Tag Archives: commissary

Working The Jailhouse Black Market

A fascinating article about how contraband cell phones facilitate the prison black market economy. An economy in which even some of the guards are participants. As the article states, “a $20 basic phone earns the guards that sell it an easy $400 to $500…But if you use the phone and sell time off of it to the other inmates, you’ll make your money back in one month.” As we have written before, wireless airtime is the new prison currency.

There is a long and sordid tradition of business going on in American prisons.

The isolated consumer base, the high demand for goods, the excruciatingly limited supply — it’s a hothouse of entrepreneurial finesse, extreme risk — and obscene returns.

The biggest selling items behind bars have always offered a slice of escape. Not a file, or a schematic of the pipes leading outside the gates, but an instant of abandon allowing an inmate to forget about his life and to live outside the walls, if only in his mind.

Until recently that meant drugs, and the slippery trick of allowing the mind to believe it was someplace else, but that has changed.

There are still drugs in prison, but now there’s a better escape that for the enterprising and charming convict may even generate a source of monetary return: smart phones. It’s no secret, prison cell phones are in the news and we wanted to see what we could find out.

To learn more about the “hustle,” what inmates call any moneymaking scheme in prison, we rented a P.O. Box and sent off letters to a handful of American prisoners. Among others we heard from Leon Kingsley (not his real name) who eventually talked to us on a smart phone away from the prying eyes and ears of penal officers. Kingsley says that a $20 basic phone earns the guards that sell it an easy $400 to $500. Kingsley sent us the pictures here to prove what he says is the truth.

“And the police will do it, too, because they get paid very little,” Kingsley, who’s serving a 10-year state sentence and 110-month federal sentence, says “But if you use the phone and sell time off of it to the other inmates, you’ll make your money back in one month.”

“There’s a lot of money in here…a lot of money you can make. If you have a good officer, you can make $4,000 or $5,000 a week.”

If the phone has wireless capabilities, it can cost the prisoner — or their people on the outside — as much as $1,000. With high-speed internet access, Kingsley says the inmates will make Facebook accounts, “meet girls and get them to send money.”

For $50, the inmates can purchase 15 hours of phone time, typically broken up to an hour a day, 30 minutes at a time. Although most inmates use these precious moments to call friends and family, there’s also the opportunity for convicts to contact co-defendants and witnesses — such as the alarm caused when authorities found unauthorized cell phones in convicted serial killer Charles Manson’s property.

Through what Kingsley calls “word on the street,” prisoners usually know which guards will help them bring in contraband, the same way that civilians who want illegal goods know where to go and who to ask.

“You just try them up, you have to get talking to them,” he says.

If the officers agree to deal, the inmates have cash sent in.

Aside from cell phones, anything that you can’t buy at the prison store (commissary) has value on the inside.

Kingsley says a can of Bugler tobacco — which goes for around thirty bucks — can be broken down and sold for $1,200. An ounce of pot that costs $100 “on the streets” will go for $600 or $700 behind bars.

“There’s the weed man, the meth man, whatever you want. And your friends will tell you these things.”

In order to conduct business with one another, the prisoners have credit cards — most of them use Green Dot Reloadable prepaid cards, which their loved ones can purchase at drugstores.

Once the people “on the outside” purchase money packs to put on the prepaid cards, they’ll receive a security code, and the people “on the inside” can use these codes to purchase whatever they want. Their sellers will then call a 1800-number, “give them the code” and have the money downloaded onto their own credit cards.

“A lot of stuff in here is run by the gangs…there’s the Mexican gangs, the Bloods, the Crips. They all run their own shit. They keep their business pretty good and they don’t F*** each other over.”

“They always say that they were already in gangs before coming into prison, but a lot of them are weak people forming up with others so no one runs them over.”

“I mean, I’m not in a gang and I do fine,” he says.

When you’re involved with anything illegal — even if you’re already in jail — you run the risk of “catching” new charges, but Kingsley says he “hasn’t seen it getting done.”

When he was caught with a phone, Kingsley tells us he received a written a disciplinary report (DR), which required him to go to the prison court.

With a D.R. citation, Kingsley says the officers might restrict your commissary privileges, deny you from making legitimate phone calls or receiving mail for 90-days, but most likely, the offender won’t catch new charges because the officers try to “sweep it under the rug.”

“They know the cops are bringing it in, not the prisoners. And they don’t want news of that getting out.”

Kingsley says the officers will do a “clean up,” where they check the cells, twice annually, and confiscate anything unauthorized. This gets expensive for inmates so they hide their contraband, like phones, in food and in “places where [they’ve] cut into the walls,” under boxes and inside furniture if they can manage to take it apart.

“It’s a constant racket for officers to make more money really, because they’ll take our stuff so we can sneak in more stuff and pay them all over again.”

Kinsley shares an open cell with 40 other people. He has about five years left to serve on his sentence.


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Cell Phones in Federal Prison

Update (4/14): The DOJ just announced that it will require Federal Bureau of Prison halfway houses to boost services for inmates prior to release. The new rules also instruct federal work release facilities to provide cell phone access in order to help inmates seek employment opportunities.

This blog post written by Seth Ferranti, a Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate, provides an inside view of the problem of contraband cell phones in federal prison. As we have written, the problem of cell phones smuggled into prisons is dealt with entirely through a supply-side strategy meant to stop the flow of contraband wireless devices into the prison and increase the penalties for being caught with a smuggled phone.

The impact of this strategy, when effective, is to raise the value of the contraband in prison. As the article states, “All this succeeded in doing was making the prices for cell phones in prison skyrocket. Prisoners were still getting them in and using them. If you had the money you could buy one. Instead of just one prisoner having a phone, prisoners started grouping together, so that five prisoners might buy, keep and use one phone. It was more economical that way, with cell phones now going for upwards of $1500.”

As the blog post states, the airtime on cellphones has also become a new form of prison currency.

Providing prisoners, especially minimum security detainees, with a controlled and secure prison cell phone such as the meshDETECT solution will siphon off the predominant use of the contraband phones for communication with loved ones. Combined with the supply-side strategy, this demand-side approach will lower the value of the contraband wireless phones, eliminate airtime as prison currency and reduce recidivism.

Cell phones are more common in prison than you would think. All across the country in our nation’s prisons, prisoners are using cell phones to run their criminal enterprises, conduct business and stay in contact with their families. The smuggling of cell phones into prisons as contraband items has become a big and profitable business for guards and correctional officers who are quick to take advantage and make a dollar. The federal government is taking notice by enacting new and stiffer penalties for both guards and prisoners alike when they get caught with cell phones in prison. To the security conscious prison administrators, cell phones in prison are an epidemic that they are desperately trying to curtail. But with the large amounts of money changing hands for the contraband items the temptation will always be there for both guards and prisoners.

I have been in prison in the federal system for 19 years. Personally I have never had a cell phone or attempted to get one but being in the prison environment I have seen, heard and witnessed what has happened with cell phones over the years and I can relate my experiences to you. For informational purposes only of course. I first experienced the cell phone epidemic in 1999 when I transferred to FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey, a low security prison. Right when I got there, a dude I will call Jeff, approached and asked me if I needed to make a call. He went on to explain that the first call was free, but any call I made after that was three books of stamps, or about $15 at the time. I politely declined, because I did not know the dude and it was my first time in a low security prison. I had heard all types of stories of dudes going down to the lows and getting busted and set up for this type of thing, so I avoided Jeff.

But after I had been on the compound for a while I found out Jeff was a stand up guy and cell phones were his hustle. He had been at the camp at Fort Dix before and had an elaborate scheme where one of his homeboys would toss the phones over the fence of the low at a prearranged spot and Jeff would pick them up and sell them for about $200 to 300 on the compound and charge dudes $15 for unmonitored and unlimited calls. It was his hustle and his hustle was good. At the time the consequences of getting caught with a cell phone were not that serious. It was only considered a 300 series or minor shot, but that would soon change.

I got sent back up to a medium-high security institution shortly after that for writing an article in Don Diva Magazine that called for the United States to stage the drug war crime trials, where prosecutors and federal judges would be put on trial for crimes committed against the citizens of the United States, and in the medium-highs the cell phones were less prevalent, but still there. They were going for about $500. I was at FCI Fairton and a lot of the Mafia guys had cell phones. I had a lot of friends in camps and they were calling my wife on their cell phones regularly and talking to her and telling her to tell me hello. I even had some of their numbers on my prison monitored phone list. I would call them at the camp and see what was up. They would tell me I needed to get to a camp pronto. That was life in the feds. With the consequences for cell phones being minor, everyone, especially those at a camp (a minimum security prison) had one. That didn’t last long though.

With the epidemic reaching epic proportions the Bureau of Prisons acted decisively and changed the shot for cell phones from the light 300 series to a much more serious 100 series, which was the highest severity. They started writing prisoners, who got caught with cell phones 100 series shot and throwing them in the hole and transferring them. This was a big change, because for the 300 series shot, prisoners would lose their commissary for 30 to 60 days, but for the 100 series shots, they would get thrown in the whole for 60 days, lose 41 days good time plus phone, commissary and visiting privileges for six months. On top of that they would lose their camp status and be transferred to a higher security and much more restrictive prison.

All this succeeded in doing was making the prices for cell phones in prison skyrocket. Prisoners were still getting them in and using them. If you had the money you could buy one. Instead of just one prisoner having a phone, prisoners started grouping together, so that five prisoners might buy, keep and use one phone. It was more economical that way, with cell phones now going for upwards of $1500. Plus the Bureau of Prisons got crafty and started removing the Sims cards and all the info off them from the cell phones when they found them and ran the info against numbers on a prisoner’s monitored phone account, so that they could write them shots and throw them in the hole off the circumstantial evidence. So now, you don’t even have to be busted with the cell phone, if the number of your people is on there and they can match it up to your prison phone account or visiting list numbers they will write you a 100 series shot and throw you in the hole. But all this hasn’t stopped anything.

In 2006, I transferred to FCI Loretto in Pennsylvania and they had several guards bringing in cell phones, text messagers and even Smart Phones. Prisoners were going on the Internet, posting on Myspace and Facebook, texting their friends and families, even snapping photos and posting them on the social networking sites, all from prison. The phones were going for $500 to 800 and a lot of dudes had them. The SIS staff, who were in charge of prison investigations, were going nuts trying to find out who had the phones. They knew some of the Mafia guys had phones and went on a rampage, shaking down and ripping apart the lockers and rooms of anyone with an Italian surname.

There was one crazy guy from Boston, who used to send photos of his penis, a la Brett Favre, to girls he would meet on Myspace and Facebook. The girls would send back images of their private parts, which the dude would show to all his friends. The girls had no idea this guy was in prison. He never got busted or caught with the phone but other dudes did. It became a regular occurrence to get caught with a phone.

Nowadays the feds are giving prisoners caught with phones outside cases. I was just in the hole last spring here at FCC Forrest City in Arkansas with a dude who got busted with two cell phones. He got an outside case and got three more months on top of his sentence. He told me that even for two cell phones he could have only got six more months, but he was in the hole for almost nine months going to court for the case and was eventually transferred to a higher level prison and he got his phone privileges taken for five years. But he said it was worth it because when he was on the compound he had a sweet hookup similar to the one I described above with Jeff and he told me he was making a killing selling the cell phones and had his money stacked. But the feds and BOP aren’t playing when it comes to these phones, still they can’t do anything to stop them.

A certain rapper dude, whose name I won’t disclose, but was in prison with me, allegedly had a cell phone the whole time he was in prison. He was conducting his business, making plans and finalizing the deal on his new reality TV show. When his phones were found in searches and shakedowns, he would just place an order for another one and he would have it within two or three days, paying up to $1500 for it. One time they found two iPhones in his stash spot, but he didn’t sweat it. He had another one by the end of the week. But this is just hearsay and word on the pound, so who knows if it’s true.

The administration here seems to think that cell phones are coming in through the visiting room and they have changed up the whole visiting room policies because of this. My whole bid I have been able to hold my wife’s hand during visits, now due to the administration here saying that cell phones are coming in through the visits I can’t hold hands with my wife in the visiting room anymore. I can only hug and kiss her when she enters and leaves; the rest of the visit is no contact. They have even gone so far as to say that kids can’t sit on their father’s laps during visits. They are saying that there is no touching allowed at all.

It’s crazy times in the feds. I am glad that I will be out in the next couple of years, because it is only getting worse in here. The prison establishment knows their guards are bringing in the contraband but they blame us and make our families and loved ones suffer. Recently someone offered to sell me a cell phone for $1500, but I declined. I don’t need the trouble.


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Cell Phones Are A Lucrative Form Of Contraband

According to the article below about legislative initiatives in Maryland to increase the penalties for smuggling, possessing or receiving contraband cell phones in prison, “Cell phones are a lucrative form of contraband because, unlike drugs, they have a significant and perpetual resale and rental potential and value.”

With a change of mindset, cell phones can also be lucrative form of commissary revenue for prisons. By deploying a secure prison cell phone solution with all the controls and forensic capabilities of traditional prison payphones, prisons can reduce the demand for contraband cell phones while tapping into a new source of revenue that will offer welcome relief to over-stretched prison operating budgets.

Keeping cell phones and other electronic devices out of the hands of inmates and punishing those prisoners found with such contraband is the aim of two bills that have recently been the subject of committee hearings in the General Assembly.

Cell phones have been a problem at state prisons, especially in metropolitan areas.

The problem isn’t as severe at prisons located in rural areas because friends and relatives can’t simply hand cell phones through fences or toss them over the walls as easily, prison officials have said.

“Cell phones are a lucrative form of contraband because, unlike drugs, they have a significant and perpetual resale and rental potential and value,” according to a fiscal and policy note to the bills prepared by the Department of Legislative Services.

The contraband phones have been implicated in a prisoner’s arrangements for a hit on a witness in the prisoner’s murder case and in transactions involving a prison-based drug ring, officials said.

House Bill 587 increases penalties for possession of or receiving a cell phone or other device for prisoners and for delivering or attempting to deliver a cell phone to a prisoner.

Delivering the device to a prisoner would result in a stiff misdemeanor sentence of up to three years on a first offense and become a felony with a nonsuspendable five-year sentence on second offense, along with fines.

A prisoner caught with a device would face a nonsuspendable felony sentence of five years and a fine of up to five years. The sentence would be consecutive to any sentence the person is already serving.

Senate Bill 669 and the companion bill, House Bill 1086, would take away good-time credit permanently for prisoners caught with a prohibited device.

Good-time credits reduce a prisoner’s sentence for every day that he serves without infractions against prison rules.

Cell phones have become a big safety issue in prisons, Gary Maynard, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has said. Cell phones smuggled into prisons can be used to coordinate illegal activities outside the prison walls and plan escapes and attacks on corrections staff and other inmates.

Two thousand cell phones have been confiscated in Maryland prisons since 2008, according to the department.

The cell phones can be found hidden anywhere, including the bodily orifices of inmates, Maynard said.

The department is using the latest technology, including cell phone-sniffing dogs, to get cell phones away from inmates. The dogs have sniffed out 500 cell phones found since 2008. The dogs also offer something of a psychological deterrent, Maynard said.

“When they walk down the hallway, the cell phones fly,” Maynard said.

The department has a $1.2 billion operating budget and supervises 22,000 inmates in 22 prisons and 70,000 individuals on probation and parole, among other duties.


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Prison Cell Phone As Commissary Item? Why Not?

This article about contraband cell phones in the West Virginia prison system begins, “The latest iPhone won’t be among the items in any West Virginia prison’s commissary. In fact, no cellphones will be there.”

What’s interesting is that there really is no reason why cell phones shouldn’t be a commissary item. As long as it a secure prison cell phone with all the controls and security offered by the traditional prison wall phones now used in correctional facilities large and small across the country. Is there something inherently more secure about the fact that a jail phone is hung on a wall? In fact, these prison payphones have security issues all their own because they require prisoner movement in order to be accessed.

The usual justification for banning contraband cell phones is that prisoners use them to harass people, however a spokesman for the FBOP states in the article, “If an inmate gets a smartphone or a cellphone inside the institution, usually they won’t be using the phone to harass victims or the community. They want to keep it as quiet as possible. By harassing someone, obviously, that person will go to the authorities and we’ll find (the phone).”

We agree that contraband cell phones should be banned for all the reasons usually given when this issue is discussed, but as long as a prison-approved cell phone has all the controls, security and forensic capabilities of a prison wall phone, why not offer it in the commissary? Easier and more frequent telephone access means more revenue for the prison and more connection to families for the prisoners.

The latest iPhone won’t be among the items in any West Virginia prison’s commissary.

In fact, no cellphones will be there.

It is illegal for West Virginia inmates — from those in local jails to federal lockup — to possess a cellphone. That means no texting, no snapping casual photos from the prison gym and no Angry Birds. Wardens also nix Internet access, although federal inmates have access to an email system they can use to message people who have approved the contact. But that doesn’t mean inmates don’t find ways around the warden’s rules. An inmate at FCI Morgantown will spend another three months behind bars for having a cellphone inside the Green Bag Road correctional facility.

Daniel Johnson, 21, pleaded guilty to possession of a prohibited object and was sentenced before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Kaull earlier this month, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld.

The state Division of Corrections (DOC) seized 16 cellphones from inmates in 2011, officials said. The same year, 3,684 cellphones were confiscated in federal prisons across the country, according to news reports. Figures were not available on the number of cellphones seized at local federal correctional facilities, but, according to U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld’s office, nine federal inmates in West Virginia were charged with cellphone possession in 2011.

Any state inmate caught with a cellphone or other communication device can be convicted of a felony and made to serve one to five years in prison or, in the judge’s discretion, up to one year in jail, per state code.

Anyone who provides a cellphone to a state inmate can be convicted of a misdemeanor and made to serve up to one year in jail.

Smuggling a cellphone into a federal correctional facility or being a federal inmate in possession of a cellphone is punishable by up to one year in prison, according the U.S. Attorney’s office.

State Regional Jail Authority officials said they didn’t catch a single inmate with a cellphone last year.

Despite national news reports that inmates are using smartphones to access the Internet and harass their victims via social networking sites, state officials say they haven’t heard of any inmates doing that here.

Chris Burke, spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), said most inmates just want cellphones to communicate with the outside world without prison officials knowing what they’re talking about. Calls made from prison and jail phones are monitored.

“If an inmate gets a smartphone or a cellphone inside the institution, usually they won’t be using the phone to harass victims or the community,” Burke explained. “They want to keep it as quiet as possible. By harassing someone, obviously, that person will go to the authorities and we’ll find (the phone).”

Cellphone smuggling hasn’t become much of a problem in West Virginia’s jails and prisons because of poor cell service.

“The West Virginia Division of Corrections does not seize a lot of cellphones in comparison to states with more urban and suburban areas with greater cellular signal coverage,” a DOC statement said. “This may change in some areas of the state as cellular coverage improves. However, certain areas of the state in which we have correctional facilities are somewhat remote and others are located in areas which fall within federal ‘quiet zones’ and, in these areas, we would not anticipate any increases in the foreseeable future.”

Federal regulations restrict cellphone and radio signals in the area around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank to minimize interference with satellites, according to the observatory.

Inmates at regional jails and state prisons also have no Internet access. Federal inmates can only use an approved email system.

“It would do nothing but cause problems,” Regional Jail Authority Chief of Operation John Lopez said.


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Inmates Caught With Cell Phones To Lose All Privileges

An article discussing the steps the Mississippi DOC is taking to address the supply of contraband cell phones in its prisons. According the Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, “Cell phones are the biggest contraband items that we have. It’s a national problem in corrections.”

The article also discuss the managed access wireless signal jammer installed at the Parchman facility. The system has blocked about 1.8 million illegal cell phone calls and text messages. The system recently was upgraded to manage 3G technology, and a full-time managed access technician has been hired to maintain and monitor it.

The sheer volume of phone calls intercepted speaks to the fact that the vast majority of usage is most likely inmates communicating with family and loved ones. While smuggled cell phones are used for criminal activity, it is clear that a significant percentage, if not most, of the 1.8 million calls intercepted are not made with criminal intent. We believe there is a significant revenue, safety and behavior management opportunity in offering a secure prison cell phone solution to address this unmet desire for enhanced communications with friends and family.

Download our whitepaper to learn how the meshDETECT solution works.

State prisoners caught with cell phones or any cell phone component in Mississippi will soon face harsher punishment.

Loss of six months’ trusty time already is among the penalties.

But starting next month, “Zero Privilege Units” will begin at each of the state’s three prisons.

Inmates caught with cell phones will lose all privileges. Also, they won’t be allowed to purchase items from the commissary, the prison store, and they won’t be allowed to use the regular prison phone.

“We realize we have a problem and we are doing something about it,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said. “This will send a strong message.”

MDOC’s confiscation of at least 3,400 cell phones from inmates and Facebook pages created using smartphones from behind prison walls are behind the increased discipline, despite best efforts to keep cell phones out.

Cell phones are “the biggest contraband items that we have,” said Epps, who has been cited nationally for his efforts to prevent illicit use of cell phones in the country’s correctional facilities. ” It’s a national problem in corrections.”

Over the last two years, at least two murderers were updating their Facebook pages from behind prison walls in Mississippi using smartphone technology on cellphones smuggled into them.

Last year, MDOC had 70 Facebook pages deactivated.

In October, MDOC officials contacted Facebook’s corporate office and asked that murderer Jonathan Davis’ account be deactivated.

Until that point, Davis, 27, had been on the page and updating it since he arrived at the State Penitentiary at Parchman in 2004. Davis was convicted of 2002 capital murder in Lauderdale County.

In November 2010, MDOC officials also had another convicted killer’s Facebook page deactivated.

William Joseph Hogan, 30, had been corresponding on his Facebook page since he was sent to prison in 2009. Hogan was convicted of the 2008 murder of his wife in DeSoto County. Family members of the victim alerted prison officials to Hogan’s Facebook page.

Around the country, there have been reports of inmates using Facebook to contact victims, make sexual advances, or in some cases, to plan crimes.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes has said the social networking site will work with law enforcement and other officials to shut down inmate Facebook pages.

Janice Howard, whose son was killed in 2007, said she applauds Epps’ efforts to get cellphones out of the hands of inmates.

“No, they shouldn’t have that right. They gave up the right by the crimes they committed,” Howard said.

Shawn States, 25, the man who killed Justin Howard and his friend, Antoine Reece, was convicted in 2010 of two counts of capital murder and is serving two life sentences without parole.

In August 2010, MDOC launched the first cell phone detection/management system in the nation at Parchman. The managed access system intercepts all incoming and outgoing cell phone signals and allows prison authorities to manage calls that are not allowed and those that are allowed by pre-entering the allowed cell phone numbers in the system.

Since its installation, the system has blocked about 1.8 million illegal cell phone calls and text message, Epps said. The system recently was upgraded to manage 3G technology, and a full-time managed access technician has been hired to maintain and monitor it.

MDOC is actively working with the vendor to install a manage access system at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl and South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville.

Epps said MDOC has undertaken other efforts to eradicate illegal cell phones, including:

•Weekly searches for WiFi Internet signals at all prisons.

•A body cavity detection system.

•K-9 cell phone detection dogs.

•Hand wand metal detectors.

•Walk-through metal detection systems.

•Increased searches of inmates and staff.

Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, has proposed legislation to increase the penalty for providing cell phones to inmates.

Senate Bill 2020, which has been referred to the Corrections Committee, would increase the maximum penalty from 15 years to 20 years.


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Prisoner Smuggles a Cell Phone with Just A String

The following is a description of how a contraband cell phone was smuggled into the Delaware County, IN jail by using a string to bring it in through a window! The methods used to smuggle cell phones into prison seem to be endless. The inmate stated that the reason he smuggled the phone is because he was unable to access a jail phone. As is frequently the case, the main demand driving cell phone smuggling in prisons is the desire to communicate with family and loved ones. Prisons need to address the demand side of this problem by offering a secure prison cell phone solution such as meshDETECT.

In August and September 2010, Norvell was incarcerated in the Delaware County Jail, Cell Block E. At the time Norvell was dating Tishayla Joyce. On August 26, 2010, Norvell had a fellow inmate, Marcus Beck, call Joyce on Norvell’s behalf because he was unable to access a jail phone. Beck relayed statements back and forth between Norvell and Joyce. Norvell asked Joyce via Beck to bring a cell phone to the jail for him. Cell phones are not allowed in the jail and are against jail rules.

Norvell instructed Joyce to withdraw money from his commissary account and use that money to purchase a cell phone from Walmart along with prepaid minutes for the phone. Norvell further instructed Joyce to activate the phone and bring it to the outside of the jail at 1:00 a.m. Norvell told Joyce on which side of the jail his cell was located. Joyce did as Norvell instructed. When Joyce arrived at the jail at 1:00 a.m., she saw Norvell and Shawn West, Norvell’s cell mate, standing at the window to their jail cell. West let down a string, Joyce tied the cell phone to the string, and West pulled the phone up and through the cell window. At Norvell’s request, Joyce returned to the jail on another day at the same time and delivered a phone charger. As in the first instance, West dropped a string down from the cell window and pulled the phone charger up. Norvell used the cell phone to call Joyce. Another inmate, Jackie Joiner, saw Norvell and West both using the cell phone and Norvell explained to Joiner that they had brought the phone in through the window.

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Canteen Funds Benefit Inmates

An interesting article about the uses of funds received from the sale of prison commissary items. One use is the installation of computer terminals in each maximum security cell to provide video visitation. This reduces prisoner movement and increases safety. The use of the meshDETECT secure cell phone solution also eliminates the need to move prisoners to provide access to telephones.

Every time an inmate buys a candy bar or a bag of chips he or she is doing something good for all inmates in the state’s prison system.

Whether it is snacks, envelopes, toothpaste or phone cards being purchased by inmates at the prison canteen, all proceeds from the sales go into an inmate fund. That adds up to about $2.5 million a year from the 20 state prisons, said Katherine Sanguinetti, Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

“That money funds volunteer programs, educational programs, a lot of things. It has to be spent for the offenders,” Sanguinetti explained.

The most highly advanced example of the canteen funds at work is in the new tower at Centennial Correctional Facility, which opened a year ago. The 316-cell tower features cells equipped with state-of-the-art computer terminals that allow the administrative-maximum security inmates who are locked down 23 hours a day to obtain educational programming, see and hear visitors and watch television programming.

About 20 cable stations are accessible to inmates, so it is not the hundreds of programs people on the streets can see.

“The computer kiosks are used for visits, by teachers and even by medical providers. It is saving staff time and they are able to meet prisoners’ needs more efficiently,” Sanguinetti said.

As a result, the inmates can have more visits because each one does not require the moving of an inmate escorted by two staff members.

“It is far more efficient,” Sanguinetti said.


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Contraband Finds Its Way Into Regional Jails

Its not just contraband cell phones that are smuggled into prisons. This article describes the many contraband items found in jail and the methods used to smuggle them in.

Suboxone strips hidden under stamps or in the seal of an envelope. Necklaces made out of garbage bags. Toothbrushes and plastic spoons sharpened into weapons. Tobacco or drugs smuggled in bodily cavities, thrown over the prison fence, or left at a public location where prisoners can pick it up while at the doctor’s office or on work detail.

Contraband finds its way into regional jails in a variety of ways, and officers at the Sullivan County Jail must search for it daily.

“Every day it’s always something,” Sgt. Gordon Light said. “There are 700-some inmates, they’re always making something.”

He said anything that can’t be bought in the commissary or that isn’t given to them when they get into jail is contraband.

“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “We want to keep everybody in here – the staff and the inmates – safe.”

Prisoners are searched when first brought into the jail, Light said, and all mail is searched before it is distributed to the jail’s residents.

When Sherry Martin, the officer who searches the mail, finds something illegal in a letter, she tries to track down its sender. But, she said, often those people use fake names or addresses so they don’t get caught.

“Suboxone strips are the most common,” she said of incoming contraband. “We find a lot of tobacco.”

Once in a bubble envelope she found a needle, she said, and now takes all mail out of those envelopes before handing it over.

She also takes off all stamps and checks between the glued-together pieces of birthday cards. Singing birthday cards are gutted and the musical mechanism taken out.

“They can’t have Polaroid pictures because they can slit them” open and hide drugs behind the photos, she said.

And, if the paper in a letter looks like it has been wet, she said, sometimes that indicates it has been dipped in acid. The recipient of the letter will then chew up the letter to get a high, she said. Or, pills have been broken open, made into a paste, and rubbed into greeting cards.

Martin said she sometimes reads the letters, if they look suspicious to her.

“I scan them – we find out information about what’s going on in the cell, they usually will tell in their letters,” she said.

The drugs are a safety hazard in the cells, said the jail’s health administrator, Penny Tester.

“You can overdose on them,” she said. “I haven’t had anybody overdose on Suboxone that I know of yet. If they come in and say they’ve been on it, I send them to be checked.”

She said another health risk as the result of contraband is tattoos prisoners put on each other, using makeshift tattoo guns made of plastic spoons and staples, or ink pens and paperclips.

“Skin infection is a problem,” she said. “They don’t have an antiseptic; they don’t have the proper salve to put on it. They get bar soap – that’s not an antibacterial soap; you’re not supposed to wash tattoos with it.”

Crayons, markers and colored pencils are considered contraband items at the jail because the pigment is used for tattoo ink, Light said.

Jewelry found is often made of trash bags, he said, fashioned into necklaces, bracelets and chains. Some of the jewelry features religious symbols, while others have names of loved ones etched in.

“They’re pretty creative,” he said. “They’ve got all the time to sit there.”

Light said the incentive for making contraband items such as jewelry or homemade shanks out of toothbrushes varies.

Sometimes, he said, people who are good at making jewelry can trade their wares for items from the commissary – a honeybun or a T-shirt – if they don’t get money for the commissary.

Tester said the introduction of drugs and tobacco into the prison system brings an array of other problems into the jail.

“They have fights over the tobacco, and sell for commissary,” she said.

Light said officers at the jail perform random checks of prisoners and of their cells to locate contraband items.

“They’re always looking for a hiding spot,” he said. “It’s a game between them and us – hide and seek.”


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Jail Phones Generate County Revenue

This article is a good overview of the revenue generated by prison payphone and prepaid calling cards. This quote from the article, “When you are an inmate, the only connection to the outside world is by phone” highlights the importance of prison telephone services to the inmates. The meshDETECT secure cell phone service is a great way to increase prisoners’ connection to their families by offering more frequent, more convenient and more private conversation with families, while increasing prison phone service revenue.

The phone system available to inmates at the Butler County Jail makes thousands of dollars annually for jail services and the county’s general fund.

Last year, prepaid telephone cards sold to inmates and loved ones along with fees for outgoing collect calls generated $352,000 for the general fund, according to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

Fees generated help keep costs down to operate the jail and are partly used for other state-required purchases, county officials said.

Combined Public Communications, a family-owned business based in Northern Kentucky, provides and maintains the system and hardware for the telephones, calling cards and a kiosk in the front lobby.

The county’s cut of the revenue is 50 to 60 percent depending on the type of purchase, with no upkeep costs, said Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer.

“That is a benefit all the way around,” Dwyer said.

More than $62,000 in revenue from the prepaid calling cards purchased through the jail commissary in 2010 was returned for other inmate services, which is required by law.

The money is used to purchase items to benefit inmates that go beyond the state required basics.

“Books, basketballs, games, television all come from the commissary fund,” said Dwyer, noting keeping inmates occupied with less time to get into mischief is a benefit to everyone.

Several options are available to inmates to make phone calls. Collect calls can be made from the jail pods at a cost of $2.75 to connect and 25 cents a minute for local calls and 50 cents per minute for long distance. Collect calls can not be made to cellphones, so prepaid cards for $10 or $20 can be purchased by the inmate from the commissary or a loved one can purchase a phone card in the sheriff’s office lobby and earmark it for the inmate.

How long the inmate gets to talk with one card purchase depends on if the calls are long distance or local. They are limited to 15 minutes per call.

Dwyer said inmates still get the traditional one free phone call when they are booked into the jail to arrange for bail or to inform family of their whereabouts.

Often that one free call turns into several.

“We assess the circumstances and the inmate’s situation,” Dwyer said. There are also policies for truly indigent inmates that need to make necessary calls, such as to an attorney.

The sheriff’s office got out of the jail phone business in the late 1980s when a private company contractor took over, Dwyer said.

“I can remember what it was like before. We had a desk phone with a 150 foot cord and we would have to go from cell to cell and dial numbers then let them talk,” Dwyer said.

Jim Engle, an owner of CPC, said his company provides phone services in about 70 jails and halfway houses primarily in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

While the venture is a win-win for both the company and the county, Engle said his company is always striving provide “great service to the customer.”

“When you are an inmate, the only connection to the outside world is by phone,” Engle said. “We are dedicated to making sure that connection is available at all times.”

The Warren County Jail has its own phone system, but a private company provides servers and software for inmates to make prepaid calls.

“They get their free call to tell someone to set up a prepaid account,” said Paul Kindell, telecommunications director.

An outside person then places money on the inmate’s account and the inmate is given a pass code and there is a voice recognition system to assure the right person is using the account.

The county’s split of the revenue with provider, Inmate Calling Solutions, is 45 percent. In 2010, the plan generated $58,570.05 for the county, Kindell said.


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