

No one really knows

Lucky for us here in Tornado Alley, forecasters can pinpoint developing severe weather and issue timely and accurate warnings of twisters on the ground. What they can't do is explain how busy a given tornado season will be. The usual line about climate change is that bad weather will increase in frequency and intensity. This was the politically motivated (as opposed to scientifically based) take on hurricanes after Katrina devastated New Orleans. But the predicted increase in major hurricanes has yet to develop. After a fast start last year, tornado outbreaks fizzled between May and August to the lowest level in the 60 years of record-keeping. Another tornado season is upon us. No one can say how things will go. Remember this when climate change alarmists extrapolate too much information from the season's first deadly tornado.

Real versus virtual

We're not the first to note that social media have affected a more ancient form of communication — actual human interaction. Generally, such criticisms can be dismissed as “back in my day” reminiscences, but a case in Steubenville, Ohio, will make even the most fervent social media fan flinch. In that community, two high school football players were convicted of raping a drunken 16-year old girl at a party. The event gained notoriety because of the callousness of other students. Many recorded the attack on their cellphones instead of intervening. Video and photos were posted online, and countless posts were made to gossip about the assault. Obviously, social media aren't to blame for the rape or for the nonintervention of witnesses. But it's disturbing that so many teens would limit their interactions to the virtual realm when real-world action was needed to thwart a crime.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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