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The Problem of Cells in Cells

Contraband mobile phones present challenges – and danger – to Indiana prisons

The Problem of Cells in Cells

WISH-TV in Indianapolis recently aired an in-depth news segment on the proliferation of cell phones in Indiana state prisons. The piece quotes prison officials as saying that cell phones are the most dangerous piece of contraband in the corrections centers, largely because they facilitate other crimes. Yet, despite a department-wide initiative to reduce contraband cells, including using battery-sniffing dogs to discover concealed phones and implementing tough screening processes for workers and visitors, the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) continues to confiscate between 100 and 200 phones a month. They are still getting in.

Contraband cell phones are not unique to Indiana; in fact, as mobile device ownership among the general population approaches 100%, prisons and jails across the country fight an increasingly uphill battle against smuggled cell phones. Like in Indiana, most of the enforcement effort is focused on preventing phones from entering facilities, and confiscating them if found inside – controlling the “supply” of phones.

Another approach would be to try and reduce the demand for contraband phones.

The desire for legitimate communication with the outside world is only one motivation for using a contraband mobile phone in prison, and certainly doesn’t account for those inmates who use smuggled phones to conduct criminal activity. But it stands to reason that if there were ample and available legal means for offenders to communicate with their loved ones, the demand for illegal phones would decline to a certain degree.

Legitimate communication channels could include email and video visitation, two services JPay provides to DOCs across the country. Email is one of JPay’s most popular services, indicating that the demand to stay connected to communities on the outside through approved technology is high, even in Indiana. Video visitation offers the twin benefits of meeting the demand for more communication while simultaneously reducing the potential for contraband that comes with traditional visits.

The proliferation of contraband cell phones is not new; in fact, we’ve discussed it before here. If the prevailing DOC approach continues to emphasize the supply of illegal phones and not the underlying demand, this problem will likely continue.

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141 Comments

  1. Britanie

    December 13, 2014 - 3:44 am

    If you did something wrong or not and you ended up stuck in a dark tunnel with no way out…Wouldn’t you go insane? ??? what would calm you down? Your family’s voices…close loved ones….kids etc right?….seems to me communication from in there to out here will help make it a little easier…they in there dealing with alot already, why make it become more drama by taking that communication from them. Thats the only thing that keeps them a little sane.

  2. Shall

    November 10, 2014 - 3:45 pm

    We can all point the finger and say what is right and what is wrong, the debate will go on forever. What inmates should have and what they should not. One thing is for sure, no matter what luxuries that they have, please remember that they are not free and nothing can ever replace that. If most of us had to have a judge or jury for the things that we have done in our past, most of us would be locked up too. I am sure that you can find someone who disagrees with your choices or criticizes your every movement, if they had anything to say they would have you locked up. It is not so much about the inmates, it is about the families that they have left behind. How is this our fault? NOTHING can replace freedom!

  3. Laura

    November 5, 2014 - 4:02 am

    I meant should not be allowed to have

  4. Laura

    November 5, 2014 - 4:02 am

    I, having my son in a state prison, would have to agree that having anything such as a cell phone is a privilege. Seeing how the prisoners are not locked up because of any great acts of kindness either to the public or themselves cell phones are not a privilege that they should be allowed to have.

  5. becca

    October 14, 2014 - 2:13 pm

    I would say more then half of the.male an female population that is incarsersted all have drug problems and need to be in rehab why can’t won’t they help them to clean them selfs up give them all the tools they need to function in socity so they won’t go back an use the drugs keeping them behind bars is not helping them… and alot of them won’t and can’t talk to there loved one because the families don’t want to bother with them because of there drug problems…the phones in the prisons are the least of there worries..but if it helps them put there mind at ease knowing they have someone they can call and talk i don’t see a problem…they should worry about the more important things like feeding them healthy and rehabilatate so they can ajust and do something perductive with there life….they out back to the same old mess cuz thats all they know….and so the end up back in prison again because they get no help on the outs…my opinion…we need more schools not jails….,we need a system like Arizona…

  6. Eyes Wide Open

    October 10, 2014 - 8:38 am

    Yes, there is a solution to this problem, and many others in the system,in our schools,with our health care,oil prices and high priced food and our LAW that’s backed by some of the most honest men and women out there.. But As we All Know yes this blue collar corruption has been going on Moses was told to get the people out of Egypt. Power and Money

  7. moonglow18

    September 28, 2014 - 8:46 pm

    People wonder HOW cell phones get in. From my experience, they don’t come in thru VISITORS as visitors are THOROUGHLY searched. they come thru STAFF who aren’t THOROUGHLY searched….especially the officers!

  8. moonglow18

    September 28, 2014 - 8:44 pm

    ILLINOIS does not have Video chat even though Jpay has the service. Inmates having cell phones is NOT a good idea…most would be used for illegal activities and ENOUGH illegal activities goes on in the prisons already!

  9. Meghan

    September 27, 2014 - 5:51 pm

    Yes, prison is supposed to be a punishment and a learning lesson for people who think they can get away without abiding by the law like the rest of us have to. So I agree on a certain level that cellphones should not be permitted. But at the same time, the decision to fall back into the same life patterns is made while in prison. If inmates feel alone & like nobody is there for them, they’re definitely more likely to return to a life of crime bc it’s all they know. I think it would be a great idea for inmates to be given a cellphone with a limited number of contacts that must be approved by the prison. That would take care of the issue of them conducting criminal activity while on the inside but also help them get to a better place mentally with the ability to keep in contact w the people in their lives that want to help. The phone services provided for the prison are outrageously expensive and after so long, the inmates have a hard time getting their loved ones to keep money on them. And when it comes down to it, permitting or not permitting cell phones is not going to determine their likelihood to return. People do not commit crimes with the consideration of losing a cell phone. The thought doesn’t even cross their minds. Many inmates are imprisoned in facilities that are very far from home and their loved ones. It’s hard to drop everything to travel and visit. The only option is jpay’s email system and expensive phone calls. $5 for 15 minutes is just outrageous. And as great as email is, it’s just not the same as hearing a loved one’s voice. It’s hard on the family/friends of the inmate just as it’s hard on the inmate. As a taxpayer, I think our opinions should be seriously taken into consideration. I pay for my husband to be incarcerated, but can’t afford to keep in contact w him while he’s incarcerated? It’s just not right.

  10. Joe

    September 16, 2014 - 3:57 pm

    All this would be stopped just by implementing cellular jammers throughout the prisons.

  11. kim

    September 12, 2014 - 9:28 am

    The cost of calls should be lowered. The fact remains that while some may be using it to call be that they love others are using to get drugs into to jail and prisons.

  12. Gena

    September 11, 2014 - 11:47 pm

    I too understand that prison is punishment for crimes committed. But the 1st problem is the time given for what I would call petty crimes. Prison is supposed to be for “people unfit to remain in society.” In my way of thinking that would consist of child molesters, murderers, human trafficking, rapist, etc. Violent crime offenders. Instead the states send people to prison for multiple traffic offenses, petty drug related things, such as a person having something that they themselves use for their own personal entertainment. If a person is harming no one other than themselves, I see no crime being committed. Therefore prison shouldnt be even be in the picture. So there would be the first at downsizing the need for prisons. And even at that, if someone did end up committing a crime that deserved prison time, if that person has a spouse, and the spouse is willing to stay attached to said criminal, then yes allow a congenial visit ever so often, because people are human regardless, and being human requires human touch, without it, it fuels misery, which fuels anger, which fuels violence. I could go on and on but will sum this thought of mine up with… yes there are consequences to our actions, and if bad enough, then being locked away may be the punishment, but taking a person and treating them as if they are lower than an animal and stripping them of all dignity and rights they have is not right, nor has it proved to be effective, our prisons are still full, with a line a mile long everyday, waiting to go. So unless it is just a totally horrific crime against others, maybe rehabilation should be giving a try. I feel the results would be alot better. God says for us to help our brother when in need, not punish him. And we will all stand before Him soon, and no one will be above no one else. We will all be judged accordingly.So the people who feel they are the higher ups and have all this power over others now, should take a long hard look in the mirror, and think about whats coming, and maybe humble themselves before its upon us. May God bless all that have suffered unaccordingly.

  13. Tammy

    September 10, 2014 - 9:46 am

    I think inmates should be aloud cell phones in a controlled environment. let them use them then lock them up when they are done with a call. we allow them to become trustee’s and work having other privelages why not put a bit more faith in a convicted person that knows they made a mistake and has become a trusted person on the inside. and as for the collect calls trust me that can get very expensive and not all ppl can afford to talk to their loved ones threw those means. when you have some one incarcerated the only thing they have is the love and support of the ppl they love on the out side and the correction system dont even want them to have that. yes i said that … if they can be trusted to work and spend time in hobby shops you should show some compassion and let them be loved by their famlies…

  14. lww

    September 8, 2014 - 10:29 am

    Cell phones can be disruptive…but $15 for 15 minute phone calls is highway robbery! I almost lost my house trying to keep in contact with my daughter, when she was in Iowa DOC. The punishment doesn’t always fit the time for the crime. My son-in-law got 10-15 years for a drug offense and neighbors’ son got 4 and a half for attempted murder! Makes no sense!

  15. Renee thomas

    September 7, 2014 - 6:09 pm

    I would love to see my brother face because sometimes you can’t get a change to visit but you can talk on the web are the phone and that will be nice

  16. Carolyn

    August 27, 2014 - 12:12 pm

    Since the inmates can have MP3 Players and in some states the Tablet. Then WHY not let them develop a cell phone that is clear like everything else that they have (TV, Fan etc.)
    and make it so that the cell phones only allow the inmate to call from their approved phone number list.
    IC Solutions is the phone company that I have to use in the state of Kansas, and let me say that they rip us off so badly! it is 18 cents a minute to talk to him.
    I would gladly purchase a phone card for my husband for cheaper calls and with cheaper calls maybe we could speak more often.

  17. Kay

    August 23, 2014 - 8:51 pm

    Well as a former inmate of the Illinois Dept. of Corrections about 14 years ago now. I do understand the need to be able to communicate with the outside world it helps a lot of people in prison maintain their sanity. I don’t think allowing cell phones is the answer only because there will be some people who use it for the wrong reasons maybe to make calls to a victim or whatever.I think what the prison needs to do is make the phone calls free and not collect or pre payed and all that other stuff. Just be able to pick up a phone and dial someone’s number like everybody else in the free world. So this way people would be able to talk to families and children more often without stressing their loved ones about high phone bills. The calls could still be monitored like before.

  18. Barbara j Wilson

    August 21, 2014 - 6:56 am

    I personally don’t see the problem with cell phones for the inmates,I do not believe that all will use them for bad,a lot would use them to communicate with their loved ones,I know my poor mother and father spent alot of money on taking my brothers calls every weekend so my mother Could talk to him, broke my heart when she recently passed and he wasn’t allowed to come and say goodbye to her… shame on the system. may none of you lose a parent and not be able to say goodbye to them,there should be exceptions,there use to be and death is very final,these too are things or actions that cause inmates to act out. Not saying that’s ok just saying there should be exceptions to certain circumstances taking my Brother’s calls was expensive for my parents with both of them being retired and on a fixed income. Shame on the system….I see no problem with mates having access to cell phones after all you do have the ability to monitor what is going on.and the system in my opinion takes advantage of the people on the outside who need to communicate with our loved ones on the inside,why are we The family being punished for wanting communication with our loved ones it’s costly and unfair makes it hard to help them when it’s so expensive to help to keep their spirits up.

  19. Jeff

    August 16, 2014 - 8:03 am

    I just got out of Pickaway prison on the 9th, there is around 300 inmates in the unite I was in, and we had 6 phones to use. there is always 1 or 2 phones broke. you have to stand in line for over a hour just to use one. put more phones in each unite so we can call home.

  20. Valerie

    August 14, 2014 - 11:00 am

    Cell phones in prison could be limited to only be able to communicate with the people on the visitors list. They have the free ones that offer 250 min a month or 250 texts so they could get one of those block all numbers except those that are approved and once the 250 is done they wait till the following month or its collect. I don’t see the harm in that, a free for all call anyone anytime with unlimited amount is a bit much, but limited to who and how much I don’t see the issue with that.

  21. sarah

    August 13, 2014 - 1:48 pm

    hi everyone im new on here i think they should beable to have phones rather they did somethin wrong or not my bf is in roderer complex for no reason he is being blamed for doing somethin he did not do and i no he did not do it we been together since we were 15.

  22. Concerned

    August 12, 2014 - 12:32 pm

    Yeah, That’s it. Lets give the “kids” that are on “time out” lolly pops and ice cream.

    Prisoners should get no more than basic needs for survival. There is a reason they are there in the first place. This country was founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They Interfered with someone else’s ability to have that. To the person who commented about the outrageous prices on the phone calls: Who do you think pays for their free meals and lodging? The money has to come from somewhere. The increased revenue from Jpay services helps to fund services for the inmates and offsets law abiding taxpayer liability.

    If you don’t want to pay high prices for phone calls and email:
    DON’T BREAK THE LAW.

    I’ve spent time in prison. It’s not fun, but then again. Its not supposed to be fun. Its punishment. It sucks to have family in prison and not have the money to talk to them on the phone. Maybe they shouldn’t be there.

  23. schurronda wilcox

    August 10, 2014 - 5:24 pm

    Ok. Cut down cost of the phone calls!!!.Provide each inmate a cell phone. This will lower the crime within the prisons. The inmates would have something to look forward to. Its stressful to only be able to talk to your loved one 15 or 20 minutes per call. GTL is getting rich!!! Not acceptable!!!

  24. Mo

    August 7, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    As a retired CO for the state of CA and now having a husband incarcerated in the same state I feel that I can comment on many issues that are listed above. Cell phones are NOT allowed due to gang activity both inside and outside prison walls. Many people have been shot, killed, beaten as well as family members both inside and out because of cell phones. When my husband calls me a 15 minute call cost $2.07 and yes he calls MY cell phone (I have no land line). I live in a different state then CA. the key to this is to have an instate number.

  25. Nina

    August 4, 2014 - 9:21 am

    Having your freedom taken away is already a punishment.That in itself is enough.Prisons should NOT be about punishment but about REHABILITATION. So, allow emails, video visitation and use of controlled cell phone use or cheap pay phones.

    You need less frustration and violence in prisons and this is one way to ease that. Outsiders (family and friends) can help through to calm frayed nerves and quieten rebellious spirits. Some pets prove to be great allies too. There are lots of other factors, like introducing yoga programmes, etc.
    Basically, a lot of fuss about cell phones but there are types of cell phones that would not be of any danger at all.

  26. lwadeQ

    August 1, 2014 - 7:43 am

    The privatization of prisons by the state. Prison is dehumanizing it cripples the human mind and body and its effects remain for a lifetime. For those that don’t go insane or become emotional sterile, meaning “institutionalized.” Life after returning to their families or community is never the same, many are mentally incapacitated from the effects of what they have had to endure or see done to others to survive. For many it is the same a surviving a war. Only to come back into a society that further dehumanizes them by not recognizing their right to vote or feed their families by having a job, which ultimately destroys the family unit. To embroil you into the criminal justice system and once there, there you will remain, trapped in a system that cares little for you as an individual or a human. And, the true problem is that you never quit paying and never does your family. For those that do make it back sane to their families, the future is bleak….since they have received no true skills to return to the workforce, and no mental health services upon release to handle their past or new realities of their life (you must fit a criteria and a waiting list) many come back home with only the survival skills of a prison life. We must and can do better than this!!! Please contact your representatives and let them know that the privatization of prisons is not the answer.

  27. Trinnell hooks

    July 29, 2014 - 11:50 pm

    I think they should let them have cell phone I did talk to my husband in five weeks I need to talk to him and they need cell phone in cotton port

  28. steve jackson

    July 29, 2014 - 12:13 pm

    it only takes one bad apple to spoil the group. if inmates had cellphones many would continue their criminal activities behind bars.

  29. arona

    July 15, 2014 - 2:22 pm

    Mr. Hancock YOU should run for something your words were right on point and I wholeheartedly agree with you…

  30. arona

    July 15, 2014 - 2:17 pm

    I also agree with Kassina, if everyone had a pre-paid with certain numbers they can call it would help , I never understood why having certain things while imprisoned lessens your crime or the fact that you are locked up..like air condtioning….

  31. arona

    July 15, 2014 - 2:12 pm

    I so agree with Suzanne, it would help if the inmates that earn the privilege could have conjungal visits, I am in Texas and I am not aware of ANY prison in Texas that allows these visits. They lock these guys up take away all of their rights and expect good behavior?The whole system needs to be re-vamped sometimes I question the mentality of the ones that are running the prison system are they just so mean and heartless that they are not any better than the criminals that they imprison? and the inhumane treatment ?

  32. Danielle

    July 15, 2014 - 12:10 pm

    Are you kidding me? Has anyone learned from the mess that some inmates cause while incarcerated. There are murders in prison for a good reason and in the news in and in the papers we find inmates making calls to set up “a hit” sometimes on the people who got them put in prison for the crime the inmate committed. Thank God that the prison system records all phone calls inmates make. If inmates wee just allowed to walk around with the luxury of having a cell phone as we have in our everyday society then there would be a lot of danger in that because the calls would not be necessarily monitored and for the inmates that are crazy enough to try to set up others on the outside as inmates say. Then it would not be recorded on the calls I mean and many people could get hurt. The inmates that are in the prisons and jails are there for a good reason.

  33. marie stites

    July 11, 2014 - 6:51 pm

    If the inmate phones were not so expensive it mite help. Depending on how much you talk a cell phone can save you thousands a month. Plus the added bonus of being able to talk in private when ever needed. Im not talking anything illegal just emotional. When you can work through problems instead of having them get upset and end up in fights or other problems. They are a great asset. So seems to me they need to figure out a way they can have them and reap the benefits instead of trying to get rid of them.

  34. Dawn Edwards

    July 2, 2014 - 2:32 am

    I believe that all non-violent offenders should be offered cell phones to talk to their families!!! I also think they need to be separated from the violent ones that would try to use the cell phones to contact people other then family members to commit a crime on the outside with gang members. This whole system needs a complete overhaul!

  35. cheryl

    June 29, 2014 - 8:43 am

    I agree. I would gladly pay for my husband to have a cell phone with a few approved numbers to call, at a reasonable price.

  36. Klaus Joter

    June 19, 2014 - 9:33 am

    Fortunately here in Germany we see things different.
    First incarceration is a punishment and a determent of course.
    But secondly and more importantly it is a way to lead inmates back to be a good part of society and to realize what crime they committed. So for example, if an inmate shows good behavior and good results in his rehabilitation he is allowed to leave his jail during daytime in order to go to work. Or he can be visited by his family every week and he even can have sex with his partner in special rooms.
    In the US punishment somehow seems senseless to me as the sentences are much too high and the punishment is more a kind of revenge than an act of justice (as to be seen in the death penalty that is banned in whole Europe to be a barbarian and inhuman punishment).
    I guess the US need a substantial reform in their systems of justice as well as they did in their health care system.
    Ah – and by the way – I´m not a socialist or communist …

  37. Faye Harper

    April 5, 2014 - 1:15 pm

    Hi this is my first time on here and I find it interesting. If I may say as much money as we the taxpayers pay to house an inmate, they should have better food, free phone calls, personal needs (couple pair of shoes,coats, clothing and writing material) provided for them free once a year they are human and we pay big bucks to house them

  38. Patricia

    April 5, 2014 - 4:43 am

    My husband is an Inmate at DOC waiting to be sentenced to go upstate. I believe an inmate should be allowed cell phones but monitor the same way parental guidance application monitor a child’s phone there plenty different ways to minimize how many people are called as well as monitor who is called. They can can keep a list and track the phone calls there’s no excuse to why a prisoner would not be allowed to a cell phone in prison. The prisoner sound be allowed to have 3 numbers programed in the phone an only allow thoses three in an out. Record all calls to see if there is anything illegal going on. technology today is so advanced what I can see how anyone has not thought of this.

  39. Renee

    April 1, 2014 - 3:20 pm

    I think that access to communication is an issue. Whether that is prevented because there are not enough phones available at a certain time, the family can’t afford the exorbitant prices for a lot of contact, or the prison goes on “lockdown” and family isn’t allowed information. I’m not sure I agree that prisoners should freely have access to cell phones. My child would never touch one because he doesn’t want to lose visitation. However, the information that is received by the family of those who do have access or know someone with access who will do them a favor…..well, that is a miracle to that family. It keeps them sane. It keeps the inmate calmer if they know their mama isn’t worrying about them 24/7. There needs to be a solution that is “family friendly”. And as a post script, the lady who mentioned conjugal visits has a point. If husbands had access to an outlet, it would keep them connected to their families. The rules about touching in visitation is harsh. People need physical touch, that’s just a simple fact. Of course there are ppl who are sociopaths and nothing will change that. But that is the minority. Consider changes that help bring change and connection.

  40. Bob

    March 26, 2014 - 9:50 am

    One of the biggest reasons for wanting a cell phone is that phone calls cost way too much. Who would want to pay $7 for about 15 minutes only a few counties away? It’s even more when you call collect or out of state. It takes weeks to add someone to your phone list. You can’t call someone on most cell phones collect and the cost of a collect call on a cell phone is astronomical. Make a call cost about 25 cents and you’ll see a lot less of smuggled cell phones.

  41. Scarlett Richards

    March 18, 2014 - 5:51 pm

    I think cell phones with pre assigned numbers that are pre approved is a great idea! I also agree that these phone company’s that are charging these outrageous prices are just exploiting friends and families of these inmates. It isn’t like we can go to three and four different phone companies to get the best deal. then there is the problem of the calls that are disconnected for no reason, and we can’t do anything about it because we have to use this service if we want to talk to our loved ones. There need to be a overhaul of the whole system!

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