Prison officials crack down on inmates smuggling cell phones

Lawton_Cell phones are increasing in number, and in addition to teens being ardent users, prisoners are trying to get their hands on them.  Most prisons and jails prohibit cell phones, which officials consider contraband since cell phones enable inmates to potentially commit crimes on the street - even when incarcerated.

Prisons across the country - including the Lawton Correctional Facility of GEO Group - say that they are confiscating cell phones at an alarming rate.  Some inmates have cell phones because they would like to keep in touch with family and friends, while others use them to continue their criminal activity, which can lead to inmates harming each other, prison guards, and former victims.

Warden of Lawton's GEO Correctional Facility, David Miller, says it isn't hard for inmates to get cell phones.  "Often times we'll find a cell phone because a victim will call and say, 'I just heard from this person.'  In a correctional facility, anytime you open a door there's a chance there's something not authorized coming through."

It is a possibility that those who enter the building could be bringing contraband along with them - anyone from visitors to corrupt staff.  "They're subject to disciplinary charges, and also, during the last legislative session, it was made where it is a misdemeanor now to bring in or possess a cell phone in a correctional facility without authorization," says Miller.

Those bringing cell phones to inmates sometimes do so to make money, however, prisoners often use them for economic advantage.  Inmates sell phones, or minutes, to prisoners who don't have them - this can cause big trouble for security guards.  "They also give the ability for the inmate population to communicate outside the facility that is not monitored."  It is easier for prisoners with cell phones to make drug deals in prison, make gang connections, and plot escapes, which is why GEO guards consistently search for them.  "We search, we watch, we gather intelligence - we're searching 24 hours a day," Miller says.

When guards or staff do find cell phones, they attempt to determine who the inmate contacted or texted.  However, inmates are cautious - they typically keep their sim cards on their body, or install a lock code on their phone.  Miller says that some inmates hide phones in plain sight, in walls, and even in body cavities.  Some prisons have such a prolific cell phone problem that they have begun to bring in dogs to sniff them out.

Prisons across the country say they are recovering cell phones from younger prisoners who are typically accustomed to having them available at all times.