In prison, a cell phone is a dangerous weapon
When you think of all the things that prisoners aren’t allowed to have on them, cell phones might not top the list. But, for prison officials, they do.
“Prison officials see this as the most dangerous form of contraband,” says Kevin Roose, senior editor at Fusion, whose ongoing three-part story explored how prisoners use technology.
US Prisons, says Roose, are spending millions of dollars to keep cell phones out of prisons.
Mostly because they have been used in the past to harass victims or even coordinate crimes from behind bars.
Now, prisons are trying out something called a “managed access system.” It acts like a cell tower, and intercepts data and calls from the person using the phone before they reach the carrier. If you are not one of the people authorised to be sending or receiving calls or texts, you’re blocked from doing so. Managed access systems can cost up to $1 million, but many correctional systems think they have a better chance blocking the phones than keeping them out of the hands of inmates.
Why? Because the phones are usually smuggled in by the guards themselves, who, according to Roose, charge prisoners “hundreds or thousands of dollars a piece.” Soon, an “underground economy” crops up: an inmate who has a phone starts renting it out to others.
But not everyone is using cell phones for the same purpose. In some cases, Roose found, people just wanted to find a way to “stave off the loneliness.” Like one man who makes 6 second videos for Vine. He even has a couple of hundred followers.
Ben Johnson is the host of NPR’s Marketplace Tech. Aparna Alluri is a freelance reporter based in New York City, currently working at Marketplace.
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