Contraband Cellphones Continue to Thwart Prison Officials

By: - April 26, 2017 12:00 am

South Carolina Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling, right, shows hundreds of cellphones that were seized in a single prison raid. Several states want to block cellular signals and make contraband phones useless to inmates.

© The Associated Press

The arrests of five New Jersey inmates this week highlights the ongoing struggles that prison officials face in combating contraband cellphones.

Prisoners generally are allowed to use phones, but only landlines, and only under the close supervision of prison officials. But it is illegal for inmates to possess cellphones, or for anyone to provide them with one.

Nonetheless, some prisoners are able to obtain cellphones, giving them easy access to the outside world — and the tools to commit crimes, from intimidating witnesses and coordinating escapes to running drug rings and putting hits on prosecutors.

The New Jersey prisoners, who were already serving time on child pornography charges at the Federal Correctional Institution-Fort Dix, were arrested Wednesday on charges that they used contraband cellphones and removable storage cards to distribute videos of child abuse.

The use of contraband cellphones for illicit scams inside prisons last year prompted 10 governors to ask the Federal Communications Commission for help in cracking down on it.

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.