Corrections officers in the stateâ€™s 15 prisons have confiscated more than 1,000 cell phones this year smuggled behind bars by staff, contractors, visitors and other inmates. They are brought inside in the body cavities of inmates, visitors and staff; hoisted over prison fences; and even hidden in the diapers of prisonerâ€™s visiting children, said Oklahoma Corrections Department Director Justin Jones. The creativity and high value of the contraband behind bars in conjunction with the problems they create make cell phones not only a concern in state prisons, but a foremost security and safety issue for corrections officials nationwide. â€œItâ€™s a major security issue,â€ Jones said. â€œCell phones give inmates access to the freedoms prison is supposed to take away from them.â€ Earlier this month, convicted murderer Justin Lee Walker, 32, created a stir when a Facebook page he created was discovered to have pictures of him and other inmates with marijuana and liquor bottles in their cells. Walker posted pictures and comments to the social media site using a BlackBerry phone that was sneaked into the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite. Walker is serving a 30-year prison sentence for his involvement in the 2001 killing of Pawnee County Sheriff Dwight Woodrell. Walker subsequently was moved to the maximum-security Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where he is in solitary confinement alongside death-row inmates. Woodrellâ€™s widow, Karen Woodrell, said the communication access Walker had through his mobile phone allowed him to virtually get outside the prison walls and live as a free man, a chilling thought for her and her three children. â€œThere are victims of his crime out there whose wounds this is reopening,â€ she said. Possessing contraband in Oklahomaâ€™s prisons is a felony, and Walker could have more time added to his sentence. Penalties for bringing cell phones into prisons include up to two years in prison and a fine up to $2,500. Coordinated violence between gangs behind bars has been linked to communication through cell phones, Jones said. Several prisons in Oklahoma have been locked down because of the violence. Prison officials in Tennessee use cell-phone sniffing dogs to find the smuggled-in devices. Other states have tried to use a switchboard-type system that only allows registered phone numbers to be sent out from cell towers near prisons. The options are labor- and training-intensive and expensive, Jones said, and not as effective as jamming devices. â€œWeâ€™ve asked the Federal Communications Commission to promulgate a change of rules so prisons can purchase and use jamming devices,â€ Jones said. â€œThey do work.â€ Jones said the only way to stop cell phones from being smuggled into prisons is to make them useless behind bars. So far, the FCC has resisted, insisting that the devices have the potential to interfere with cell phones not inside the prison.Comments
Nationwide problemCult leader Charles Manson, who orchestrated a 1969 killing spree of seven people, including actress Sharon Tate, was found to have a flip phone in the confines of his maximum security cell in California this month. Officials at Corcoran State Prison discovered Manson had sent text messages and made calls before the phone was confiscated. In 2009, a death row inmate in Texas placed threatening telephone calls to a state legislator. Though such calls havenâ€™t happened in Oklahoma, the possibility worries Jones.