JPay Blog

Cell Phone Smuggling

The smuggling of contraband items has become something of an art form in prisons around the world, albeit a somewhat corrupt one. The ingenious creativity of prisoners trying to sneak forbidden things into their jails is often so impressive that television and movie producers often find themselves “borrowing” their ideas and methods in the pursuit of their own “fictionalized” tales.

Historically, these contraband items have included weapons, drugs, alcohol, pornography, and coded messages.  But there is a “new” contraband that is shooting up the charts in prison popularity: cell phones.

In California prisons alone, nearly three thousand cell phones were confiscated from inmates, which is approximately two times as many phones as were taken last year.

Cell phone smuggling has started to become a pretty lucrative endeavor. One correctional officer in Solano, California, who was caught smuggling cell phones (and tobacco) into the prison in 2008, has admitted that he made about $100,000 doing so. And at the California Rehab Center, where approximately 150 cell phones were found last year, prisoners been known to pay between $250 and $350 per cell phone.

Often the phones will get passed from inmate to inmate, with each having their own SIM card, which stores a user’s phone numbers. Unlike communications over prison phone lines, conversations on cell phones cannot be recorded by prison authorities. Indeed they can be quite the forbidden luxury.

Some prisoners are simply dialing friends, associates, and loved ones. But prison officials believe that many inmates are using cell phones to plan drug buys, gang hits, and even escapes.

Sometimes they have been used for the most nefarious and even deadly purposes. For example, in a Maryland prison, a murder suspect has been accused of using a contraband cell phone to plan the 2007 murder of an important witness.

As phones have gotten smaller and smaller, it is becoming more challenging for officers to keep inmates form smuggling them into their respective facilities. One way they have combated this issue is with trained dogs that can sniff them out as if they were illegal drugs.

But here is a cell phone smuggling technique that it’s fair to say no prison official ever anticipated…

In San Paulo, Brazil, inmates have been training carrier pigeons to fly phones over the prison walls… Ingenious!  But one can’t help but to wonder how much these inmates would be able to achieve if they applied their ingenuity toward more legitimate ends.