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Cellphones are sought-after items in Oklahoma prisons, officials say

Inmates smuggling cellphones into Oklahoma prisons wasn't that big a deal 10 years ago. But today, cellphones have become one of the most sought-after contraband items in Oklahoma's prisons.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: November 11, 2012 at 9:11 pm •  Published: November 12, 2012

/articleid/3727847/1/pictures/1882394">Photo - PRISON: Security fence is pictured at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Okla., on Friday, January 4, 2008. BY SARAH PHIPPS, THE OKLAHOMAN
PRISON: Security fence is pictured at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Okla., on Friday, January 4, 2008. BY SARAH PHIPPS, THE OKLAHOMAN

What can be done?

Massie said the growing problem of contraband cellphones is being combated with shakedowns and other traditional measures.

He said other states are experimenting with technologies that prevent inmates with cellphones from placing outgoing calls — measures that appear to be working.

Prisons cannot simply “block the signal” to the entire area in and around the prison, Massie said, because it's against Federal Communications Commission regulations.

In Texas and California, the prison systems are using “managed-access devices,” which essentially intercept cellphone signals coming out of the prison and only allows approved phone calls to be made.

In both states, the company that provides phone service to the inmates is paying for the technology.

Texas has at least two prisons utilizing themanaged-access devices, and California has been using similar technology for even longer.

“We don't have anything like that in Oklahoma … no plans for anything right now,” Massie said. “But we're certainly keeping an eye on the situation.”

Texas prison officials cracked down on contraband cellphones after condemned killer Richard Tabler called a state senator with a mobile device and threatened him.

It was later discovered that other Texas death row inmates had used cellphones to call the outside world they'd been so carefully isolated from.

As for why contraband cellphones are proliferating in Oklahoma, Massie said it's a combination of factors — not just a monetary issue.

“I also think you're getting a generation of people who are used to cellphones,” Massie said. “They get to prison, some of them, they want to have that cellphone still. More people have cellphones than landlines now … so it's not surprising.”


Associated Press

by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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