What makes cell phones such a danger in prisons? Having an unmonitored link to outside world allows prisoners to influence events even while they are locked up. Cell phones are key to continuing gang activity, even ordering hits from inside their cell. Cell phones are also used to keep in touch with families, but it's a means of communication that can cost the inmate an additional year in prison.
In August of 2010 President Barack Obama signed into a law a ban on prisoner use of cell phones. This law came after a prison guard in Georgia was shot in his home. An inmate with a cell phone ordered the hit. But just how prevalent is the cell phone issue in most prisons? Well, let's look at the numbers.
According to Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the Federal Bureau of Prisons confiscated nearly 1,200 cell phones in just the first four months in 2010. California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation K-9, Drako, has enjoyed a four-and-a-half-year career and recently found his 1,000th cell phone hidden in an inmates sink plumbing. Overall, California prison officials reported a staggering number of confiscated cell phones last year. Almost 9,000 cell phones in total.
In prison, a cell phone can be sold at a steep price tag of $1,000. That's equivalent to one thousand $1-a-minute calls made from a prison phone.
In an interview with the Broward Palm Beach News, the former inmate said that "the vast majority (of cell phones) were used by inmates desperate to stay in touch with, and hold on to, their wives and children." He also says that "[the cost of phone calls] is the root cause of the cell phone problem in prisons."
Obama's ban on prisoner cell phones makes use of a contraband cell phone a felony, and the punishment results in up to an additional year of incarceration. This doesn't just affect the prisoner. Anyone found guilty of attempting to smuggle a cell phone into a prison gets the same up-to-a-year sentence.
And yet, prisoners keep on finding ways to get this cell phone contraband in. Drako, the cell phone finding canine, was the first dog in the state to be cross trained in cell phones and narcotics. Yep, this doggy can actually smell a cell phone. Following Drako's success, more dogs are intended to join the hunt for cell phones in prisons.
"He'll alert on a cell phone, he'll alert on a bluetooth, he's alerted on a laptop with a wireless card installed in it," reported his handler, Correctional Officer Brian Pyle. "What the actual chemical of it is, we don't know; There's a lot of different theories... I know it's not just the battery and I know it's not just the phone. He can find a battery and he can find a phone. Anything that's ever been attached to a cell phone, he can find it."